So you've checked into one of those ice hotels, or maybe that's how your drafty house feels this winter (meanwhile your fir tree, stripped of the holidays, is thriving). This hardy, Nordic vibe is right in step with the culinary trend that swept Europe last year, and is finally spreading like frostbite on these shores.
There are no strictly Scandinavian restaurants in New Orleans, but I'm finding a few Nordic-inspired dishes that have fluttered in, snowflake-style. A sign, we hope, of things to come.
3218 Dauphine St. 504-304-5962
New dinner hours give Satsuma's long-time baker Christina Balzebre a chance to stretch into fully-plated desserts. My favorite is her seductive ginger cake, made dark with molasses and served, European-style, with sweetly poached plums and raspberries.
Christina stirs generous amounts of finely-grated fresh ginger into the batter, giving the cake a strong, warm spice. She tops it with housemade, cashew-based whipped cream, scented with ground cardamom (which rivals cinnamon in some Scandinavian countries).
Pair the cake with a ruby glass of beet lemonade by candlelight, which gives the café with its colorful, heavy-framed wall plaques and wooden benches, the feel of old Scandinavian folk art.
MiLa (at the Renaissance Pere Marquette)
817 Common St. 504-412-2580
The backlit bar top at MiLa, especially after dark, glows the way you'd see in a real ice hotel. It's where you'll find a luxurious fish dip, softly smoked in-house (reminding me of Chef Allison Vine-Rushing's expert handling of black pepper, which the kitchen first smokes to loosen its edge).
The redfish is nicely textured, with the occasional meaty lump and flecks of pickles, and it's topped with a tangle of pickled red onions that cut through the richness. (So do a hilltop of housemade soda crackers, featuring that gentle black pepper.)
While MiLa's cheddar biscuits aren't baked with the Nordic game meat of choice (musk ox), they do make delicious use of another popular meat, deer. Chef Slade Rushing, known for his pastry work, turns out these buttery, crunchy-topped biscuits, where the cheddar and a trace of red pepper boldly stand up to the lean but full-flavored deer. They're even better the next day, in your backpack on a trek through the tundra.
930 Poydras St. 504-304-6988
This cool, edgy eatery no longer carries fondue on the menu, but it's yours with a little notice. The kitchen will pair fresh cheeses in a fondue pot and bring it out warm with chunks of fruity, nutty bread and green apples. I got a romantic swirl of Gruyére, fontina and Parmesan, which coated the bread and apples perfectly.
Now if the bar would add a Swedish starlet to their actress-inspired cocktail list: Ingrid Bergman, maybe?
339 Baronne St. 504-522-8664
"Beetin' the Lime" is a cocktail so intriguing and utterly Nordic that I had to include it: mysterious, earthy beets paired with brown sugar and a mellow, vanilla-touched rum. "It catches people off guard," says co-owner and bartender Daniel Victory, who created this juicy cocktail to find a way around his aversion to beets.
Beetin' the Lime
Written by Daniel Victory, courtesy of the Victory Bar
Fresh lime, peeled and cut into quarters
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1.5 oz. Bacardi Añejo rum
.75 oz. beet reduction (juice a beet and reduce in saucepan)
Muddle lime and brown sugar in a shaker; add rum, beet reduction and ice. Shake vigorously and then double-strain.
Rib Room (at the Omni Royal Orleans)
621 St. Louis St. 504-529-7046
The glassware glows icy blue at the Rib Room bar, thanks to the skyscape painted over it. On the ground, ski bunnies should order the salmon appetizer, a ribbon of rosy fish sitting on a perfectly crisp square of shredded potatoes, dotted with caviar. The kicker is in the vinaigrette, made from piney, tart juniper berries (which flavor the restaurant's housemade sausage, too).
The new menu, under French-born chef Rene Bajeux, also includes lush onion broth, covered with a sheet of broiled cheese. Inside are so many chunky onions and leeks that it recalls a Nordic root vegetable soup.
Emeril's New Orleans
800 Tchoupitoulas St. 504-528-9393
Chef Emeril's flagship restaurant has long had smoked salmon cheesecake on the menu, and it's presented forest-style with a scattering of capers and tomatoes, a dusting of cheese and pickled onions, and a treetop fringe of greens. Stripes of smoked salmon and sautéed peppers, and a dash of basil-lemon zest aioli, lighten this cool, creamy wedge.
New to the menu is an apple tart, which uses oats and almonds for the crust, this feels Scandinavian and tastes toffee-like, besides. Classically Nordic cardamom makes it into the pudding-soft apple filling. (A side of maple ice cream is delicious, but takes the tart to Canada.)
The Norwegian Seamen's Church Shop
1772 Prytania St. 504-525-3602
The church, known for its yearly Scandinavian festival, keeps a little grocery stocked with Nordic foods. There you'll find brunost (brown cheese made from caramelized goat milk), Norwegian caviar, meats and marzipan candies, as well as Glogg (bottled mulled wine). The shop is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.