Land of Fire and Ice: Nourish (Part 2)
This is the final post about my Iceland adventure. There was so much to say about this exquisite meal, that I had to dedicate an entire post to Dill. This restaurant absolutely blew me away. Dill is the first Michelin rated restaurant in Iceland. While other restaurants have since been recognized by Michelin, Dill is still Iceland's most famous restaurant and the first of its kind.
Dill was birthed by founding chef Gunnar Karl Gíslasson in 2009. The restaurant received its Michelin star in 2017 under chef Ragnar Eiriksson, and then lost it in 2019. Chef Gíslasson, who left Dill briefly in 2016 to open a restaurant in New York (which also earned a Michelin star), returned to help the restaurant reclaim its star, which it did in 2020.
I was fortunate enough to sit down with the staff and learn how each dish was created and the driving force behind its inclusion on the menu. It was inspiring to see the intentionality in preserving Icelandic cooking traditions and the gratitude expressed for each ingredient in the restaurant's commitment to little or no waste. I'm excited to share all that I learned with you. So, let's go on a food journey that begins here, in Dill's open kitchen.
We will start with the amuse-bouche (complimentary single, bite-sized, hors d'œuvres) courses, of which there were five.
"Smoked trout, sour cream"
This tartlet is made out of deep-fried, spring roll pastry and filled with whipped sour cream, cured trout and dung smoked trout coming from the east of Iceland. Dung smoking has a huge tradition in Iceland dating back to the days of the Vikings. Houses were heated with a mixture of wood and dung (the undigested waste of plant-feeding animals and a natural and freely available fuel source). The Vikings would hang their meats and fish in the chimney so they could simultaneously heat their houses and smoke their meats, thus conserving wood, which was a very precious commodity. For a more in-depth read on dung smoking at Dill, check out this 2016 article.
"Grilled vegetable broth, horseradish"
This soup is made out of all the offcuts of vegetables Dill uses throughout the week. The vegetables are grilled overnight to get a nice, smokey flavor and then roasted in the oven to achieve an even darker and deeper hue. From there, the vegetables go into a large pot with seaweed, dried mushrooms and spices. The soup is boiled slowly for an entire day, then strained, reduced by half and finished with cream, salt and lemon juice. From raw vegetables to finished soup, the whole process takes about three days and is the result of trying to utilize what would otherwise be disposed of as vegetable waste.
"Winter dried wolffish, herb butter"
This dish is an absolute Icelandic classic starting with the cracker on the bottom which is called Laufabrauð. Laufabrauð is an Icelandic fried bread consumed mostly around Christmastime. In Icelandic tradition, the whole family would get together and spend the whole day making the dough and then rolling it very thin. The youngest members of the family were charged with carving decorations into the dough before it was deep fried and consumed as a snack.
On the top of this cracker, Dill has added herb butter with herbs that were pickled during the summer months. Placed on top of the butter is the star of the dish, the dried wolffish. In keeping with tradition, the wolffish is dried outdoors in the Westfjords region, a large peninsula in Northwestern Iceland. Wolffish is strictly dried during the winter months because the cold, Iceland winds dry the fish quickly and prevent insects from interfering with the process. Dill's chef refers to the wolffish as the "Caviar of Iceland" because it is one of the most expensive products in Iceland and is rarely prepared using traditional methods any longer.
"Onion bake, carrots"
This dish is Chef's signature snack item. This onion bake is based on a very classic, French, brown-butter cake. At Dill however, they caramelize chopped onions with lots of butter, on low heat, for about five to six hours and then add that sweet goodness to the cake recipe. Placed on top of the cake is strained buttermilk, mixed with toasted juniper berries and pickled Icelandic carrots.
"Cured lamb, dulse"
This cured dish made an appearance on the menu because the restaurant still had a lot of leftover lamb as goose season approached. In an effort to utilize those delectable morsels of Icelandic lamb, they decided to cure it with a lot of dulse (red seaweed from the North Atlantic), sugar and salt in vacuum-sealed bags for four weeks. After the curing process was complete, the lamb was removed from the bags and dry-aged for about two weeks in a refrigerator to extract the deepest flavor possible. From there, it was sliced thinly, dipped in brown butter and seasoned with a bit of toasted fennel and anise seeds. The flavor was heavenly.
