Raindrops pattered on the clear canopy above us, illuminated by the street lamps and Christmas light-wrapped trees in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square. The 150 or so of us had braved the cold, wet November evening to dine outdoors with René Redzepi, chef and co-owner of Copenhagen’s Noma–the renowned restaurant that has been named the best restaurant in the world three times in recent years. As we cuddled with the wool blankets provided at each seat, the guest of honor exclaimed his sense of surprise and honor: This never would happen in Denmark, he said.
With a multi-course meal by James Beard Award-winning chef Matthew Dillon of Seattle’s Bar Sajor, Sitka & Spruce, and The Corson Building and Noma-alumnus Blaine Wetzel, now chef of Willows Inn on Lummi Island north of Seattle, the event garnered extreme interest. Tickets–sold through Book Larder–were gone in just a few hours.
Inside Dillon’s London Plane, just across the square from Bar Sajor, we sipped sparkling rosé while waiting in line to meet Redzepi and have him sign our copies of his just-released book, the three-volume A Work in Progress. We then headed out into the cold to find our seats, tagged by a fruit, vegetable, shell, or plant that had been assigned to us at the beginning of the event. (I’m still trying to figure out the name of my branch of burgundy-colored, woody buds.)
Dinner started with a series of small bites, heavily influenced by the abundant seafood of the Pacific Northwest. Smoked mussels on the half shell and oysters garnished with fermented cabbage were nestled among the mossy centerpieces running along each of the two long tables. Puget Sound silver smelt rested on kelp. Slices of green alder-smoked sockeye as rich as candy were doled out–one per salivating palate. Other starters included smoked yogurt on rye bread with peppers in cider vinegar, pickled quince wrapped in air-cured pork leg, and crispy sunchoke tubers and “trumpets of death” mushrooms.
As we dined and sipped wine pairings provided by Syncline, Redzepi read from his book, which chronicles the Noma experience through a volume consisting of the author’s journal entries, a book of snapshots from the restaurant’s day-to-day operations, and a cookbook full of recipes (some of which he says are actually approachable to home cooks, unlike most of the recipes in his previous book, Noma: Time & Place in Nordic Cuisine).
We ate fat slices of Dillon’s fluffy, chewy bread, accompanied by a trio of spreads: duck fat and rosemary, cultured goat butter, and sea urchin. Then up next came the first of three platters of main courses: raw Roosevelt elk with burnt celery root, cabbage baked in hay and horseradish.
The black cod from Neah Bay with salt-roasted pear and walnut oil, garnished with wisps of fresh dill, was one of my highlights of the evening. The freshness of the barely-ripe pears cut through the oiliness of the rich and flavorful black cod, and the walnut oil and dill rounded out the flavors just right. We then moved on to the leg of lamb served with slow-cooked root vegetables, preserved king boletes, and honeycomb.
As is often the case with long dinners, dessert might seem optional for a satisfied and exhausted palate, but the little bites of flax seed caramels, buckwheat cookies, petit basque, and candy cap mushroom financiers were just right. Served with warm hazelnut milk and a black walnut liqueur, they warmed us up enough to head out from the cozy tent and into the evening.
As I’ve slowly worked on this post over the course of a couple of weeks, I’ve returned to a bit of the feeling of happiness and warmth of the evening each time I’ve sat down to organize the photos or write. What I haven’t mentioned as of yet is my enthusiasm for Nordic cuisine and how much fun I’ve been having watching from afar what chefs like Redzepi are doing. It’s exciting to see how the foods of both old Scandinavian and New Nordic cuisine are originating from the same traditions, readily-available ingredients, and cultures, making aspects of each similar yet so wildly different from each other. It’s a dream of mine to eat at Noma when I have a chance to travel to Copenhagen some day, but in the meantime it was so special to attend this dinner and meet René Redzepi (that’s me with the chef in the photo below). A big thank you to my husband for treating me to such a wonderful evening for my birthday!