ed. note: With this post, I wish to introduce my nephew, Lucas Sconzo, as a contributing author to docsconz.com. Lucas, a junior Literature major at SUNY Purchase, has been spending this year studying at The University of Konstanz in Constance, Germany. He is both an enthusiastic cook and diner. I think you will enjoy his voice. The photos are by Andrew Sconzo.
I imagined I would be in for a memorable experience when my uncle John offered me the opportunity to dine with my cousin Andrew and my good friend Anna Maria at Rene Redzepi’s Noma: I had read my uncle’s glowing reviews of the restaurant and a number of other positive write-ups, and thus imagined a dining experience that would be at the very least out of the ordinary, at best life-changing. Nevertheless, when we (Anna Maria and I left a day earlier than Andrew) arrived in Copenhagen two days before our scheduled lunch, I found myself strangely devoid of genuine excitement for the upcoming meal, though talk of Noma took up a good deal of our conversations in those first couple of days, and Andrew in particular seemed thrilled to finally experience, as he called it, “one of the best restaurants in the world.” For me, however, it seemed that much of our talk was just that—talk. How was I supposed to feel, really, about something that had been so hyped? After all, it’s one thing to read about a place, but quite another to experience it firsthand, and I wasn’t sure that I—as neither a seasoned food critic nor a wine connoisseur—was even capable of truly appreciating what was in store for us. Thankfully, my reservations proved meritless, and eating at Noma turned out to be an entirely enjoyable, engaging sensory experience — at once tangible, and yet dream-like. I only hope, then, that my account of our lunch there is able do it some degree of justice.
We arrived at Noma with scarcely a minute to spare before our scheduled noon reservation, and were greeted at the door by a small group of smiling, smartly-dressed servers who promptly took our coats and showed us to our table, even pulling out our seats for us. The whole thing seemed incredibly surreal: it was as if we’d gone from students to VIPs in an instant, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that they’d gotten the wrong people — that we were all somehow mistaken. We sat for a minute in a haze, looking around the restaurant at the other guests laughing and enjoying their meals as if this were just a normal dining experience, until a server arrived and explained to us that the interesting arrangement near the center of our table was not just decorative, but the first in a series of amuse-bouche, or “snacks,” as they are called at Noma. Indeed, what looked to be a bouquet of tastefully-arranged twigs and forest grasses was actually a malt flatbread with juniper berry, and was as delicious as it was clever (that is to say, quite); It was an enticing start to the meal, and left a smile on all of our faces that would last until the very end.
The rest of the snacks were more or less equally interesting, and each of us had a favorite (or two, or three): some were simple, others more complex, while all were enormous fun to eat — especially the “radish, soil, and herbs,” which consisted of a raw radish sitting in a pot of crunchy imitation dirt, underneath which lay a dollop of herbed yoghurt into which we were instructed to scoop our own radish before popping it — leaves and all — into our mouths. This was a truly novel process, and we were compelled to video-record each other performing it. I was also taken with a funny-looking ball of dough with a whole fish sticking out of it and a dusting of what appeared to be powdered sugar, but was actually powdered vinegar, on top; according to a Danish friend of mine, this savory, donut-like treat is normally made with apples (not fish) and served as a sweet pastry around the holidays. Though every part of our meal was a new and unique experience, a few moments in particular stand out for me: for instance, though Anna Maria has an allergy which has led her to avoid chicken eggs for most of her life, she took a risk and ate one of the three tiny pickled and smoked quail eggs placed before us, nestled in larger, hay-stuffed imitation shells: thankfully, her reaction was positive rather than anaphylactic, and she proclaimed her first willfully-consumed egg ‘delicious.’ I would have to agree with her — it was truly wonderful.
At the end of the snack section, we were given some of the most delicious and addictively-crispy bread I have ever had the pleasure of eating (and I’ve been living in Germany — where even the cheapest bread is usually very good — for almost a year) and the option of choosing either the 7- or 12-course main meal. Out of sheer excitement we chose the larger meal, which came with eight perfectly-paired glasses of wine and, afterward, a smattering of desserts. Due to the size of our upcoming feast, we realized that we should probably go easy on the bread, but this proved exceedingly difficult, and we found ourselves picking at it — and the wonderful butter accompanying it — throughout the meal.
With regards to the actual dishes we ate, I won’t say much, as my uncle’s first review of Noma basically covers our meal in greater depth and with more knowledge and care than I could hope to give it. However, I will tell you that it was an unbelievable experience: every successive dish was a wonder to behold and to taste, and we found ourselves smiling wide, uncontrolled grins as each was brought to us by the hip, friendly, and professional wait-staff.
We ate things I’d never seen before or since, as well as simple dishes — like a perfectly-braised cauliflower with pine-cream and whey — elevated to new and dizzying heights. Some of the plates contained ingredients that I ordinarily wouldn’t even think to eat, such as the reindeer tongue with apples, but in this case were stupefyingly-good. After our onslaught of entrees (about two or so hours in), we had a much-needed rest from food; by this point, we were all pretty well wasted from the various international wines, and we sat smiling at each other, laughing and even briefly napping (well, I did, at least).
We were plunked in the corner, the sun shining in through the expansive windows all around us, and all was harmonious: at this point, Anna Maria and Andrew decided to get up and take some ‘artistic’ pictures of the melted candles in the windows, while I sat and mellowed in a sun-beam, smiling contentedly. Eventually, we were brought our main desserts and a selection of sweeter wines (these were also fantastic); included among this selection was the restaurant’s infamous ‘Snowman’, into which one must cut to get at its bloody, jelly-center, and a frozen and shaved beetroot with brown cheese. Like all of the other dishes, they were a joy to eat and view.
Following these primary desserts, we were given a few smaller treats, including a bone-marrow caramel and, if I can remember correctly, some sort of marshmallow. When the meal was finally over, we paid the bill, collected our possessions, chatted with the staff, and, in a daze, headed out of the restaurant and into the frosty Danish winter. Once outside, we took a number of photos of ourselves, red-faced, drunk and delighted, huddled together in front of the place. Whenever I look at those photos now, I am instantly transported back to that day and the tender feelings I felt toward my cousin and Anna Maria — feelings brought out and enhanced by the wonderful food and atmosphere. I imagined Noma would be a memorable experience… and I was right.