From the amuse-bouche courses, it was on to a single bread course which, like all the bread I tasted in Iceland, was exceptional.
"Öland bread, spruce butter"
The bread at Dill is made out of Öland wheat flour which comes from the little Swedish island of Öland. The dough contains yeast and honey and sits outside of the fridge overnight to proof. The following day, the dough is divided into 100 gram balls, proofed again and baked just before service for five minutes at 260 degrees Celsius. The Icelandic butter is whipped until it is nice and creamy. Added to that is a bit of buttermilk, salt and spruce vinegar, (made the year before from foraged young pine spruce).
The next part of our journey takes us to the vegetable courses.
"Fresh greens, fermented cabbage, Tindur"
This salad dish has become a signature Dill course. At the bottom of the salad is a traditional, Icelandic rye bread blended with buttermilk, seasoned with lemon juice and then baked with a lot of butter to make croutons. Atop that lies fermented white cabbage and fermented green tomatoes. Fermentation, which takes between four to five weeks depending on weather, is a big part of Icelandic culture.
On top of the chopped cabbage and tomatoes is fresh, crystal lettuce which comes from Vaxa, a small farm situated just outside of Reykjavik. The farm also grows all of the micro herbs that Dill uses. Finally, the salad is completed with a 24-month, aged, Icelandic cow cheese called Tindur.
After a quick stir, I created an amazing bite incorporating all the delicious ingredients.
"Beetroot, angelica, smoked cream"
I was told that this dish came to Dill very unexpectedly. A local farmer had offered the restaurant a lot of fresh, red beetroot and candy stripped beetroot. The chef determined that, since beetroot works incredibly well with all earthy flavors, they would infuse the dish with earthly elements. To do that, they started with some cream and smoked it with pine branches. This process consisted of simply setting the branches on fire, throwing them into the warm cream and letting it sit, untouched for a few hours to infuse.
Now for the beets: the red beets were salt-baked to retain their original flavor and seasoned with only a small amount of lemon juice, salt, Icelandic rapeseed oil and toasted caraway seeds. The candy stripped beetroots were pickled so as to preserve their natural beauty and flavor. Finally, the dish was topped with pickled, black currents (collected the previous summer) and micro fennel from Vaxa farm.
I do not usually enjoy beets, but this dish changed my entire perspective on this root vegetable.
Now we move on to the meat courses for the evening...
"Cured cod, tomatoes, mussels, chives"
Dill procures their tomatoes from a farm on the Golden Circle. The farm is owned by an American and his Icelandic wife. What is so unique about their growing process is that everything is grown outside (no greenhouses) without chemicals or pesticides. While this might be common in other parts of the world, it is aberrant in Iceland because of the cold temperatures and long, dark, winter months.
The cod used in this dish is from the Westfjords of Iceland. Every part of the fish is utilized to ensure zero waste. This cod dish is made out of cod loin offcuts which are cured for 40 minutes with a 70% salt and 30% sugar mixture. The cherry tomatoes are pickled in marigold liquid and mixed with pickled chive flowers from the previous summer's harvest. Chive oil and fresh marigolds from Vaxa farm top the dish.
The beautiful broth is made from freshly juiced tomatoes, fermented tomato
water and a bit of mussel stock. This genius tomato-and-mussel-broth-concoction, is then poured table side.
"Cod fillet, Nordic wasabi"
This dish showcases beautiful, Icelandic wasabi from the east of Iceland where it is grown in a green house using original, Japanese wasabi seed and only geothermal heat from the ground. From the root to the stalks and the leaves, the entire plant is used. The stalks are pickled, and a chimichurri is made from the leaves.
The cod loin is salted over night and then cooked for exactly four minutes using 70 degree steam. Grilled wasabi leaves top the dish and a reduction sauce made from cod stock surrounds it. This masterpiece is finished with butter, cream and freshly grated wasabi root.
