Pine mouth drives me nuts

Ever heard of pine nuts leaving a bitter or metallic taste in your mouth? I did a couple of months ago but didn’t think much of it. That was until a a glass of juice almost had me convinced I was being poisoned. It has now lasted several days and the worst part is that it seems like it can stay like this for weeks.

For a food loving guy like me, this really blows. Have I mentioned I do enjoy wine as well, apparently that will be one of the most revolting experiences with pine mouth. Crap-damn-it!

Moving past my disgust, pine mouth is quite an interesting phenomenon. Everyone seems puzzled with what’s behind it. Some has suggested rancid nuts and scientists have tested for led and chemicals, fortunately without results. Lately, though, it seems like it has something to do with what type of tree the nuts are taken from. Since most samples that have caused pine mouth are from China, many seems to be switching to other suppliers. You see, the harvests haven’t yielded enough so it seems ‘regular’ pine nuts is getting mixed with other types. As it is hard to distinguish between the different types I am too boycotting Chinese pine nuts from now on.

If you’re interested in reading more about this there’s a really good blog by a grad student specialising in food perceptions – The Great Pine Nut Mystery. Among other things she lists different types and if they’ll give you pine mouth. Swedish food journalist Lisa Förare Winbladh has also written about this after experiencing it, in Swedish though. Or you can just Google it and you’ll see that it seems to be trending.

Photo by Paul Goyette.

Gowalla gets an awesome update

So I just posted my views on the Gowalla vs. Foursquare battle. Functionality-wise Foursquare had some neat tricks I missed in Gowalla but the latter had me hooked with it’s sleeker look and better Swedish user base. Today Gowalla updated it’s iPhone App and it feels like a big step in the right direction.

First of all, they offer integration with not only Foursquare but Facebook Places as well! Thank you! You can see check-ins from friends that use one of the other services. Plus that now I don’t have to check in using two apps all the time (well I guess I miss quite a bit of all the things I liked about Foursquare but hey I’m lazy as everyone else). When you check in, in addition to sharing this with Facebook and Twitter as before you can now also choose to share it on Foursquare and Tumblr.

Integration in Gowalla 3Share check-ins with Gowalla 3

Secondly, you can now bookmark places. Makes it a little bit easier to find those favorites you check in to regularly. Have a look at the layout of a place below.

A place in Gowalla 3Leave notes at a Place in Gowalla 3

On the right hand side you see another new feature – Notes. Similar to the Foursquare Tips but in the end not the same thing. Check in to a place, click on ‘leave note’ and then choose which friend to share it to. Hmm, what if I want to leave a general note or tip to all my friends or even others checking in later. On the Gowalla blog they say you can leave a note for yourself but havn’t figured that one out yet.

As I said, a lot of goodies for an already Gowalla-favoring guy. Still, notes can be improved to be public or private (now they only seem private).

Gowalla and Foursquare in Sweden

So I’ve been using Gowalla and Foursquare a little while now – to experiment and evaluate, and I’m still doing just that. It feels, however, that I have managed to get a basic sense of the two location-based services (LBS). Internationally, which I interpret as in the US, Foursquare is kicking Gowalla’s butt, at least number-wise. Foursquare have as of today 4 million users while Gowalla boasts a mere 600,000. Looking at just Sweden, I’m not sure which one is the biggest. I will therefore make a very subjective assessment of the two services from a user perspective.

I really prefer the look and feel of Gowalla compared to Foursquare. Have a peek at the “front page” of the two apps below. Foursquare has a map icon but Gowalla does the feed a bit sleeker.

Foursquare frontGowalla front

Checking into places, what’s it’s all about, is also a bit different. Of course the basics are the same, where are you and what are you doing there. In Foursquare you can choose to share this with your friends or not. In Gowalla your friends get the update but you can choose to also send this update to Twitter and Facebook (if you’ve connected them). This is nifty if you sometimes, some places, what to give a shout out (or brag) to your tweeps or FB friends.

Foursquare check-inGowalla check-in

Since it’s all about places, places is a big part of the functionality. Here Foursquare beats Gowalla in my opinion. As you can see below, in Gowalla there’s often duplicates and I find myself always looking for the right spot with the most check-ins. Foursquare is more precise and usually have one correct spot, often with an address as well.

