Break From the Beltway: noma Goes Green

Remember this tweet from Tom Sietsema earlier this year?

Was it just me or did I hear every DC food person let out a sad sigh for Tom that day? As soon as I was done pouring one out for Tom’s noma plans, I picked myself up and asked if I could have his seats. One thing led to another and on July 26 I found myself strolling into noma being greeted by Rene Redzepi and his team of chefs. This seating was during their fruit and vegetable season (the other two being fish season and game season), so most of the dishes were vegetarian if not vegan. All 4 of us were meat eaters and walked away more than satisfied.

Rene Redzepi (left) and some of the noma Team

Chef Redzepi made sure that Nate (center) showed off not only his cooking skills but also his arms. Now…to the food.

“Potato Magma”

As the first dish arrived it easily could have been confused with your run of the mill table decoration. Of course it wasn’t. Inside each carefully planted pot of various herbs was a little compartment full of creamy potato soup. Imagine the potato leek soup at Breadline on it’s very best day and take it 100 levels higher. Creamy, flavorful yet simple. To add to the flavor profile, the proper way of consuming the potato magma was to stick your face in the pot of herbs, sniff in all that earthy scent, and slurp the soup through a bamboo straw.

Proper Potato Magma slurping technique

Shortly after the herb pots were cleared, a plate of delicate little flower things came out. The menu called these “nasturtium tarts” and “sea buckthorn and black currant butterflies” but the easiest way to describe the second course is edible art. We often say that it was almost too pretty to eat, and these really were almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

Nasturtium Tart

When noma goes into the veggie season, their staff hunter doesn’t have as much to do. So they put him to work as the staff forager, climbing to the tops of pine trees for soft and sweet baby pinecones, and other natural delicacies. Our next dish highlighted edible pinecones three ways along with some pickled squash and a variety of regional herbs.

Seasonal Pickles

Our seaweed crips were cripsy and soft, sweet and salty, with just enough motion of the ocean to make us feel like we were even closer to the water than we already were.

Fresh Seaweeds

When the staff brought out the next dish we thought there had surely been a mistake: this was a whole onion that was burned to a crisp and black as night. But when we opened it up we were, of course, in for a noma-style surprise.

Charred Onion

The inside was perfectly cooked and tender, loaded up with housemade garum and other herbs. The flavors were as complex as the textures. To show how delicate this dish was, it was served with a caviar spoon. The onion was sweet, the garum was salty and sour. The inside was soft, but the closer we got to the outside it was crispier and smokier. This was the dark horse dish of the meal.

Inside of the Charred Onion with House Made Garum

Cumber skin stuffed with parsley probably doesn’t sound like much, but this was one of the stand out dishes. I don’t know what the chefs do to that cucumber skin but it was perfect. And the combination of herbs besides the parsley inside the skins could not have been better: sweet, spicy, tangy – all exceptionally fresh. These are the spring rolls we never knew we were missing.

Cucumber Skin and Fresh Parsley

I hate to write this, but this next dish was the miss of the meal. The quail eggs were cooked to perfection, but the hip berry chorizo didn’t do it for me. I’ve had a handful of vegan chorizo options from Whole Foods that would have worked better with this. It was just a little too sweet and just a little too close to the fruit leather available by the checkouts. Now – had this been described as quail eggs with fruit leather, maybe it would have worked, but that expectation of meaty, spicy chorizo was high and unmet.

Quail Eggs with Hip Berry Chorizo

Up until now, the best morel dish I had was at Spoken English in the Line Hotel DC. That’s still way up there in my top dishes this year, but these morels outdid Spoken English’s. The juice that these came in was meaty and truffly, smokey and packed with umami. This is one of those things that you can still taste weeks later. Unfortunately for us, our request for a few of these to go was not fulfilled.

Preserved Morels from Spring

If you’re not frying up just about everything in your garden this summer, you’re doing it wrong, apparently. These marigolds were salted and fried up state fair style and served with a bourbon egg yolk sauce that we would have been happy dunking anything in. I’m not sure what sort of voodoo went into these, but their crunch with just the right amount of vegetal after taste was spellbinding.

