Sunday, 15 February 2015

Latvian culinary feast

Tallinn, that charming capital of our Southern neighbour has for a long time been one of my go-to destinations for a food and culture-filled minibreak - not least because of their exciting restaurant scene. Culinary expertize, pride over their heritage, creative use of new ingredients, innovative way of incorporating the trends... and all for very affordable prices. 

But while no-one was looking their southern neighbour Latvia became a culinary force to be reckoned with on their own right, and is now such a hot ticket Estonians flock there in search of inspiration. We got to sample a culinary masterpiece that is 3 Pavaru Restaurant as part of the Experience Latvia theme month that ends today. For the past two years the restaurant has been ranked #3 in Latvia, and it swiftly became #1 meal we've had in a while. 

Modern Latvian cuisine sources its inspiration from country's culinary traditions, and its ingredients from local producers. There is an abundance of dairy products and the production has long-standing traditions. Cuisine lives according to season though much like in Finland, climate doesn't make that easy. "We do have winter for 9 months of the year after all", one of the cooks laughed.

So, making the most of seasonal, fresh produce is important, and has resulted in creative ways of preserving it for the not so fruitful winter months. 

Eastern European cuisine has a reputation for producing sturdy, fatty and meaty dishes designed to keep its fur-clad people warm during those horrid winter months, when temperatures drop to -40 and metres of snow barricade people into their homes with nothing but a dream or better days to come, right?

Wrong. 3 Pavaru's culinary fireworks showed just how phenomenally fresh their take on those traditions and ingredients is. 

The restaurant ("3 chefs") got its name from its - well - 3 chefs. The head chef Juris Dukalskis has many letters that my keyboard fails to produce to his name, but also extensive experience from variety of international competitions and top restaurants. One of them Michelin-starred Texture in London

And sure enough textures, salt, tastes and components were in perfect harmony throughout each dish. 

The first surprise of the day was this. Though Latvian latitude is challenging (to say the least) for wine-making, they haven't let this defeat them. In addition to grapes, wine is also made of local berries and fruits. This delicate and elegant sparkling wine from Abavas for instance, was made entirely out of rhubarb (I didn't believe it until I'd triple checked it)! Great texture, wonderful small bubbles. The Boy Next Door loved it and is probably starting movement aiming at getting it into the shops in Finland, too.

3 Pavaru's open kitchen concept was right at home in Kellohalli and accompanied by sinfully delicious smells, we got to watch the dishes being prepared and assembled. To some it might seem perverse, but man, do I get a kick out of watching something like that! It's like... Formula One. Only so much better!

First we feasted on fish: pike perch like we've never had before. Sheer perfection, every step of the way. 

Next dish paid homage to all things pork.

By the time I snatched The Boy Next Door's plate, it was fairly safe to conclude my aversion to blood pudding (so efficiently instilled in me by English cooking) had finally vanished. Melt-in-your-mouth moreish magnificence. 

Next stop was an enigmatic experience. Something familiar, yet with something I couldn't quite get the hang of... The answer behind the mystery? Cuttlefish ink. Delish.

The main course featured freekeh, which is something we, too, have at home, waiting for the inspiration to strike. I think it just did.  

This dish featured the grain both cooked and fried until crisp and puffed up. The result was another marvelous marriage of textures and tastes. 

Both meat courses utilized cheaper cuts such as cheeks, traditionally associated with the humble dishes of the lower classes. There was, however, nothing low-class about the way the chefs cheekily celebrated these humble cuts - a feast fit for a king, they were!

The dessert was a fine ending for a truly fine meal: another creative play on textures and different degrees of sweetness. Masterpiece. For both the eyes and stomach.

The wine pairings worked well. Chardonnay (never my fave) was in balance with the dishes it was served with, and while the Pinot Noir surprised with its dryness, it worked well with the veal. 

The dessert wine was a triumph and summarized the meal perfectly: not to sweet, not too anything. Everything was just right.  

Pure foodie bliss. For digestive we were spoiled with another Latvian treat: Abavas' black chokeberry port. At this point my date melted.

Between each course (and wine glass!) we still managed to find time for interesting conversations about Latvian foodie scene, and (owing to the continuously escalating bad behaviour of one Vladimir) history.

Both Estonia and Latvia share the way they've managed to reinvent themselves in such a short time. The Soviet occupation has only been over for a couple of decades, yet both of the countries have proven to be proud nations, fearlessly looking ahead; combining their rich histories and dynamic attitude to the future in a very enticing way.

Compared to that it's sad to see how Finland, after decades and decades of so called independence, still seems to be stuck in the drab mentality that prevailed in the post war society; still bowing to the Big bully in the East, who keeps going through life like a petulant 3-year-old.

One lunch isn't quite enough to fix the entire world, but we did find an answer to a question that's been riddling us for a while: our next travel destination. 

Latvia, we're coming over. Are you home?





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