Sometimes my reputation as a foodie precedes me. As a member of the committee that produced Worldcon 75, I had the opportunity to travel to Helsinki on three separate occasions. During each of my visits, my hosts made an effort to expose me to all facets of Finnish cuisine, from the ten-euro lunch buffet through reindeer-topped pizza to restaurants offering modern takes of traditional dishes.
But it wasn’t until the actual convention that I had my best Helsinki meal, thanks to my international restaurant fixer Scott Edelman. He found Olo, one of the city’s Michelin starred restaurants (one star), and reserved a table for six. We all agreed to select the Journey tasting menu, settling in for nearly four hours of food and conversation.
None other than Robert Silverberg advised me “If they serve you fennel, eat it.” They did, and I did. The lightly glazed stalks of baby fennel were a perfect way to start the meal: light, refreshing, and a palate reset to prepare us for what was to come.
Osterilehteä ja osteria/Oyster leaf and oyster
Lohta ja krassinkukkaa/Salmon and nasturtium
This garden in a bowl held oyster leaves (they do taste like oysters) filled with oyster cream, and nasturtium flowers filled with salmon cream.
Porkkanaa ja merilevää/Carrot and seaweed
Roasted carrots rolled in panko and nori.
Kananmaksaa, kanannahkaa ja kanalientä/Chicken liver, chicken skin, and poultry stock
Spheres of chicken liver mousse, chicken skin crackers, and chicken stock. I was having the wine pairing, so the tiny vial was included, which I was advised to drink as I ate the mousse. Perfect advice, as the bottle was a sip of Chateau d’Yquem, a sauterne traditionally served with foie gras.
Mushroom-filled pastry shells topped with chanterelle mushrooms and parmesan. This concluded the finger food portion of the menu.
Emmer-mannaa ja poron sydäntä/Emmer semolina and reindeer heart
Emmer wheat porridge with shaved dried reindeer heart and quinoa, with wild mushroom sauce underneath. I’ve concluded that it’s not possible to eat a multi-course Finnish meal and not be served reindeer.
Kurkkua ja sinisimpukkaa/Cucumber and mussel
Mussels, cucumbers, nasturtium leaves, and the first of many sauces with dill as a component.
Olon leipää ja karitsaa/Olo’s bread and baby lamb
The plating for this course began with a sheet of paper and a smear of house-churned butter, followed by a bowl of baby lamb tartare and a loaf of sourdough. The various dips were garlic, avocado, cucumber, and rapeseed oil. It’s unusual to be served a bread course in the middle of a tasting menu, but I ate it all, despite my concern that it would make me too full to enjoy the rest of the meal. Somehow I managed to soldier on.
Tomaattia ja vouhenjuustoa/Tomato and goat cheese
A play on the classic caprese salad: baby tomatoes with cucumber, basil gelée, and frozen powdered goat cheese.
Merianturaa ja kesäperunaa/Sole with summer potatoes
Poached sole, baby potato, fresh peas, kale, dill sauce.
Kuhaa ja kaviaaria/Pike perch with caviar
This was the first dish where I could see the work that went into its preparation. Pike filet had been “glued” together with transglutaminase, thinly sliced, and set over a disc of horseradish cream. A turned turnip cup held the caviar and sour cream.
Kateenkorvaa ja sipuleita/Sweetbreads of veal with onions
Sweetbreads are typically dredged in flour and lightly fried, but for this dish it was seared like foie gras. It was served with a roasted onion and oxtail stock.
Jogurttia ja tilliä/Yogurt and dill
Frozen yogurt foam with dill gelée and cucumber granita. A perfect palate cleanser.
Kesän marjoja, maitoa ja sitruunaverbena/Sumer berries, milk, and lemon verbena
Baby strawberries, strawberry sorbet, frozen mint spheres, and lemon verbena powder. And the mandatory salmiakki: salty black licorice.
Vadelmaa ja rusua/Raspberry and rose
Mignardises to conclude our meal: pastry puffs filed with raspberry and rose cream, and blackcurrant jellies.
Many restaurants pay lip service to “fresh and local,” but Olo didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walk. Every dish highlighted an aspect of what Finland had to offer. I’d be interested in revisiting in the winter when the variety of fruits and vegetables would be more limited, but I suspect they’d be no less creative.
There was no technique on display for the sake of clever presentation, but there was clearly a lot of thought and skill put into each plate. It was refreshing to enjoy a fine meal where everything was in service to the food.
I’m not sure when I’ll return to Helsinki, but if I do, another dinner at Olo will be on my list.
(A confession: I ate everything on every plate with one exception – the salmiakki. That stuff is just nasty.)