Once upon a time, I had a meal at the best restaurant in the world. The whole wide world.
It was delicious, fascinating, relaxed, long, and sometimes just weird. Ultimately, it was Danish.
On Wednesday, March 28, 2012 I ate lunch with three roommates at Noma. The restaurant was voted #1 by Restaurant magazine for 2010 and 2011. The best! The best!! Okay, I’m done gloating.
It was a very blustery day during a week of insane midterms, but we stopped our mayhem for a few hours to dine in luxury. When in Copenhagen, right? I could hardly sleep the night before. I was worse than a kid on Christmas Eve. I couldn’t believe I was going there. I would theoretically eat the best food in the world. I would remember this for the rest of my life. The stakes had never been so high for an afternoon of bliss!
We were dressed to the nines, mostly in black. We fought fierce wind while walking to the unassuming location at the end of a fairly remote quay in the city. A stunning and relaxed young Danish man welcomed us in as we fought the urge to burst into the nervous giggles. The hosts removed our coats and we were taken to our corner table. I tried not to gawk at the kitchen, but as I did I made eye contact with the man himself. René Redzepi, in all his boyish charm and culinary prowess. My knees weakened a bit; I was undeniably starstruck.
And so the meal began. We enjoyed an hour of “introductions,” in which the international staff whisked small plates in front of us as quickly as we could devour them. The first course was actually hiding in our centerpiece. It was a sort of malt flour flatbread dusted in moss. But of course.
We enjoyed Danish classics like Æbleskive and rye toast, but we also savored plenty of obscure fruit leather, vegetables, and heavenly chive yogurt. And we ate moss that very closely resembled potato chips.
The main courses lasted for two hours. We were in for a lunch marathon. While I’m normally vegan, I requested a vegetarian menu for Noma. Sometimes you just have to eat impossibly light, grainy, buttermilky virgin butter with hunks of crusty brown bread.
We had something like six main courses. We were full, but we had to keep eating. A marathon, remember? Each plate brought a symphony of new delights. Textures I had never experienced, foods I never knew existed. Flavors of pine, dill, and black truffle. They even made celeriac somehow deeply enjoyable.
The food was inventive. The ultimate blend of art and science. Our nerves finally calmed as our meal went on, and by the time we were finished with the savory part of the meal our adorable waiter was cracking jokes about chugging wine in between courses in the kitchen. In this sense, the event was supremely Danish. Even at the best restaurant in the world the staff was no less uptight than at your local neighborhood diner. A humbleness and feeling of equality enveloped the place. René wore the same uniform as the other chefs; he was not to be distinguished. The decor was sparse but organic. No fancy tablecloths, animal skin blankets on the chairs, and simple silverware. The bathroom lacked an ornateness I was expecting, and jazz was pumped through the speakers. The restaurant, however, was dead silent other than the sounds of silverware, conversation, and laughter. There was a lot of laughter, which I think is the sign of a truly good restaurant. You can’t take any food too seriously.
Dessert was honestly just a bit weird, however. Maybe my tastes aren’t distinguished enough, but when I want dessert I want chocolate. At least, I want a familiar, comforting sweetness to signify the end of a meal and a job well done. Our desserts featured dill and carrot. I’m not saying they weren’t delicious, I’m merely saying they were bizarre and unexpected. Then again, why would such an acclaimed restaurant present a classic, predictable dessert?
By the end of the meal, everyone was waiting for me to make an etiquette mistake. One roommate dropped her fork, another awkwardly asked to have her cookbook signed, and the third had trouble removing her coat when we arrived. As we teetered and waddled out of the sunlit room, I thought I had made it out unscathed! Not so. The wind was blowing so hard that it was nearly impossible to open the door to the restaurant. I had to get the sommelier to give me a hand. You can’t take me anywhere.
Noma is in a league of its own. The restaurant has completely created its own cuisine to symbolize the region, a place which is largely unknown to the rest of the world. The food is highly creative, and has more artistic qualities than functional. I paid more for the experience than the meal, if that makes sense. The best meals of our lives, of course, are those with emotional significance. Food can only go so far; you need good friends and the right atmosphere to create a powerful memory.
Suzannah Schneider is currently on spring break while studying abroad in Copenhagen. After a strange WWOOFing experience, she is now eating gobs of paella and flan in Málaga before heading to Venice, Florence, and Paris.