Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Dining and w(h)ining in Helsinki: Carelia

My friend The Wine Authority had apparently liked my post about Töölö. Though he felt that a restaurant mentioned only in passing would warrant an entry of its own. And as often is the case, he was right.

As the restaurant scene is going crazy opening bistros and brasseries left and right the reservations for which a food blogger desperately then chases, VISA and waistline stretched to their limits, it is so easy to forget the time- and trend defying classics. Such as Carelia. Opened in 1996 in an old pharmacy this restaurant specializes in quality wines and has been a long-standing favourite among winebuffs (even Château d'Yquem is available by the glass!!!), but how could anybody not love this? With the checkered floor tiles, classic decor, incredibly friendly and knowledgeable staff and the cozy chanson jazz lingering in the background this is like being in France. Without the language and l'attitude, that is. 

The Wine Authority's wife Yiddishe Mame and I made it to the last day of Carelia's Champagne weeks, during which several quality bubbles were available by the glass.

This individual had ripe fruitiness and toastiness reminiscent of a brioche. Trust me, I'm not (entirely) winging this - like her husband, Yiddishe Mame is quite a connoisseur in her own right.

To my eyes, saturated with (occasionally not just perceived) innovativeness of the trendier establishments the back to basics- menu at Carelia seemed....well, bland. To a point of disappointing. But the execution... zut alors! Excellent!

The bread is wonderfully sour and thick crusted. If I only learnt to make bread like this at home... The no-knead bread comes pretty close, but I suppose the start to a successful recipe would be the starter itself. Perhaps I'll have to give it a go at some point...?

Head cheese (or brawn) doesn't exactly sound tempting, does it? Coppa di testa on the other hand does. It was so beautiful and melted in the mouth. The mustard it was served with had just the right amount of sweetness and tartness.

For this and the main course Iisa, the supreme sommelier recommended this very balanced Pinot Noir.

You know that intoxicating smell that at least I associate with holidays in the South? That unbelievably inviting aroma of meat being cooked on the grill that flows out of the restaurants filling the air at the end of yet another sunny, glorious day? This is what it tastes like. Carelia's entrecôte is one of the absolute best ones in Helsinki.

And chips? Fried in goose fat,  bien sûr!

Dairily challenged Yiddishe Mame had specially prepared vinaigrette instead of the Béarnaise sauce. Unbelievably rich and full of sweet flavour. I finished the rest with the bread. Not because I'm greedy. But because I'm socially responsible and believe in sustainable consumerism that wastes not (yet wants plenty). In all honesty I'd have probably sucked it through a straw - it was that delicious. 

Their steak tartare (organic, of course) is a classic for a reason. Though Wine Authority longs for the days they used to make it with richer flavoured horse.

I'm not in possession of  much enological expertize, which is why listening to these two is such a treat. We don't have "our song", The Gentleman and me, but we do have "our Champagne (Veuve Cliquot). And there's a huge variety in bubbles out there) as tonight's thorough two-variety tasting of showed. This individual, originating from one of the most prestigious Champagne-producing villages was one of the best things ever. The crisp, bright bubbles caressed the tongue like a bunch of unicorns galloping through rainbow-coloured clouds (read that sentence and you'll realize exactly why I don't have a wine blog...)

In addition to well executed dishes and superb and attentive customer service Carelia seduces the eye (and the lense) with its decor's numerous charming details.

Must. Have. One. Of. These. 

As a kid (I grew up in the 80's when the height of sophistication as I knew it was the aesthetics of people who had lived in Sweden) I dreamed of chandeliers. "When I grew up" I wanted to have one in every room - including the loo. This specimen just might be the one for me. If it were bigger, that is. If only I'd known all those years ago that I really wouldn't have to worry about rooms in plural - in the centre of Helsinki I could only ever afford just one.

In case you (as I'm afraid I did) have image of Carelia as an outdated institution with white starched table cloths, correct that image right now and go eat there. I know I'm going back - for that Château d'Yquem alone (12€/4 cl). One has to try that divine nectar once in her life, right? Or well, with that price perhaps more than just once?

And as if this wasn't good enough, the evening only got better. This outstanding couple has their own storage in the wine cellar downstairs, the contents of which we sampled next.

The Wine Authority is currently training for the wine tasting world championships, by the way. hard work, that. The progress is chronicled in his blog (in Finnish). He can also be hired to educate on wines - highly recommend it. His enthusiasm and expertize are nothing short of excellent.

To start with there was such a rare treat I'd never even heard of it before. This particular wine, result of one man's dream, is made with grapes from vines so old, nobody even knows the variety. This natural wine has been stripped of everything redundant and it is as close to the chemical-, sulfite- and gimmicky-free original product as possible. Even the fermentation takes place in terracotta amforas seated in vulcanic rock. Juice -like and peculiarly thin taste initially - the tannins take a while to emerge.

And this was the tasting menu for the rest of the evening. What a thrill it is to have friends like this who make sure my life isn't all moping miserably at home.




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