At last a Friday, blessed Friday.
I know Fridays come at the end of the week, every week, but they seem to be a rarity. Every Friday I get to seems like a relief. Like the finish line at the end of a very long and sometimes tedious, arduous, and painful race. Like a race that you know you will definitely finish, but it's definitely a stretch making it to the end. You cross that finish line, but somehow you miss the fact that you finished it. That's what Fridays are like in Finland.
Somehow Fridays are always planned to the nines. Fridays are nights for going out for most people, especially the Finns. The logic is, if you get trashed on Friday, then you have all day Saturday to recover, go party again on Saturday, then all day Sunday to recover before making it back to work on Monday. Entire days are wasted doing nothing but sleeping, recuperating and otherwise not realizing that something is happening outside of your tiny apartment.
I will admit; most Fridays I do go out. Or at least I have in the past, since moving here. Saturdays I tend to take it easy. This is a complete and odd reversal from how I used to do it back in California. Fridays were for easy-going at the end of the week - the slow relaxing day where you let yourself take it easy and relax into the weekend. Saturdays were for going at it, since you've finally rested and have some strength and energy back, then Sunday was for recovery. Funny how it differs in different places.
Well this particular Friday me and the girls decided that we'd had enough of recovery Saturdays. We wanted our sanity back for Saturdays. So, we decided to take it easy.
Starting off with a relaxing sauna session we then sauntered over to Lupolo for dinner; a very highly-recommended, but somehow not overly expensive restaurant cleverly hidden among apartment buildings and not much else.
It's so well-hidden in fact, that both Hong Kong P and German K, who have both been there before (I'm the only noob) said that they'd both walked past the entrance before not realizing it was a restaurant. It's surrounded on both sides by nondescript concrete apartment buildings. Sexy, I know.
But the inside of the restaurant itself is actually quite nice. Dark lacquered floors, dim lighting, and wonderfully modern white ceilings with rounded wooden cut outs, where light barely peeks through to give you enough luminescence to read your menu by.
It's wonderful. And tiny.
German K made reservations for us ahead of time (being a necessary thing on a Friday night, for sure) and we waited for Hong Kong P to show up (a good half an hour late, to no one's surprise).
We scanned the menu and a wealth of strange but delicious concoctions swam before our eyes:
Fresh mozzarella with plums with ginger-raspberry vinaigrette. Marinated beets with goat cheese and salmiakki. Fried cauliflower with curry. And those were just the veggie dishes.
We ordered with relish; the dishes were rather small so ordering two per person was not a recommendation; it was a command.
I ordered the marinated beets with goat cheese and salmiakki and the gratinated green mussels. Both highly recommended by our waitress.
The beets, covered in a snow of goat cheese. Absolutely to die for. I've never been one for beets, until I realized they could be roasted and caramelized to sweet chewy perfection. But these weren't even that; they were simply marinated in some sort of vinegar concoction (though not overly pungent), sprinkled with a thoroughly justified amount of creamy luscious goat cheese, mixed with some sort of dried fruit (which sort of resembled something between a lesser plump golden raisin and maybe a dried current or cranberry...I could not tell in the low-light conditions), and very fine flakes of high-quality salmiakki.
There is no real saying why this flavor combination worked so well, but the resounding answer is that it did, and it was amazing. Sweet, salty, creamy, sour, tart, and a little bit weird. It's like all of the flavors came out to play and had an amazing time. I ate the thing as slowly as possible, but even for me this dish disappeared fast. I was not the slowest eater at the table for once. For this I am slightly appalled and ashamed.
Next, the gorgeous little dish of green mussels. This time, maybe foolishly, I trusted that the mussels would be as fresh as those I had had at Coma. I've come to expect that of Finland - extremely fresh seafood. Not sure why. Maybe it's because it's one of the few countries I know that is more obsessive about their food standards than maybe anyone else. That does seem to make a difference.
I was not disappointed. No grainy creepy sacks of organs here. Instead smooth with a touch of grace. I can't for the life of me remember what they were gratinated with...some sort of cheese like parmesan, but other than that...I don't recall. From the definition of gratinated that I've looked up (to cook, as macaroni, in a savory juice or sauce until the juice is absorbed and a crisp surface forms), this doesn't quite make sense. Not at all, in fact.
In any case, they were smooth, creamy, and were spiced with something green on top that tasted a lot like faint five spice. Aromatic and amazing. And despite the fact that I squeezed lime on top (something I'm loathe to do on top of any seafood...for some reason I feel like it cuts the taste of whatever it was cooked with, but I was willing to do it here because the flavor combinations had been so amazing), I couldn't really taste it. Perhaps it wasn't what I thought it was.
All of this washed down with a shared bottle of something I'd never heard of, and will likely not find again. The waitress recommended it, it was white, and she said it was like a riesling. I would heartily disagree that it tasted like a riesling and would argue it was a little more clear and less sweet, more herby and not at all cloying, but she did get the herby part right so I felt no reason to correct her. It was a nice wine so no hard feelings.
After all this flavor explosion in my mouf, I was in a good mood. A really nice relaxed mood. So when the question of dessert came up I said a hearty yes, which I find myself inclining to more and more, despite the fact that I'm still not a lover of sweet food. I blame it on relative lack of nutrition and an interest in sustenance. Or just an overall desire to experience as much as possible. It's in the wind, in any case.
The choices were mango mousse or roasted white chocolate something with chocolate shavings and chocolate something with chocolate something covered in chocolate.
Naturally I went with the mango mousse.
German K went with an espresso and Hong Kong P went with a latte. Typical.
Unfortunately the waitress heard me wrong, so when the chocolate monster was presented at our table I had to insist that it be sent back and said that I had ordered the mango mousse.
The chocolate monster was taken away.
And then reappeared at our table a few minutes later, with the kitchen saying that in their mistake we would get it for free.
So we ended up getting both desserts on the menu, and I got the one I really wanted.
My mango mousse.
Though it looks like a pile of bile, fear not - it was creamy, intensely smooth, and had the surprises of roasted cashews and lychee underneath. Relatively light and refreshing. A fine pairing with the rest of the white wine I had left.
The chocolate monster. I only tried the middle part - the roasted white chocolate something in the middle, but what I did try tasted good. Tasted like roasted white chocolate something. Also smooth. Despite what it looks like I don't think it was ice cream.
And after several hours of talking and laughing, we called it a night. Another successful dining experience in wondrous Helsinki. It did cost me an arm and a leg again - 47 euros at this place, since I split a bottle of wine with Hong Kong P...but once again worth the ridiculous price.
This is one I'll definitely keep in the books for hosting purposes. Great flavor combinations, though probably for the more foodie adventurous of my guests.
And so a relaxing Friday ended, instead of one filled with loud, odd music and drunken Finns. Well, at least the first part was out...the second part remained true, as it seems to be true no matter where you go on a Friday night in Helsinki.