Even the heartiest of eaters needs a break between courses and we were no different. In the middle of our 7 plus course odyssey at Relae, there was just a bit of a time lag from the kitchen between the serving of that juice of tomato and olive oil cupful before whatever was coming next. In that time we let our stomachs settle and ended up talking to a couple next to us who were from Seattle, on their honeymoon and were both foodies who had worked in the industry and been classically trained or something like that. They were fun and great to chat food with while we waited--several glasses of wine will make us talkie! Soon the next course arrived, so on we go.
(inside Relae, this lady looked a little like Helen Mirren, or maybe we'd had too much wine)
Official course #4 is cauliflower couscous with smoked elderflower, raw almonds and almond milk with a sprinkle of olive oil. Hmmm...very white with sort of a spot of green, oh well, there goes my theme idea. As basics, each was done well. The cauliflower was soft to cut and the almond added a little texture crunchiness to break up all the soft. We really couldn't taste the elderflower though you did get just the slightest bit of smoke on a few bites. I'm going out on a limb and say that for me and the SO this was an okay if somewhat unspectacular dish that flavor wise was kind of boring. It reminded me of fauxtatoes. Like I experienced with previous dishes I couldn't help thinking this could be helped with a dash of salt and possibly pepper. I get the whole let their natural flavors shine through thing, but in the case of cauliflower, it doesn't really have one and for me needs the added seasoning. I guess it could have gotten it from the smoke, but even that was so light it was almost not there. Sigh, next dish please.
Course #5 is Dutch lamb with cabbage, seaweed, lemon and some flower thingys they didn't mention. First off, I'm not the biggest seaweed fan--too salty fishy tasting, one reason I don't do sushi. I tried a bite of everything together and the seaweed just kind of took over, I couldn't do it. Without the seaweed, I really liked this dish. The SO like it all, including the weed. Lamb was perfectly cook and tender enough to cut with a fork. Cabbage was cooked but crunchy and the lemon added a light citrus bounce. Probably me second favorite of the night next to the green potatoes. With or without the seaweed this dish got a thumbs up from both me and the SO.
Course #6 and the most unusual of the bunch. Frozen Dutch cheese powder with French seasonal herbs. Well, I wasn't quite sure what to make of this dish. Was it meant to be eaten as is? With the bread? The chef who delivered it wasn't very forth coming about that or the herbs. Flavor wise it was a strong pungent taste reminiscent of bleu or feta cheese. I like a good hearty cheese and was enjoyed it, though the herbs were totally lost on me. It was paired with a bright citrusy wine that complimented nicely. After one bite by itself I decided to just go all in and finish the rest spread across the bread. It worked for me, cheese, bread, wine and French herbs--just like being in Paris but not. I will go on record here as saying that while I liked the cheese, this is one of those dishes folks make fun of from pretentious restaurants. Hey look! They froze some cheese then crumpled it on some weeds! Foodies will love it because WE did it! And they'll pay a lot for it too! Yes, that thought ran through my mind when this was presented, but in the course of the whole meal and with the addition of the bread I'm not gonna give them too much grief over this though they are certainly skirting the edge with it.
Course #7 and it's dessert! Sage ice cream, rhubarb compote and a rhubarb fruit gel thing as an adornment. Yeah, I know, ice cream--we all know how I feel about that. Let's take this from the SO's perspective as it's more their forte. LOVED IT! Sage is a favorite herb and mixing with ice cream just elevates it to interesting flavor town like you'd find at Humphry Slocombe or something. Smooth, creamy and served in a chilled stone bowl. The compote adds the right amount of tart sweetness to match the herbiness of the sage. The gel thing was like a fruit roll-up, tasted fine, looked pretty, not necessarily needed, but okay. Overall, a real winner of a dessert and way to finish a mostly great meal. (For me we'll probably need to find a bakery on the way back to the hotel to satisfy my need for heft)
The SO got an espresso at the end and they brought us these little cookies and my eyes brightened until I found out what they were. Shortbread cookies with a seaweed jelly filling. Ugh, seriously. I did bite into one and yowza! Salty seaweed is the only taste I got. Again, deferring to the SO--yum, very tasty, so there you have it.
After 7 (more like 10) courses and 7 glasses of wine I start to wonder what makes a restaurant good enough to be on the top 50 in the world list. Not having really been to any of those places or know what goes on behind the scenes in creating these kinds of lists (there's always politics involved no matter what people say) I couldn't tell you. Does Relae deserve to be on the list? From a foodie perspective as a dining experience it was fascinating to see what the chefs would come up with and what the service was like to try and elevate dining out. I will say it was the most complete service wise we had, as far as being attentive, while in Scandinavia. While not every dish was a stand up and shout moment, there was nothing they served that I outright hated, seaweed notwithstanding. And I will totally remember those baby potatoes in their green puree. The place itself sort of borders somewhere between pretentiousness and hipster organic cuisine. A fine line they skirt to varying degrees. Because of those things I could see this kind of place being a hot ticket here in San Francisco as well. Just enough key buzzwords swirling around their food preparations to make it interesting and changing dishes for people to want to give it a try. The Progress (they both did stinging nettle purees of all things) is the closest experience I can compare to Relae. I think they probably get extra props from folks too as they were formerly chefs at Noma, which stands in such high regard. Was it a top 50 dining experience? Sure, I'd put in my top 10 eating experiences. The rest I'll just leave up to others who've had more worldwide eating experiences than me.