We're in the throes of summer and although it's been surprisingly dry—albeit scorchingly hot—I'm slowly starting to get wistful about chilly nights, steaming bowls of soup and gnarled root vegetables. We went to Iceland last fall, November 2014 and I never got around to posting my roundup of some of the wonderful meals we had. Today, as I sit on my couch channeling cooler climes while the A/C blasts through my dusty vent, this feels like the perfect time.
For our Reykjavik leg, we stayed at the Kvosin Hotel conveniently located in middle of the city. Smartly designed and really spacious, it was a great experience and I'd stay there again. Unfortunately, their bar was under renovation at the time so we missed out on that, but the Bergsson Restaurant (image above) is attached and as part of our hotel stay, we enjoyed a homemade Icelandic breakfast every morning with the freshest Skyr and granola.
Hot dogs are a big deal in Iceland and they're easy to find when the craving strikes but as touristy as it may be, a stop at the Baejarins Beztu truck is a must. Don't be intimidated by the constant line, it moves quickly. Another great roadside bite comes from the Lobster Hut truck. I'm not sure if the truck moves locations often but we found it parked close to the Harpa Concert Hall. On the night we stopped there, it was bitterly cold and windy but that's exactly why you need a cup of this hot langoustine soup. Topped with cream and loaded with meat, the once boiling soup chilled almost instantaneously but was no less tasty. I could've eaten two more cups it was so good.
Of course I couldn't plan a trip to Iceland without a reservation at chef Gunnar Gíslason's, Dill, best in the country and known for using the purest Icelandic ingredients in his modern dishes. At the very start, warm nuggets of bread arrive, soft inside with an ever so slightly chewy exterior crust. They looked like eggs in a bird nest, accompanied by what I firmly believe is the best butter I will ever have in my life—it was an exceptional meal from beginning to end and one worth planning into the itinerary.
But the real surprise was finding incredible pizza in Reykjavik! Of course once I realized that it also belonged to chef Gunnar Gíslason, it all made sense. Pizza With No Name (and also no website), is upstairs from Dill. The building that contains both restaurants is an unassuming old stone house and while Dill's front door does have its name on it, there are no markings upstairs. As I approached the black painted door, I knocked gently, half expecting to disturb someone in the privacy of their own home. When nobody answered, I slowly pushed the door open to find a few bustling servers, I sighed with heavy relief. We indecisively stared at the menu wanting all of it, but a beer and twenty minutes later, we finally settled on a crispy pork belly appetizer and two amazing pizzas—one brunchy, with ham and a drooling egg, the other with sausage and spicy chiles. I immediately recognized that same great bread that started our dinner at Dill the night before but this time as a pizza crust with these delicious toppings. Lunch was superb.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how much we loved Snaps. Closely resembling an authentic French brasserie with its tight candlelit tables and cozy corners, we walked in from frigid temps to find loud diners laughing over bottles of cabernet and deep bowls of moules frites. It was a welcome change of atmosphere to some of the Scandinavian places we had grown accustomed to over the last seven days. Regardless of how much fish I seemed to have eaten at every meal except the pizza lunch, I was drawn to the Baccala Provincal. This hearty dish had me scraping the bottom of my bowl clean, down to the very last piece of bread. I think Paul had the duck confit which ordinarily I would've stolen bites of throughout the night, but this fish made me too happy to care.
On our last day in the city, we ended up in a place that despite its rave reviews, I had received some advice from an acquaintance that it actually wasn't as good as claimed. I'm all for listening to personal experiences, but I often prefer to form my own opinions and I'm glad I did. We had the perfect lunch at Grillmarkaðinn or Grill Market, to end our epic adventure. We ordered what seemed like enough food for four people instead of two but we managed. Seafood soup became routine for me and I had to have one last bowl of it. Grill Market's version did not disappoint. The burger was beyond anything I expected and easily could rival some of the best burgers we've had in NYC. But this should come as no surprise, the Grill Market works closely with the best farmers in the country from dairy and honey to sheep and cattle. The burger served us well because we ended up taking half of it (along with some curly fries) on the plane back home. Somewhere over the Atlantic while Paul slept, I snacked on my chargrilled half of burger happy I ignored the advice.
Going somewhat out of order here, we started our trip at the Ion Hotel somewhere about 40ish miles away from Reykjavik. The surrounding area is totally desolate so Silfra, the restaurant, is comprised mostly of hotel guests but it's worthy of a visit even if you aren't staying there. It was at the Ion where we were introduced to Vor Gin, organically made with many unusual ingredients like crowberries, rhubarb and moss. We ended up going home with a bottle and somehow made it last about month.
It has a very unique flavor and almost bears little resemblance to that of a traditional gin. Juniper and citrus take a back seat to a grassy, hay-like taste that comes from the moss, kale and birch leaves it's made with. It has a milky appearance when mixed with tonic and worked best with lime and a sprig of thyme. We ate the freshest fish every night at Ion's Silfra and then retreated to the lounge with a beer in hopes the northern lights would flash their green and purple ribbons through the night sky. The lights never showed themselves for us but we'll be back again to give them another chance.