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Fall 2007 | Copenhagen

Fall 2007 | Copenhagen

The food revolution

Snug, sophisticated Copenhagen lets you tick off another requirement of the Gay Grand Tour: It should come packed with surprises -- and very good food. Neither of which seems to suggest homey Denmark, where the major culinary initiative until recently seemed to involve finding even more ways of marinating, pickling, and generally manhandling the local Baltic herring.

But not anymore. Only slightly less drama-prone than London, the Danish capital is putting on its own nightly show in a series of open kitchens, where the blond Viking chefs, paying homage to their forebears, do unexpected things with big culinary knives.

How did this cute Nordic city become Northern Europe's gastronomic epicenter? The leap isn't as unexpected as it seems. Always a city that has embraced a clean, refined aesthetic, Copenhagen and its crowded creative classes helped set the template for classic, mid-century modern design (it's often called Danish Modern for a reason). So it was only a matter of time -- and one herring buffet too many -- before all that creative energy jumped to the table. Now flaunting more Michelin stars (eight by last count) than any other Scandinavian city, and most European capitals twice its size, Copenhagen has become a bona fide dining destination, and there are no signs yet that there are too many sous chefs working the local kitchens. A new ambitious restaurant seems to open here every week.

For the source of the local culinary revolution, and a taste of the kitchen that helped place Copenhagen so firmly on the foodie's map, head to Noma, a cavernous beamed restaurant -- converted from a 16th-century warehouse -- that overlooks Copenhagen's photogenic harbor. That's where chef Rene Redzepi, pumped up with Nordic pride, plates the purest rendition of dishes that are regionally sourced. You already know the organic mantra because even the line cooks in the local diner are repeating it. But in the right hands -- i.e., Redzepi's -- you really can taste a world of tumbling flavors in one perfectly cooked woodruff, and a bright orange buckthorn berry does manage to look as seductive as any black truffle or lobe of foie gras.

"We can do great cooking without having to use French or Spanish accents," Redzepi stresses with missionary passion, proving it with signature dishes like his fresh Greenland shrimp paired with crisped potato skins and horseradish-buttermilk powder.

While Noma's ode to the Nordic bumper crop may define patriotic purism at its most sublime, it isn't the only meal in town. Because this is the facedown-in-the-food leg of your tour, and because there are so many virtuoso kitchens in Copenhagen, don't stop at one pupil-dilating dinner or go witlessly looking for gay-friendly kitchens. You can, if you want, indulge in an ubergay night at the doggedly camp Jailhouse restaurant, where the waiters don guard uniforms. But in a postgay, secular city like Copenhagen, where any fundamentalist efforts at queer bashing are considered primordial and where the general infatuation with high style reads as purely homo, there isn't a dining room in town that feels unfriendly. Plus all the open kitchens mean you can ogle those long-limbed blond cooks while they lovingly assemble your dinner.

Among the glossiest new restaurants, all nice antidotes to Noma's austerity, are a trio of current local favorites. Start at Umami, where the dining room is sheathed in shimmering beads, the waitstaff is catwalk-worthy, and the dish of langoustines lounging in a pool of browned soya butter looks like a foodie pinup. Then head to Kiin Kiin in the trendy, multiethnic Norrebro neighborhood for chef Henrik Yde Andersen's Bangkok-on-the-Baltic cuisine, featuring North Sea scallops spiked with lemongrass and lime juice.

Finish the smorgasbord at MR, where another photogenic chef, Mads Refslund, just won a Michelin star by invoking the most despised word in contemporary kitchens: fusion. This is no '90s sushi-samba food fight, though. "I just wanted to throw in some Mediterranean accents and use olive oil and foie gras again," laughs Refslund, released from his stint cooking beside Redzepi at Noma and feeling tired of relentlessly considering the Danish beetroot. Adding some subtle global flavors to his regional ingredients and turning out quietly dramatic dishes like sweetbreads in morel sauce, he's an understated radical. But in style-conscious Copenhagen, always seriously considering its next aesthetic move, even a splash of olive oil can read like a very big statement.

Kiin Kiin

The Grand Tour: Euro culture capitals

All the world's a stage in London
Down the hatch in Dublin
Art for art's sake in Berlin
Model behavior in Milan

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