Sweetly Sweden

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If I could do this trip over again, I
would have allowed for more time in Sweden. With only two days, we
barely got to scratch the surface, but what a surface we scratched.
From an afternoon and night on the quiet island of Oaxen in the
archipelago south of Stockholm to a day and a night in the vibrant
city of Stockholm, we experienced two sides of Sweden and two of the
country's very best restaurants, both on The San Pellegrino World's
Fifty Best List
.

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We took a morning flight from Oslo to
Arlanda Airport outside of Stockholm, where we rented a car to take
us to Oaxen, the home of Magnus Ek's idyllic restaurant, Oaxen Krog.
We got there early enough to check in and relax on board our hotel
for the evening, the spectacular small ship The Prince van Orangiën.
Owned by Ek and his lovely wife Agneta, the early 20th century
ship has been refitted to provide intimate, luxury accommodations for
guests of the restaurant. The combination of Ek's beautiful,
forest-rich cuisine and serene surroundings were sufficient to help
me feel more relaxed almost immediately. Waking up the following
morning to actual sunshine and the ship's breakfast delivered to our
cabin helped even more.

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Chef Magnus Ek of Oaxen Krog 

Unfortunately we didn't have time to
linger and needed to head back on the 9:30 ferry to make the most of
Stockholm on our one day there. An added bonus was being accompanied
on the ride to Stockholm by my friend, the legendary Food Snob, who
we had run into at dinner the evening before.

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We spent a glorious day sightseeing in
Stockholm, walking around the city and finally finding a real food
market, the Östermalms Saluhall. The market combines wonderful
seafood, produce and meat retailers along with a number of small
restaurants selling prepared dishes for immediate or take-away
consumption. We tried some fish soup, a shrimp salad sandwich and a
shrimp and crayfish salad between us. Washed down by an invigorating
Swedish pear cider, it made for a fine snack.

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The better part of the afternoon was
spent at the incredible Vasa Museum. If one has any interest in
history whatsoever and one finds oneself in Stockholm, this
unbelievable connection to the past should not be missed. The Vasa
was to be the foremost Swedish warship of its time in the early 17th
Century, built to battle Poland during the 30 Years War. Elaborately
decorated and heavily armed, it was constructed at a cost of about
$40 million of today's dollars only to sink on its maiden voyage even
before it left the Stockholm Harbor. Found and removed from the
depths in the 1950's, it moved into a specially built Museum
approximately 20 years ago. Both the sensationally well preserved
ship itself as well as accompanying exhibits were outstanding.

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On the first truly sunny day of our
trip, we left the museum and walked past an enticing Gröna Lund
amusement park to catch the ferry to Gamla Stan, the atmospheric old
town of Stockholm. We strolled across that small island and across
the bridge back to our hotel near the Central Station to prepare for
our final dinner of the trip. We stayed in the Adlon Hotel. It was,
on first impression less than exciting, but we found the room, a
two-room triple, to be one of the better and more attractive ones on
the trip. With a location convenient for travel, a fair price and a
surprisingly nice room, I would return.

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Mathias Dahlgren is a legend in Sweden.
A winner of the Bocuse D'Or, Dahlgren's previous restaurant, Bon
Lloc, achieved great critical acclaim until he closed it to move into
the opulent Grand Hotel in Ostermalm. There he actually has two
restaurants, the formal Mathias Dahlgren Matsalen and the more
informal Matbaren. We ate at the Matsalen. Though Dahlgren wasn't
there that evening, the luxurious, but not stuffy restaurant was
superb, with outstanding service, wine and food. It was a fitting end
for an extraordinary trip.


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