Certain touches take a restaurant meal from good to great. This week, five food-world people share their most memorable tales.
Photo credit: StockFood
Heather Sperling ate and drank her way around Chicago as the editor of TastingTable until just a few weeks ago, when she moved to New York City. When we asked her about a transformative moment in a restaurant, neither of those fantastic food towns came to mind. Instead, she recalled a marvelous and strange event at Sweden’s Fäviken.
When I got to Fäviken in the afternoon, after flying from Stockholm, then driving an hour to get to this restaurant in the middle of nowhere of this gorgeous Swedish countryside, we went for a walk around the grounds. We were curious about some of the ponds. The person giving us the tour mentioned that they were filled with trout, and one of the people I was with said, “Oh, man, it’d be so fun to go fishing.” And she said, “Oh, maybe you could go later,” and we thought, “Oh, ha, that would be dreamy, but yeah, right.”
Then we had this spectacular, beautiful, inspiring meal. They seat everyone at the same time. You gather for cocktails and snacks, El Bulli–style, the parade of small snacks. Long, lovely, slowly paced. It went on for hours. It was the middle of summer in Sweden; the sun was still up when we finished close to midnight. We had this gorgeous tisane service afterwards, were sitting around, and one of the chefs came down from the kitchen, and said, “OK, so you guys want to go fishing now?”
We were totally flabbergasted. I never would have imagined that after dinner service at midnight one of the chefs would be up for taking four of us down to the trout pond, but he just happily gathered some fishing poles and a net. We took off our fancy clothes and put on sneakers, and we just walked down to the trout pond while the Swedish midnight sun was making the sky this gorgeous reddy-golden. And we went fishing for trout.
This pond, it was almost like shooting fish in a barrel, every time we cast in we pulled out a gorgeous, huge trout. Not only had someone from the kitchen just gamely decided to take four strangers fishing, at midnight, after dinner, but the fishing was the most unreal, perfect experience that we could possibly imagine. We walked back to the restaurant, and he gave us a 1 a.m. tour of his kitchen. One of his seafood purveyors had just driven from the Norwegian coast with these stunning, gorgeous langoustines, so we got to look at this beautiful, pristine seafood, and go to bed.
The next morning we woke up and went for breakfast, which was, traditionally, a beautiful grain porridge, and eggs, and ham—and there were little dishes of potted trout with a layer of brown butter on top, made from the trout that we had caught the night before.
And as much as I certainly recall certain dishes from that meal as standout, it was that post-dinner fishing that was just mind-bogglingly excellent. It took that meal from really good and really special to just phenomenal.