Exquisite September, Beguiling Birgitta

If you are in Helsinki, you should be outside right now. The weather is painfully beautiful. The temperature perfect, the light mellow and golden. The days are at a humane length. It is a Goldilocks moment before the bears of winter return.

This month is also the last call for Cafe Birgitta, which will purportedly close for the winter at the end of September. The terrace looks out over one of my favorite swimming spots, but the inside is equally beautiful. Really, they could be serving anything, the setting is so perfect, and the fact they are actually offering interesting, well-presented food (towering burgers, chia seed parfaits, tempeh salads) explains the growing crowds that encompass everyone from what look to be exquisitely dressed business people to joggers in disreputable footwear who appear to have been seduced into taking a respite from their seaside rambles.

But it is the placement and construction of this summer cafe that is most wonderful; it creates a little sanctuary in a spot on the border of an old industrial area with one of the best and most open views of the water available in Helsinki. The building itself was constructed with oiled timber, reminiscent of old piers and lights inside are made from old fashioned glass buoys. A beach shack with a wood stove in modern Scandinavian design: just enough protection and warmth to shield from approaching autumn. The spot inspired this lament for the end of summer:

A low fire lips its iron cage
August hails the end of summer
Sun bounces back from shining waves
The Earth is flush from lengthened days
The city turns towards winter.

Rushing autumn now bundles limbs
once warmed by fleeting summer.
Shaking sand, bodies rise again
and fold themselves in shells
of wood and metal.

Footnote: Just noticed that in the picture above of pastries and korvapuusti (those delicious chewy not gooey cinnamon rolls spiked with cardamom) the words Honolulu and Valhalla are juxtaposed in a single frame. This seems a rare event… Yet, there is a strange consonant resonance between the two place names, pointing to something fantastical!

Nils Dardel at Moderna Museet

Head Hunters by Nils Dardel

This gallery contains 8 photos.

Another great thing about Helsinki is that it is possible to walk from here to Stockholm, by simply hopping on one of the ridiculous ferries that run daily between the two cities. I went to have a look at two exhibitions at Moderna Museet. The first that caught my eye… Click to continue reading

Hot as Helsinki

Helsinki is actually hot. Hotter than it looks.
People crowding Eiran Ranta Helsinki

Escape the heat:

  1. Jump into the sea. Repeat as necessary. Unless you are in Espoo and there is toxic algae bloom because the Baltic is massively polluted.
  2. Visit Cafe Kokko on the north side of Katajanokka and enjoy a breeze over the water and some shade.

Green Smoothie Cafe Kokko

Kanavaranta North SIde with Wooden Sailboats Helsinki

Cafe Kokko Sign

Paradise: Rosendals Trädgård, Stockholm

It has been a while since I posted. I was having too much fun, it was Midsummer with enthusiastic sauna-ing and swimming in icy water… and then I got sick. Completely worth it, however : )

So this draft has been sitting here for a long time. Rosendals Trädgård is one of my favorite places in Stockholm. It is on Djurgården, an island that can be reached with regular public transportation, as well as the public ferries that run to the island. So, you can walk there from Helsinki.

Djurgården is home to great museums as well as the famed amusement park, Göna Lund. Rosendals is deeper into the island, an organic, biodynamic farm with a cafe and bakery in a greenhouse, tables in the orchards, and the most amazing bread . Absolutely idyllic.

A vineyard at Rosendals Trädgård Stockholm

Along with edibles, beautiful flowers.

Blue, deep violet flowers in the gardens of organic biodynamic Rosendals Trädgård Stockholm

A dramatic pink and black poppy in the gardens of Rosendals Trädgård Stockholm

But they are probably best known for their food. The farm has a cafe that serves lunch, sandwiches and pastries along with teas, coffee, and a wonderful assortment of local and organic juices. These can be enjoyed in the greenhouse cafe or in the gardens, orchards and lawns.

Salad at Rosendals Trädgård in Stockholm

The salad was a little bit heavier than we would have liked. The blue cheese dressing was intense. But the fresh pea soup was a fantastic take on a Scandinavian classic, and the bottle of apple cider was arguably the best we had ever had. It was from Linas och Binas. Important note: Those people also run Bee Safaries!

Picnic Benches in the Orchard of Rosendals Trädgård Stockholm

The bread is haunting. Fermented, baked in a wood fired oven. You can see the fermentation in the air pockets and chewiness of it.

Levain bread from Rosendals Stockholm

We took some with us for later. The expensive nut seed and berry mix we picked up at the shop next to the cafe was also very very good. Simple, humble food that is absolutely sublime.

David Lebowitz has a nice post about the place here. He got a special tour of the bakery. The butter he mentions is also incredible: creamy, fresh, irresistible. Barring deathly reaction to wheat and dairy, this is worth the indulgence.

