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Naust 26/30

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Meat quality
Meat preparation
Baked Potato


Versturgötu 6-8
Reykjavík, Iceland
+354 552 3030

I went to Naust in part because they are the oldest continuously-operating restaurant in Iceland (dating to 1954), and in part because I'm a Lonely Planet junkie. Their travel guide to Iceland mentioned that it was a good place to get hákarl, the traditional Icelandic dish of Greenland shark, which is put in a box or buried and left for three months to age (i.e. ferment and rot), after which time the skin is cut off and the meat is hung to dry.

When I ordered the shark as an appetizer, the waitress looked up, paused for a second, and said “You’re a brave man.” Which wasn’t really the sort of encouragement I was looking for, but when it arrived the shark actually looked a lot better than expected—two dozen small yellow-white cubes of meat piled in a blackened pancake cup with dried seaweed. There was also a shot glass of the Icelandic schnapps brennivín, or “black death.”

The shark smelled sharply of ammonia, with a musky and almost smoky flavor I’ve never tasted before. Imagine dropping a lit cigar in ammonia, drying it out, cutting it up, and eating it after licking a rubber band, and that's about the right taste. Chased down by sips of the equally smoky brennivín, it was difficult to tell where one flavor left off and the other began. The aftertaste of one mixed with the taste of the other, and neither taste faded quickly. An incredible experience.

Maybe it was an after-effect of the shark or the schnapps, but the eildsteikt piparsteik m/ koniakssósu (peppersteak with Hardy’s cognac sauce) was very, very impressive. The steak was small, but the meat was delicious and the preparation was perfect, redefining medium rare. The sauce was so good that I considered giving it a perfect score, but it could have used just a touch more pepper.

The garnish was elaborate and delicious: grilled mushrooms, steamed baby carrots and broccoli, tomato wedges, lettuce, dried seaweed, and a small pile of thin and crispy noodle-like things (not sure what they were, but they absorbed the pepper sauce and were very good). The potato was sliced vertically eight or nine times before it was baked, so it was drier and crisper than a normal baked potato would be.

The pepper steak was so good that I went back two days later to try the whale steak and an appetizer described enigmatically on the menu as “a traditional Icelandic food.” When I asked for clarification from the waiter, the conversation went like this:  What sort of food is it?
waiter:  It’s, uhh, made with all parts of the animal. It’s very traditional.
b:  Yes, but which animal?
w:  Well, you have the horse, you have the lamb, uhh ...
b:  Ok, I’ll try that.

The appetizer was a plate of five mystery meats, each cut up into small pieces. They were all served too cold, and some seemed waterlogged ... disappointing.

The whale steak was a deep purple-red, very tender and tasty, but the presentation was lacking. The sauce was thick and heavy, and it overpowered the whale. The garnishes seemed out-of-place: carrots and lima beans, red grapes, and broccoli.

The restaurant has a persistent but non-cheesy nautical theme, with porthole windows, block-and-tackle hanging from the wood-paneled ceiling, and recycled ship nameplates over each table (mine was Farsæl).

Submitted by JHC
July 31, 2001
Day 1 of a trip through Iceland.


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