What is a memorable experience you’ve had at a restaurant or bar?
I recently went to this amazing little restaurant in the middle of nowhere, on the Swedish island of Gotland, in the Baltic Sea. A very intimate, cozy place, amazing decor. They were all about excellent service and locally sourced food—it was incredible.
Who did you go with?
My wife and family friends who were hosting us on our Swedish vacation. It was really awesome because we got to see Sweden from a local’s perspective. We had an eight-course meal that was made up of food-wine pairings of local Swedish delicacies.
How would you describe the decor of the restaurant?
It was basically my interior design preferences, in a nutshell. Typically Scandinavian with very neutral colors and natural materials. Everything was very simple and almost rustic but also had a modern touch. Reclaimed wood, concrete countertops on the tables. Very clean design elements with beautiful woodworking details in the furniture and serving dishes.
As a designer, I’m sure that was really appealing to you. Walk me through the meal. What were the courses like?
It was really cool. There was a lot of focus on quality local ingredients. Through our hosts, we learned about the seafood and locally grown berries and herbs, which are traditional to Gotland cuisine—here, we had modern takes on these traditional ingredients.
Very small bites on the first course. I don’t remember exactly what they were. There was some sort of seafood pâté and fish roe on these little, tiny crackers with vegetables/herbs that were wild and locally sourced. Each of the three bites was different: beautifully presented, and it tasted really unique.
I don’t remember every single course, but the chef came out and told us little stories about each one. I wish I would have taken notes!
The chef personally came out to talk to you?
At least one of the chefs did. If I got the story right, there was a couple that owned the restaurant. The hostess/waitress/owner and her chef (husband?) had little stories about everything that was served and the whole experience of the restaurant. I hope I got that right.
Interesting. They did it all in English, I’m assuming?
They did it all in English, just because two of us didn’t speak Swedish. Pretty much everybody speaks English there, which is incredible if you think about it. There were some specific words for different dishes or ingredients that didn’t specifically have a translation, so our hosts and the restaurateurs had some chatter in Swedish about the meal that was pretty funny to watch. We ended up Googling the English versions of some words, which didn’t exist—ha, so we all learned something.
Was there another course that really stuck out to you besides the first one?
The whole thing was really incredible. There was one course that specifically stood out because they asked if we wanted to be “adventurous” beforehand.
It was a cured steak that actually tasted very reminiscent of a smelly cheese like a gorgonzola or bleu. It was definitely an acquired taste because it smelled like it almost went bad, but I already like cheeses like that, and this taste was absolutely amazing. It was unlike anything I’ve ever had before. It was this amazing melding of beef, cheese and local vegetables. Perfectly cooked, very rare. Just a very unique flavor profile. I don’t remember what it was called, unfortunately (I was quite a few glasses of wine deep at this point.)
What was it paired with?
I don’t remember what that exact course was paired with—some type of robust red. I do remember that the owner of the restaurant had selected a bunch of wines from her travels in Italy and France specifically for each course. We had reds, whites and rosés, plus some sparkling.
This sounds a little like Fäviken. What was the pacing of the courses like?
It was the longest meal ever! It was this whole experience—everyone was just super knowledgeable and it was just immaculate service. Any time you needed anything it just appeared exactly when you were ready for it.
We were there for like five or six hours, but that might be because our hosts are very easy to talk to and made conversation with the owners, as well as with a neighboring table. It turned out the people we were chatting with included a food critic who was a friend of a friend with our hosts, and he was there writing about the restaurant with the head chef of another restaurant that is very famous in Stockholm.
Again, if I got my story right: The chef was there because the owners of Krakas had worked with and learned from her at her Stockholm locations.
How did it feel to dine in that kind of environment?
It was really cool how chummy everybody was and how informal and comfortable the environment was. We started out as just patrons of the restaurant, but, by the end of the night, everyone was sharing glasses of wine together and just chatting.
I feel like that’s the ideal scenario for a place like that.
I wish I could remember everyone’s name and I don’t know if I got all of these stories totally right!
We learned through our conversations that another concept that the owners manage is an ice hotel above the Arctic circle. They spend their winters up there I believe. We ended up sharing stories about skiing and ski touring and all the different ski places in Sweden and the U.S., because they are avid skiers and so are we.
It was just really fun to connect with people halfway around the world and find that you have some overlapping experiences. I like to think they knew they could be more adventurous with the food they were serving us because we were having really good conversations with them.
Is there anything else that comes to mind that stands out?
The presentation of all the dishes was really amazing. But I think the people and the story are the most important thing. They just invite you into their home, essentially. It is a small, intimate environment. And they are really knowledgeable. Actually talking to the people who are super passionate about this industry and who get to do what they love—those are the kinds of places I love to visit.
Do you think there are places around here that are similar?
This place was pretty unique. There are two that I can specifically think of that are similar but aren’t executed in the same way. One, Mezze, is in Western Massachusetts. It has the same kind of attention to detail and service, plus it’s sort of a journey to get there. They also have a focus on local, seasonal ingredients. The similarity is dishes that focus on the terroir of wherever you happen to be.
A farm-to-table concept, then.
Yeah. There was another one that had a similar tasting concept right here in Boston. That place that has really excellent burgers, right by Central Square…
Craigie on Main?
Craigie on Main. They do a similar tasting menu starting with very small bites, but you’re a little more removed. The chef sometimes comes out, sometimes doesn’t. There’s a larger staff there, too.
So, at Craigie, it’s similar to that feeling you had at the Swedish restaurant, but more expanded?
There’s more of a focus.
Craigie’s in the middle of the city. But it’s a whole journey to get to the restaurant I went to in Sweden. This place is on an island that you have to take a three-and-a-half hour ferry to get to if you don’t fly there. And then the restaurant is a three-hour drive from the main port/airport.
It’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s in the middle of farm country. You have to want to go to this restaurant. And, on top of that, it’s hard to get a reservation! They only take a handful of reservations a night to keep it very intimate.
The time it takes to get there makes the reward a little sweeter. And, for me, not being from Sweden makes sampling the local fare there just a little more special than it is here.
Check out Krakas Krog for yourself.
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