Gowalla duplicates

Looking at what businesses are doing, it’s like with the user base and thus number of friends you’ll have, depending on where you’re at. In the states more and more business are joining forces with the location based social gaming. In Sweden Ica had a Gowalla campaign with a store opening and H&M are now saying that you can unlock discounts on Foursquare. Below you see H&M’s coupon or what you can call it, next to it is what I think can be an even more fun way of engaging your fans. Svenska Spel (the Swedish state-owned gambling company) has launched a trip on Gowalla. Check in on at least three hockey arenas and answer a question to get a couple of tickets for a match, a nice and fun way to reward your fans – Sweden’s hockey nuts.

Foursquare dealGowalla Sponsored Trip

I mentioned the Trips in Gowalla and that’s one thing that I believe can bring me value from LBS. I like exploring and trips can help me discover new spots and… well trips. The hockey trip is one example but there’s a lot more, both commercial and non-commercial. You can even create your own trips and show your friends new discoveries that way.

Foursquare has an even better take on this with their Tips. On every spot you can tip your friends or other visitors on whatever you like – that special order not on the menu, or a favorite dish, best corner, well you know I’m all about eating out but you get the picture. Another neat thing is that when you check in near a place where a friend of yours has left a tip it gets displayed – like “Mr. Smith says the coffee around the corner is awesome”. You can of course list all tips nearby as well. As you can see, they also have a to-do list, nice but nothing I’m using very much at the moment.

Gowalla tripsFoursquare tips

Wrapping up I still prefer Gowalla. If they were to add the Tips-function from Foursquare and cleaned up their spots – then I’m all in. Nevertheless, in the end it all comes down to where your friends are. If one service is the shiznit but no friends are there, what’s it good for? For me, Gowalla is where it’s all at. Seems like Sweden is a Gowalla country after all, or what’s your experience?

The Jante Law’s effect on Customer Service in Sweden

– Don’t think you’re anyone special or that you’re better than us.

That is, according to Wikipedia.org, the essence of the Jante Law – a set of rules or a sentiment that every Scandinavian is familiar with. Most of the time it gets referenced in a humorous way, sort of in the same way we love the caricatures of our beloved neighbors within Scandinavia. But in the same way that it’s funny, it also hits a nerve because we recognize ourselves in it.

The Swedish middle way has in my opinion furthered the presence of the Jante Law. I don’t have the energy to go into that particular debate, let’s take it in a separate post someday, because now I just want to throw up on how this sense of conformity has severely crippled Swedes sense of good service. You see I have a theory that this ‘law’ affects Swedish organizations’ quality of customer service.

I’m pretty fucking tired of having to do business with people who don’t seem to want my business. I’m sick and tired of having a sales person/client service rep/waiter/what-have-you sigh themselves through my humble wish of spending my overly taxed income at their venue. It’s like I’m bothering them at work. Their job is to effing facilitate our effing little transaction.

And don’t get me wrong people. I don’t look down on any job demanding to be pampered as if I was royalty. Somehow it feels like the average Swede worries that others will do so thus having the attitude of “don’t think your better than me just because we’re on different sides of the counter”. Every job I’ve had that included elements of customer service gets so much better when you take pride in what you do, like any old job. And there you have it – pride is at odds with the Jante Law.

So called real jobs of manufacturing stuff and making stuff grown out of the ground have been spared of this anti-pride campaign thanks to Luther and his goodie-two-shoes doctrine of get yourself up in the morning and pull your bit. Now it’s time to incorporate good service into this part of the Swedish mentality.

Because customer service is not only important in a more service intense economy, good or rather great customer service is key to all businesses. Several well-known bloggers and pundits have underlined the importance of customer service as a cornerstone for good PR, marketing and business excellence. Zappos is a good example of this.

So, aren’t you sick of bad service too? Any suggestions on how to fix it or do we need to await the invisible hand or new generations?

Image by Here’s Kate.

An evening at Mugaritz, Gipuzkoa 17 August 2010

Now there’s something special with some meals. With some restaurants. With some evenings.

I’ve already written about our plan to visit Spain again after last summers fantastic experience and told you about the great pintxos in Donostia. Now it’s time to summarize my party’s evening at Mugaritz.

According to the San Pellegrino top 50 Mugaritz is on fifth place – yes for all you observant people reading it dropped one from last year and who took the fourth place if not the good people at El Celler.

I’ll just go dish by dish and end with a little thought about the experience as a whole and how I compare it to the restaurant that took it’s fourth place.

