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Dinner at Pelikan

LUND — I was lying sick in a hotel room in San Salvador medicating myself with liquids, Cipro and television. I don’t have a television at home and find myself exposed to its weirdness in places that accentuate the strangeness of the medium. I found that the TV often contains odd corollaries to actual life and in between masked Mexicans tossing each other about and the psychopathic progression of one dying, dismembered and disappeared show after another I found Anthony Bourdain’s food and travel show “No Reservations.” Bourdain, in this episode, was visiting Sweden, where I was soon to be.

What I love about Bourdain is the glee with which he has, “sold out.” He has, for better or worse, and that is up to him, “sold out” to the complete dream and in the best possible personal way that I think I have ever seen, parlaying his own intelligence, wit and anarchic personality into a living on TV. And while actually doing the show undoubtedly is often annoying, it still allows the finances and freedom to travel the world and eat and drink for a living instead of toiling forever in the body and soul crushing commercial kitchen. Cheers to that!

What Mr. Bourdain has found is a traditional refuge of the talented rogue: journalism. Of course I use the “j word” loosely, but there is a long and gloriously checkered tradition of the adventurer using both restaurant work and published words or images to further and fund a personal taste for world experience. And no real rogue is worth his salt (or pepper or saffron or garlic) if he doesn’t like his adventure combined with meat and fowl and game and wine and all other gastronomic possibilities for good, ill or dysentery as the road finds them.

So, I was sick in San Salvador, undoubtedly from something I had eaten, and Chef Bourdain was cavorting in Sweden, my soon-to-be-home. Among other televised adventures he ate at a traditional old Stockholm restaurant named Pelikan where he dined upon knuckle of pork. Now I already knew that Lena and I were planning to go to Stockholm in November and she had been asking me what I wanted to do upon arrival in Sweden. The sights of Sweden, unfortunately, are less obvious than, say, Rome or Paris, but now I had a destination in mind.

The Pelikan was only a few blocks from our hostel and we went on a Sunday night. It is a large, open, wood-paneled beer hall with 30 foot ceiling painted with fading murals of gamboling monkeys. It was mostly full that evening but felt convivial not crowded. Our waiter was a short, Germanic man who was curt at first, though not impolite. He seemed to warm to us, however, as it became evident we truly enjoyed the food. We began with drinks, Lena a Martini (red vermouth not the cocktail) and I a Laphroig single malt neat. We decided to make a whole meal of the experience and began with starters. I got a salad of anchovies and egg on dark bread and she the charcuterie plate. They both were good, the cold cuts slightly strange in their spicing and texture to my palette and the salad a hearty mix of flavors, both perfect with the Carlsburg Hof that we washed them down with.

I considered the meatballs, what could be more Swedish than that, and rather wanted the duck in cider sauce, but Lena questioned my manhood if I didn’t get the pork knuckle like some cook with a French name had managed to eat. So I ordered the pork, which came as a huge bone-in joint of boiled swine-flesh with three mustards and a side of mashed root vegetables. Lena got the elk in chanterelle sauce with mashed potatoes with rose hips. We vowed to return for the meatballs and duck.

And the pork was sublime, cut-with-a-fork-falling-off-the-bone, salty and perfect with the mustards and the buttery mash of carrots and parsnips and potatoes. Lena’s elk was excellent as well and we traded back and forth a few times until I declared the pork knuckle mine and fended off her questing fork. We drank more of the Danish Carlsburg (Probably the Best Beer in the World reads the label, I love Scandanavian pseudo-modesty).

Between the meal and desert we had strong coffee and two kinds of Branvin, literally “burnt wine” (schnapps). One, the traditional caraway flavored type and another infused with bog myrtle. We finished with a cloudberry parfait and a blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream.

What else can one say? The interior of Pelikan is warm with light and laughter and talk against the dark Scandanavian winter night. The food is perfect. All in all it was one of the best restaurant experiences I have ever had. I aligned my fork and knife (gaffel och kniv), let the waiter take away the plates, looked deep into the blue eyes of my Swede and let out a long, satisfied, traditional burp.

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