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    Iceland comes calling at Staple & Fancy

    Iceland and its food, writers and music are knock-knock-knocking on Seattle's door this weekend.
    One of the appetizers on the four-course menu at Staple & Fancy: Cold smoked and poached Iceland Arctic char.

    One of the appetizers on the four-course menu at Staple & Fancy: Cold smoked and poached Iceland Arctic char. Sue Frause

     Reykjavik chef Hakon Mar Orvarsson is a winner of the Bocuse d'Or and the World Culinary Cup.

    Reykjavik chef Hakon Mar Orvarsson is a winner of the Bocuse d'Or and the World Culinary Cup. Sue Frause

     Icelandic musicians Julius and Asgeir Tausit take a break Staple & Fancy in Ballard.

    Icelandic musicians Julius and Asgeir Tausit take a break Staple & Fancy in Ballard. Sue Frause

    The first time I visited Iceland was back in the early 1970s, flying Icelandic Airlines from New York to Luxembourg. Often referred to as the “hippie airline,” it’s how we North American twenty-year-olds got to the continent on the cheap. The flight departed from JFK with a stop in Reykjavik, Iceland. Most of us on board, including my Dutch seatmate Jos who sported long tresses, John Lennon glasses and no deodorant, were headed to the continent and not spending any time in Iceland. The country had yet to be discovered or promoted as a tourist destination.

    Fast forward four decades and — outside of an Icelandair flight that stopped in Reykjavik when I was en route to London in 2004 — I still have yet to truly experience the “Land of Fire and Ice.” That is not until this week at Ethan Stowell’s Staple & Fancy. The Ballard restaurant is a venue for the four-day A Taste of Iceland celebration in Seattle, Oct. 10-13.

    With the third largest Icelandic community in the U.S, Seattle has had numerous cultural and educational exchanges with Reykjavik over the years. And in 1986 — Reykjavik’s bicentennial — the two officially became Sister Cities. When Icelandair started non-stop service between Seattle and Reykjavik in 2009, the bond between the two cities grew even bolder. No wonder the Icelandic tourism folks are spending time and money in the Emerald City.

    On Wednesday evening, I attended a media event for a small group of journalists and food bloggers at Staple & Fancy. It was the first of four nights of authentic Icelandic food being served on the restaurant’s nightly ‘Fancy Menu.' Chef Hakon Mar Orvarsson of Reykjavik teamed up with Stowell to present a four-course dinner ($45), featuring fresh ingredients sourced from Iceland.

    I sat next to Hlynur Guojonsson, Consul and Trade Commissioner of the Consulate General of Iceland in New York. Working in conjunction with Iceland Naturally, a consortium of Icelandic-based businesses and agencies, he has visited Seattle numerous times. I was most surprised to learn the population of Iceland is only 320,000 — about half the number of Seattle residents. And in addition to such high profile TV shows as The Bachelorette and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations being set there, it’s become a popular destination for the film industry. Five major films are currently in production: Oblivion, with Tom Cruise; Noah, with Russell Crowe; Ben Stiller and Sean Penn in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty; Thor: The Dark World; and the TV series Games of Thrones. Guojonsson says the country offers a 20 percent incentive to the film industry.

    Music is also big biz, with this year’s festival Iceland Airwaves returning to Reykjavik Oct. 21-Nov. 4. Starting out in an airport hangar in 1999, it’s become a popular showcase for new music. And while Bjork, Sigur Ros and Of Monsters & Men have put Iceland on the musical map, lesser known Icelandic artists here in the U.S. such as Asgeir Trausti are making moves. Trausti and his friend Julius will be performing Oct. 12 at 8 PM at Neumos on Capitol Hill in a free concert — yet another element of A Taste of Iceland. They’ll be joined by other Icelandic and Seattle musicians, along with authors from both countries. The soft-spoken duo played a few tunes for us before dinner, then quaffed a couple of Rainiers at the table next to us.

    But we were here for the food, and following a Smoking Bay Cocktail (“smoking bay “is the literal translation of Reykjavik, made with Reyka Vodka, lemon and caraway), small plates and wooden boards of appetizers began to arrive. They included pickled herring, smoked salmon, cod and potato fritters, grilled Icelandic langoustine, “Harofiskur” or Icelandic hard-fish, cold smoked and poached Iceland Arctic char and Atlantic shrimp and pickled vegetables with lumpfish caviar. I’d never had the Harofiskur, which had the texture of beef jerky, but with an ultra fishy taste. And, although I belong to the Ester Moe Lodge of the Daughters of Norway on Whidbey Island, I’ve always turned up my Norske nose when it comes to pickled herring. Uffda! But this herring was delish, and my dearly departed dad would be oh, so proud.

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    Posted Mon, Oct 15, 10:53 a.m. Inappropriate

    Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, is too late for the festivities.


    Posted Sun, Oct 21, 11:09 a.m. Inappropriate

    Thanks for writing this, Sue. I'm a fellow Norsewoman and Scandiphile; wish I had known about it in time to attend, especially since I live right here in Ballard. If it happens again, I hope it is well publicized; it never hurts to tell the Nordic Heritage Museum and the Swedish Cultural Club about this kind of event.

    Perhaps you have seen the brief YouTube video, "Dating Viking Women"; I think it refers specifically to Icelandic women as the woman in question devours the head of a goat (or ram, I cannot tell ...) before her horrified date... :-))



    Posted Sun, Nov 18, 8:42 a.m. Inappropriate

    Oh, thanks for the link, Karen ... I hadn't seen that video. I'm pretty sure this will continue to be an annual event, what with Icelandair offering daily flights from SEA to Reykjavik. Pacific NW travelers are a big draw for Iceland. The Nordic Heritage Museum was actually a part of this Icelandic blitz in Seattle, with an exhibition at their museum Oct. 12-Nov. 11 (I included it at the end of my piece).

    Posted Sun, Nov 18, 8:44 a.m. Inappropriate

    Here's the correct link for the woman devouring the goat/ram head: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1l9r60oH8g

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