Iceland is an amazingly beautiful place especially at this time of year with the fall colors against the black lava rocks and snow covered peaks. There is something otherworldly about it, with its steaming geysers and huge waterfalls.
Thanks to Icelandair you can stopover in Iceland for up to a week without any added charge to your airfare when flying on to Europe, Scandinavia or Russia (or from those places to the US).
So let's talk about the food. Iceland is becoming increasingly known for its food and restaurants. I recommend if you want to go to any of the better known places, get a reservation. We discovered this our first night when we went to Forrétta Barrin which was recently voted one of the best restaurants in Reykjavík. It's a little off the beaten path in town, so we thought we'd take a change on getting in on a Saturday night. We were told we could have a table, but only for 50 minutes. Since we were pretty tired from being up for almost two days, we figured a quick meal was no problem.
Forrétta's menu is small plates, but not necessarily meant to share, The idea is you have three dishes and a dessert as your meal. Because of our short time limit we ended up just sharing four plates. The best and most unusual was a combination of salt cod, beef belly (yes, beef not pork), horseradish and chorizo.
The food was wonderful and I loved the atmosphere, but we felt the service was a little odd. I think some of that is just a difference of country and some was being tourists without a reservation.
The next night we went to Grillmarkadurinn where we had made a reservation in advance.
A beautiful restaurant decorated with the natural elements of Iceland like lava rock and stone. The long piller lights in the photo above are actually covered in fish skin. Their menu is also based around what is available locally from farms and the sea.
Grillmarkadurinn offers a couple different ways eat. You can order a starter and main, do the tasting menu or create your own tasting menu which the restaurant will serve in an order they feel works best. The tasting menu seemed to be very popular, so we ordered that. Oh, were we stuffed with wonderful food. When they brought our last dish I actually groaned. Here are a few of the more unusual dishes.
The first dish here is Minke Whale with a dipping sauce. The whale was seared like tuna. It was tender and had a flavor like the best beef, much less fatty than we expected. The tempura dish was squid and dried fish. Dried fish is very popular in Iceland. People eat dried fish chips with butter on them like crackers. As a tempura, it had a little bit of a chewy texture and a much milder flavor than expected.
Lobster with roasted orange. The orange added amazing flavor. In the back you can see some of the Icelandic lamb.
The dessert "potluck" was amazing with fresh fruit, sorbets, mousse, ice cream, a brownie and our favorite, a banana flan. Grillmarkadurinn also has a very popular fish restaurant called Fiskmarkaðurinn.
One thing we noticed eating out in Iceland (and also in Copenhagen) was a difference in the service than what we are used to in the States. We are used to ordering drinks right away and then spending time with the menu. At every restaurant, we were asked the first time the server came to the table if we were ready to order our food. Then once we had our food, the server didn't come back to check on us or see if we needed more drinks (with the tasting menu it was different because they kept bringing dishes). I'm sure this is because they don't want to bother you while you are eating, but we get so used to a server checking in here in the States it feels odd. Most people linger over meals so, you need to find your server and ask for your bill when you are ready to leave.
A few other notes on our Iceland visit. We stayed at the Hilton Nordica which is a beautiful hotel just outside of downtown. It was about a 15 minute walk into the city center or the hotel offered buses a couple times a day. They had a wonderful European breakfast buffet with meats, cheeses, bread, yogurt, eggs and English staples like sausage and beans. One unusual thing they offered was shots of cod liver oil...we declined.
Since we were only there for two days, we used Reykjavík Excursions to get to the Blue Lagoon on Saturday and take a Golden Circle tour on Sunday. A Sunday tour makes a lot of sense since most businesses are closed on Sundays.
The Blue Lagoon was absolutely lovely and the perfect antidote to jetlag. It was easy to get there with buses that picked us up at our hotel and delivered us afterwards. The Golden Circle was a great way to see a lot of Iceland in a little time. We had a wonderful tour guide who kept us interested with Icelandic history and current events.
I thought it was great that the tour took us to major sites, but also included a stop at a family farm to learn how they are growing organic, fresh vegetables in the Icelandic climate using geothermal energy.
It was a quick visit, but both Matt and I ended by saying we would go back to Iceland in a minute. Next time we'll stay longer and rent a car to see more of the island. Plus I never got to try the smoked puffin!
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