Arriving a little early, how un-Spanish of us, we took a seat in the garden. I had a look at the herbs and flowers that they use in their cooking and behind me in the picture you see their new kitchen – with all the windows – nice!

As an amuse buche we got stones. Well biting into them we found out it was really potatoes. Don’t know what kind but they were really tasty and they came with awesomely good aioli and a glass of Mokoroa 09, Getariako, Txakolina by Mokoroa.

Potatoes as Stones for appetizers

Inside we were seated at a big round table, love those, and also got a tour in the new kitchen. I’ve seen a few kitchens, both as a member of the staff as well as a curios patron and I’ve never seen such a well-organized and squeaky-clean kitchen.

Kitchen at Mugaritz

Back at the table we got two more appetizers. First some grilled paprika and then a baby squid salad served in its ink. Now we got to decide on the wine. They didn’t cater a set wine menu so we asked our very helpful sommelier for a selection that would fit both our menu and our wallet – he hit a home run! First up – Ossian 07, Verdejo, VdT de Castilla y Leon.

Baby Squid Salad

Ok, first dish. Roasted Tomato Salad and its own cool water. Best tomato I’ve ever eaten. So rich in flavor it was insane. The cool water was a kind of white tomato juice sorbet.

Roasted Tomato Salad

After that came a Silky Bread Stew, infused with pink geranium leaves covered with crabmeat. Just the smell of it was lovely. Digging in was even better.

Silky Bread Stew

Now came the favorite of a couple in our party – Roasted Lobster, herbs and dried peach. Even if I do think that lobster usually is a tad overrated this one was good. I wouldn’t say dry but a big chunk of lobster is, well a big chunk. The flavor combination was excellent though. I think this is when we got the next wine – As Sortes 09, Godello, Valdeorras, by Rafael Palacios.

Roasted Lobster

Now for a fun ingredient – Razor Clams flavored with a rich black bean broth, perfumed with cinnamon oil and Sweet Black Beans. The flavors was very delicate but when I think about the painstaking job of picking those clams by hand with snorkel and mask I wonder if it’s worth it. Pick an oyster instead. But then I’m not fair. Sorry no picture of this dish.

Next on the plate were Megrim Stuffed with Vegetable Pearls, pickled herbs and small sautéed onions. This dish was more about the clean flavors of the ingredients, as was most of the menu, and it was very nice. Nothing more, nothing less, just very nice. Next wine was Etiqueta Negra 07, Albariño, Rias Baixas, by Terras Gauda. Could be that Rias Baixas is a new favorite denominación.

Megrim Stuffed With Vegetable Pearls

Continuing on the sea theme we got Sea Bass with tomatillos and Iberian sheen. Got to love that sea bass and tomatillos was a fun type of tomatoes that looked like black currants.

Sea Bass

Now we went over to Loin of Duck, served with iodized compliments; crumblings and shavings of summer truffle. Me, I really like truffle so this was tasty. The duck itself, maybe, just maybe, a tad overcooked. It seemed like a fantastic idea that in the end was just very nice and not all that fantastic. However, the wine that was being poured up was amazing – AALTO PS 05, Ribiera del Duero by AALTO. Kudos to AALTO!

Loin of Duck

Now for the absolute favorite – Tradition, Ocean and Land they call it. Braised Iberian Pork Tails and pan fried Langoustines, reduced braising juices infused with Iberian “jamón”. Halle-friggin’-lujah, that’s what I call a surf ‘n’ turf! That pork had such a rich taste and langoustines cooked to perfection are just filthy good – there was a party in my mouth.

Iberian Pork Tails and Pan Fried Langoustines

Exit savory main dishes; enter dessert. Not my focal point in any meal but hey, who am I to pass these little plates of heavenly sweets up. Warm Artisan Tablet with whipped honey and oats – say what? Well look at the picture. Loved the honey foam and all in all a nicely put together ensemble. The dessert wine that followed was Seleccion Especial No1, Malaga, by Jorge Ordonez – great stuff.

Warm Artisan Tablet

The second dessert was the best – Broken Walnuts, Toasted and Salted, cool milk cream and Armagnac jelly. It was ice cream on goat milk that worked like a charm with the faux walnuts, eatable what else, and the fiery jelly inside.

Broken Walnuts, Toasted and Salted

The chef said in the beginning of the evening that we could switch any dish and ask for more whenever. Now came the time when some ordered an extra dessert. They got an awesome chocolate thingy like a chocolate cream or soup with a lid of white chocolate and powdered sugar.