Fried Marigolds with a Whiskey Egg Nog

Another surprise stand out of the meal: green peas. When was the last time you got excited about a green pea dish? Maybe never? These peas were cooked al dente with a slight char and were served in a jus from the pea husks then topped with a dollop of creme fraiche. We tried to take a few of these to go as well to no avail.

Just Cooked Peas with Whipped Cream

Mulberries, yellow raspberries (see Rene’s Instagram), red and green strawberries, radishes, and fava beans. There’s really nothing that could make this bad.

Berries and Fava Beans

More voodoo – this flatbread was topped with probably 100 different specimens from the plant kingdom all mixed together with a light, green goddess-esque dressing. Not long, after we gobbled these down in a few seconds, we got to go back in the kitchen and watch one of the chefs painstakingly breaking the flatbreads out into perfect squares. Kudos.

Umami Flatbread

What happens when you combine two varieties of dairy, one of them fried, and top it all with generous black truffle shavings? This thing. And man was it good. Our waiter told us that the shell was formed by cooking some fresh milk then cutting circles out of the thick skin that caramelized on top. That shell was then filled with a fresh cheese, all deep fried and topped with truffles. The milk skin was subtly sweet, and the cheese and truffles made this little fried treat the most decadent “fair food” one could ever dream of.

Caramelized Milk and Cheese with Truffles

Not sure where to even being describing the wax broth and bee pollen, but let’s just say that this was the most flowers I’ve eaten ever. And they were a treat. Next time you find yourself in a pansy pasture, pick a few, throw them in with some bee pollen and a fruity broth and you’ve basically taken yourself to noma. Our only question was whether or not they re-used these wax bowls?

Wax Broth with Bee Pollen

You’ve seen shawarma, but have you seen shawarma made from celeriac with layers of butter and truffle in between? Well now you have.

Shawarma of Celeriac and Truffle

The shawarma was then sliced and plated with some mushrooms, berries, and steamed greens then topped with a rich mushroom truffle jus. The steamed greens here were shockingly delicious. We just expected they were there for a little color, but they were wrapped around any number of other vegetables, and cooked to soft, savory perfection.

Celeriac Shawarma served with Steamed Greens and Berries

I know you’re just here for the pictures, so I’m really just writing this for my own reliving of noma. But this was another one of those “will remember for life” dishes. The curd was more of a tofu made out of pumpkin seeds, and it was sitting on a mole made, at least partially, from grasshoppers. The grilled roses looked nice, and they also tasted nice – they added a little bit of crunch and tartness to an otherwise very smooth plate.

Pumpkin Seed Curd with Grilled Roses and Grasshopper Eggs

I mean, artichoke + truffle juice. You can’t go wrong.

Artichoke Boiled in Truffle Juice

These were little berry ravioli – a fruit roll up filled with a mixed berry compote all delicately floating in chilled, fresh cream. Just sweet enough, but not too sweet. And of course, more flowers.

Berries and Cream

We had a lot of first at noma, including my first time eating a mold ice cream sandwich. It’s basically a white choco taco, but mold. But it was a treat. The “shell” was essentially the rind of a brie cheese, and it was filled with a slice of super frozen, thick vanilla ice cream. The textures were weird. The flavors were weird. But like so much else at noma, it just worked.

“Mold Pancake”

Unlike the first potted plant, this one was not meant to be slurped out of, this one was meant to be eaten in its entirety. Wonderfully bittersweet chocolate pot, chocolate cookie crumb dirt, more edible flowers, and filled with ice cream and cream and rose scented things. More of these please.

“Rose Scented Terracotta”
Inside of the Terracotta Cake

After our meal, we got a quick tour of the kitchen and other areas of the restaurant:

Prep Line for the Berries and Fava Beans Dish
Prep Kitchen
Noma Staff Meal Kitchen

If you have the opportunity to go to noma, you must. Your meal likely will cost more than your flight to Copenhagen, but it will be worth every penny. And if you ever find yourself with extra noma reservations that you can’t use (like Tom), please let me know. I’ll gladly take them off your hands.

Oh, and if you can’t snag a noma reservation, see if you can get in at their sister restaurant, Geranium. It’s not a sure bet by any means, but it’s a little easier.

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