Bright green fresh pea soup and buttered organic bread
Yes, that amount of fresh whipped butter was perfect!

Yards and outbuildings of Rosendals Trägård Stockholm

On the road: Klaus Cafe

We recently had a great meeting at the Klaus Cafe in Tallinn. Outside of the Old Town, a trip there will take you to another view of the city.

The cafe itself is almost too adorable, nestled as it is in the same building as the Estonian Design House and shop, which exerted a siren like call on me.

2014.5TallinnBirdWindow

Everything in the cafe was presented with care, from water:

2014.5KlausBerryWater

To a cheese plate:

2014.5KlausCheese

To tea and coffee (here served in Iittala Taika dishes). I like the choice of pure black with it.

2014.5KlausCoffee

The front of their menu, the prices seem fantastic from the perspective of Helsinki.

KlausTallinnMenu2014spring

On offer: duck, a very good salmon soup that can be ordered clear or creamy, good tea served well, and two of the most amazing smoothies I have had in recent memory. I am looking forward to going back. Klaus is also a walkable distance from both Old Town Tallinn and the ships coming in from Helsinki, Stockholm and St. Petersburg. It also gets one out into an interesting part of town.

2014.5TallinOtherSide

2014.5TallinPaint

A side of the city I thought was interesting and visually rewarding. I would love to hear about other hidden treasures of Tallinn!

Helsinki Vetus: Meri Makasiini

A straight-up classic fish restaurant with a great water-side location. A definite marina feel, with some view of big cruise ships and working cranes. At the end of Bulevardi. Our party was very happy and the service was great. They have shaded outside seating.

They were having an asparagus week:

Asparagus plate

That is most definitely a Hollandaise sauce.

The Crabber’s Salad. Good, with crayfish and shrimp:

Crabber's Salad

A pike steak dish:

Pike

A salmon dish, reported to be better than most:

Salmon

Lovers of water, ships, working ports and good seafood will love this old-school place. I was impressed by their decent wine list and local brews, like cider from the Suomenlinna Brewery. So, while some people are scared-off by the sign, which you can’t miss:

2014.5MeriMakasiiniSign

This is classic Helsinki– and a place that does what it does extremely well.

Helsinki Nova: The Exhibitionists

I have a new crush: The Exhibitionists Cafe in Töölö. An international, french influenced place with used books, very peaceful. Free wifi. Small, though, and they are also a little shop with some nicely designed paper items, coffee supplies and used books.

Last week I went there for the first time to recover after a visit to the hospital, during which an otherwise very nice nurse dug around in my arm for a vein unsuccessfully for a while before giving up and switching arms, as I tried to make her feel better about it all, while I submited to the drilling of my second arm. At least there was symmetry in the bandages. And wonderful coffee and food to follow:

Latte at the Exhibitionists

The show stopper was the lunch. Not pictured here: a giant pile of fresh herbs (mint, thai basil and cilanto). Yum!

Salad at the Exhibitionists

It held up to a second visit as well. And I like the music they play. They have aeropress, frenchpress, kalita pour-overs, and a nice tea selection, too.

On the road: Art Cafe

I have been doing some traveling. It is one of those weeks that has involved planes, ships and three different countries. But first there was Turku and a visit to one of my favorite cafés, Cafe Art or Art Cafe along the Aura River.

Coffee and archipelago bread

Free wifi, good coffee, lots of space. A wonderful place to work. I had an entire room to myself with a view of the river and cyclists zooming by…

Window if Cafe  Art

Their only fault is parsimonious hours.

Cafe Art, Turku

Juuri– a second visit

A visiting friend invited me to Juuri for the first time last fall and it was fun. The food is presented well, but I think they make a wee bit too much of a fuss over their unique concept of Finnish tapas. This time, a group of us were coming in for a late afternoon drink and snack after a tour of galleries nearby. It was four in the afternoon, but the waitress still seemed to be pushing a bit for people to order a main course, or more tapas. That aside, it is a nice place and a favourite of visitors, since they have a lot of traditional flavours on the menu. One of the plates I ordered– the special of the day– was not too special, but the fish was delicious.

2014.4JuuriFish

Hoku on herkku

Lunch at Hoku

Lunch at Hoku

The other day I got to have lunch at Hoku , a little restaurant in Helsinki I had been wanting to go to for a very long time. It was so good that even though I was having lunch with someone I had just met and felt a little ridiculous I had to take a photo of the furikake encrusted siika over udon noodles. Siika is sometimes translated just as common whitefish. It is a medium sized lake fish with delicate white flesh well-loved in Finland.

Very nice people, too! Lunch was wonderful.