*Having not only endured but enjoyed the wildest of trips with Noah and Jonathan, when they asked me to go to Europe with them, I said Yes. Well, I said Yes and then didn’t really act on it for a couple of weeks. But in a moment of desperation, sad and confused and in want of a physical escape, I bought a plane ticket to Stockholm, less than two weeks before the departure date. Lapses in logic can indeed be blessings.
*That’s how I ended up in Stockholm, Sweden, on a Monday night, with two friends whom I hadn’t seen in a year. That we would reunite, in a middle-aged Swedish women’s apartment was uncanny—yet that randomness—the way we improvised so casually and even carelessly—was the perfect counterpoint to my typical overwrought, over-devised plans.
*We read somewhere that Stockholm was the staid older sibling (“lovely, quieter,” with a “sly sense of humor,” if I remember correctly) to the more popular, fun-loving Copenhagen. A quirky yet accurate description that we found to be true. At night (a merely temporal term; the sun did not set till 10 pm), the streets were quiet and empty. But on the first night we went south to the Södermalm district, the neighborhood that tour books are currently calling “hip” and “trendy” (there’s always one of those), and sat our tired selves down at Nytorget, a restaurant-cum-bar attached to a fancy little grocery store called Urban Deli.
*Nytorget is a trendy, buzzing restaurant—the busiest in the area—filled inside and out with locals and young professionals. With wooden interiors, a moodily-lit bar, and seating areas at multiple levels, Nytorget is a choose-your-own-adventure place. Dine slowly and luxuriously al fresco or get a quick drink at the bar.
*Start with fresh oysters (all from Normandy, France), as we did, served with the usual lemon but also with delightful accents: pickled onions (which I mistook for horseradish, because when you expect a certain food, even when it tastes totally different, your mind belies your taste buds) and a tincture of homemade Tabasco sauce, to be applied with an eye-dropper. Trendiness is all about the kitschy details, but in a place like Stockholm, where beautiful typography and impeccable design are the norm, it’s not as easy to distinguish the hip from the merely functional in these aesthetic details.
*Continue the meal with a plate of charcuterie, graduating from most raw to the least raw. Intense concentrations of salt whet the palate well. Among the hams and prosciuttos are little gems of sugared, brandied olives, more sweet than savory, with a hint of horseradish.
*There's a variety of meats on the menu (including burgers, sourced mainly from the US), but for Swedish fare, order the gleaming Nytorget sausage, which is served like a bedded baby atop a nest of agreeably oily vegetables and new potatoes. (Though the potatoes may seem trifling and ordinary, trust me, the young potatoes are better here, and they're a Swedish staple. The flesh is buttery and smooth, with less grain and starch than your ordinary russet potato. They're also bite-sized!)
*Fresh seafood is a must-eat in Stockholm. The seafood stew at Nytorget is more delicate than the typical chunky affair, with a salty and mildly acidic tomato broth that is as equally tasty as the morsels it bathes: chunks of salmon, cod, mussels and little shrimp. Light, with diced carrots and potatoes you'll surely leave til the end.
*If there's any pairing instrumental to everyday Scandinavian food, it's the marriage of savory and sweet (much to my pleasure). The ubiquitous honey-mustard, an accompaniment to many a dish, is the perfect example of this. But an even shinier and perhaps more enjoyable example was this caramelized, brûléed goat cheese, nutty and mild, but with a tang that seemed to diverge from the typical goat-iness of goat cheese. This parchment-wrapped dish, a bundle of oily vegetables with hazelnuts and a dollop of creme fraiche, typified the vegetarian dishes I saw on menus: a handful of vegetables with a large cross-section of cheese. Smear this sugar-encrusted goat cheese on bread (you'll need a lot of this; this is a generous round), throw back a pale ale to wash it all down, and call it a good first night in Stockholm.