The fresh bounty of Iceland: Reykjavik’s Sjávargrillið (Seafood Grill)

Ha ha ha! This article is forcing me to haul out Character Map, to revive letters that English abandoned after the Norman Invasion. Though we see frozen Icelandic seafood at grocery stores like Whole Paycheck, it’s a whole different universe to taste fish fresh from the North Atlantic and North Sea. You can do that and enjoy a lot more at Reykjavik’s Sjávargrillið (Seafood Grill). I was happy to be hosted to experience it!

The restaurant is in an older corner building jutting out on a minor street in what’s the historic section of downtown Reykjavik. It’s got a non-commercial layout that you might see in a repurposed SoHo cafe in New York. I went there on the week they were just getting ready for Christmas, both in decor and in menu offerings. It was very cozy and clearly popular with locals, both younger and older.

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I started the evening with their Christmas cocktail! It was kind of a mulled cider turned into a “flip” with shaken egg white, garnished with spice.

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They served the irresistible Icelandic bread and sea salt seasoned butter to start.

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With a place named Seafood Grill, I made up my mind to stick (mostly) with the sea creatures, to try them at their best. Starting with mussels and lobster tacos, I was sampling things simply prepared, with their fresh flavors standing out — opposed to being drowned in thick sauces or covered up with intense spices. The mussels were tender, much more so than I experience in the States. The lobster in the tacos was light and delicate.

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The Catch of the Day was too tempting to pass up: locally caught Ling fish. I’d never heard of it back home, but later learned that it’s in the Atlantic cod family, but with a very different look. It’s a firm-fleshed white fish, with some flakes. It was meaty, like a cauliflower steak. The fish was expertly grilled, seared with a crisp outside. The chicken veloute’ it was drizzled with was a genius concept: the mild, buttery/poultry flavors were a perfect compliment. Whether you usually go for fish or not, you’ll fall in love.

A little out of order — but I’m still glad I tried it! — was the cured goose breast appetizer. It was presented as a larger dice with garnishments. I have known for some time that cured goose breast is used as a substitute for bacon or smoked ham — it’s got those flavors. They present it with smoked Tindur (sheep) cheese, mushroom, Skyr (their thick yogurt), sweet parsnips, parsnip chips, cinnamon, lingonberry in chervil, hazelnuts. This is a totally Icelandic flavor profile and so Christmas-y!

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Their creme brulee’ has a unique take on it, too: garnished with chervil and strawberries. It sounds like it’d be weird, but it enhances that rich cream dessert.

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It was a terrible cold, rainy night, so I requested a cup of hot tea. Icelanders love red fruit tea and it’s very tasty and satisfying! It will be one of my new things that I hold onto.

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