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Oslo Spiseforretning – After an ill-advised, long, and not particularly attractive walk from our hotel to this restaurant, we’re rather famished. It’s an elegant, compact, and active place, even though we arrive a bit on the early side and the real crowds don’t appear until about halfway through our meal. Our servers speak English well enough, but the menu’s only in Norwegian, so there’s a lot of back-and-forth necessary to figure out what we’ll eat. Ultimately, some of the details escape us.

Then the bread and butter arrive.

At breakfast, both have been very, very good. Here, they’re extraordinary. Especially the butters – yes, that’s plural…one very high in butterfat, the other just a touch lighter but organic, and both showing great individuality due, I presume, to the cows’ diets – which we go through like they’re an amuse bouche. It’s like sacrilege, but it must be said: not only are these butters as good as the rightly-vaunted Échiré, but the bread far exceeds anything…that’s anything…we’ve had in allegedly bread-crazy France in many, many years.

No wonder my Norwegian ancestors loved bread and butter so much.

I commence with a very salty cured ham (I think of elk, but translation fails on the details) in a salad, which offsets the salinity almost, but not quite, enough. There’s also a sort of pickled chanterelle mousse, served with a garnish of local, in-season chanterelles (unpickled); it’s a challenging but ultimately successful study in counterpoint. I follow with some sort of flavorful, flaky whitefish (again, we get no closer than “uer” in terms of specificity) in a classic dill and butter sauce with sautéed greens, and an absolutely devourable plate of reindeer loin and sausage served with beautifully-roasted potatoes. It’s clean, simple, confident food that succeeds or fails on the quality of its ingredients, and mostly it succeeds. And by Scandinavian standards, it’s a bargain.

The wine list is terrific, but unfortunately most of it is closed to a bearer of U.S. currency who’s on any sort of budget; there’s very little under $100, other than a few grossly-overpriced mass-market wines and some painfully young versions of marginally better wines. I end up choosing an Etna Rosso from Sicily that, while not exactly cheap, seems a bargain in comparison…even though its home is about as far from Oslo – geographically and culturally – as one can get while remaining within the confines of Europe.

I ask for some help sorting through a selection of akavits, and instead of a conversation the waitress brings me two glasses – one a clear distillation of caraway that couldn’t possibly taste any more of the seed, the other an apparent “best seller” in Norway that tastes like fuel oil with a little oak influence. I’m not charged for either, which is most kind. (9/08)


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