Leg of goose, mushroom, roses
The goose used in this dish comes from a hunter in the North of Iceland who is a close friend of the restaurant. The entire bird is used, starting with the goose legs which are cured with thyme-salt and then cooked low and slow overnight. The meat is then pulled from the bone and seasoned with butter, salt and goose stock made out of the bones of the goose. The goose portion of this dish was delectable on its own, but wait, there's more.
The goose is served with a traditional, Icelandic pancake that is usually served with sugar and jam but at Dill, innovation and the blending of different Icelandic traditions creates an entirely new delight.
There is also a mushroom involved, a mushroom mayo made from Icelandic champignon mushrooms, pickled red currants, a jelly made from thyme vinegar, some crispy buckwheat for crunch and some pickled rose petals. When all this is put together, you end up with...
...the most creative taco I have ever eaten. The flavors came together like a perfect symphony.
Goose breast and red cabbage in...
...a bilberry, brown butter sauce.
This dish is based on a Christmas tradition. The goose breast is brined for four hours and then cooked in a water bath at 60 degrees Celsius to maintain the bird's consistency. Just before serving, the goose is grilled and then rested in melted brown butter. The red cabbage is a mixture of two cabbages. One has been fermenting for a year and the other is cured overnight with apple cider vinegar and Christmas spices. It is then served with a puree of caramelized white cabbage and a simple brown butter sauce. To bring things full circle, it is then finished with Icelandic bilberries, the food on which the geese feast throughout the season.
Last, but not least, we have our dessert courses. MULTIPLE dessert courses!
"Rutabaga, golden beets, marigold"
This sorbet is made from rutabagas (also known as Swedish turnips) which Dill gets from farmers situated in east Iceland. To showcase them as purely as possible, they are mixed with only lemon and a touch of sugar, and then frozen. The sorbet is topped with a few pickled rutabagas seasoned with nutmeg, and some fresh marigold leaves.
Omnom chocolate with...
The chocolate used in this dessert comes from the Omnom chocolate factory. The owner of this factory was the first sous chef at Dill. Omnom has a very small chocolate production and every single chocolate is hand wrapped. The chocolate panna cotta on the bottom of this dessert is made from 66% Madagascar chocolate, and the jelly, which has been slightly fermented, is made from crowberry (local Icelandic berries) juice which has also been slightly fermented. Finally, the dessert is crowned with some pickled crowberries, topped with chocolate sorbet made out of 73% Nicaraguan chocolate and sprinkled with chocolate shavings from Milk of Madagascar chocolate.
"Warm cake, rhubarb"
During the summer months, rhubarb grows everywhere in Iceland. This particular rhubarb was grown in the town of Akureyri in the garden of the chef's parents. The rhubarb was collected and turned into jam. Next, a tarragon oil mixed with sweet and sour sauce (50/50 sugar and vinegar) was made. Last, the rhubarb was topped with whipped sour cream and anise powder and served with a traditional, French, brown butter cake.
"Lemon thyme caramel and Barley 'chocolate'"
Little caramel candies are very popular in Iceland so Dill made a classic caramel recipe which they then seasoned with lemon-thyme vinegar. Once the caramels were set, they coated them in a blend of herbal teas.
The Barley chocolate is made with Omnom white chocolate, burned barley (normally used for making Stout beers) and cocoa ash to give it a dark brown color. Using the strained buttermilk made for the juniper cream used in the onion cake mentioned earlier, Dill strains the liquid and then caramelizes it with sugar and butter. Finally, it is piped on top of the chocolate with a little bit of pickled lovage.
This dining experience is one of the best I have ever had. The flavors and dishes were completely new to my palate and so thoughtfully and creatively curated. If you are going to splurge on a meal in Iceland, I would suggest going to Dill without reservation (though you will definitely need one to get in).
And if Dill is not in the budget, you cannot go wrong with any of the other restaurants I reviewed in my previous post. The food was simply delicious at every venue I visited in Iceland. The freshness of each ingredient was evident and the flavors were exceptional from the first to the last bite I had on this trip.