Extra Dessert

As for all the wine, I liked that we got to try two dishes with each wine so we got the opportunity to see how the wines played out differently. Well of course you think but the thing is – the wines was so damn well matched with all dishes and that I’m impressed with.

Another interesting detail is that almost every ingredient is sourced from no more than 30 km away. The Iberian pork is apparently an exception as the Galician ones are the best. Also something that we learned when we asked if they had anything with Foie Gras, we love that shit, they told us it wasn’t in season. Silly us thought that it could be consumed whenever.

So how can I compare this with last year’s evening at El Celler de Can Roca? Well, I don’t really want to. I know that the total experience was a tad better at El Celler; the least exciting dishes was better there, the setting and service just a tiny bit better, the bread better, the appetizers more inventive but the wines was better at Mugaritz. But as I said, don’t really want to compare the two. Both evenings were truly fantastic. Go visit them both!

And by the way, what do you think – have you tried any of the above or what do you think about ranking these kinds of experiences?

Wagamama in Stockholm!

Finally! Seems like I’ve missed that every noodle loving blogger and news regurgitator already written about this but passing Stockholm Waterfront today I saw that Wagamama is coming to town. Sugoizo! Good Japanese fast food neatly presented. Can’t wait for an after work there with Gyoza, Udon, Edamame washed down with alot of Kirin or even better, Sapporo.

By the way, did you know that wagamama means selfish or self-indulgence in Japanese? My kind of restaurant I say! See you there soon…

A little gem called Grythyttan

Salmalax

We were travelling from Gothenburg to Leksand and thought to ourselves – what the hell can we find on the way. In the middle of Sweden. In the middle of all that coniferous forrest. In the middle of nowhere. Then it hit me – there’s a culinary epicentre somewhere on our way with a culinary school and a lovely inn with a renowned restaurant called Grythyttan.

We booked a night at inn and a table for the evening. The room was charming. In fact the whole town is charming. But let’s focus on – surprise – the dinner. We had a summer tasting menue that was affordable and worth every penny. They kicked it of with Cucumber Water. It was a refreshing cleanser of the taste buds with taste of citrus, mint and of course cucumber.

First course was Salmalaxsalmon from Norway famous for how the freshness is preserved. The lax was accompanied by baked egg yolk and cured cod roe emulsion. The wine with this was 2008 “Le Bel Ange” a Chardonnay by Domaine Begude, Pays d’Oc, France. Nice!

Main course was Veal Shoulder with Fried Tongue – a magnificent pairing with the tender veal and the crisp tongue full of flavour. To this came chestnut puré, butter fried apple and oxtail gravy. Wine was 2006 Pilheiros from Douro in Portugal by François Lurton. Yummy!

Before dessert we got some great Hard Cheeses from Sivans Ost. Along came honey from Mörkö, peach chutney and toasted fruit bread. A perfect escort to the dessert and well matched with 2009 Brauneberger Juffer Riesling by Fritz Haag, Mosel, Germany.

Dessert was Baked Chocolate served with caramelised malt, rosemary croutons and raspberry sorbet. Wine was 2007 Curina by Barone Pizzini, Marche, Italy.

To top an already perfect evening we made our way to the garden and ordered some coffee and avec. I also jumped at the opportunity to enjoy a good cigar – a Swedish brand called Hafströms that was a pleasant surprise. Quite potent.

The room at Grythyttan's Inn

A Spoon Full of Great Pintxos

Donostia

In what’s been called the culinary capital of Europe there’s more than just fine dining. San Sebastian, or Donostia as the Basques call it, is packed with pintxos bars. Pintxos is basically the Basque equivalent of tapas. The old town is packed with bars, the bars are packed with people and the people.

That clear cut border between bar and street and the next bar that’s quite obvious in Stockholm for example doesn’t seem to exist in the old town of Donostia. All the bars seem to melt together and everyone is stuffing their faces with everything from foie gras to baby spare ribs. Add some Txakoli, a local dry white wine, and you’re home.

My favourite tip is a place called La Cuchara de San Telmo, the Spoon of San Telmo. Very crowded, as all the other bars, but the pintxos are awesome. We tried the sweetbread croqueta, an amazing cod and spare ribs to die for. We missed the foie gras but hey, the people at Mugaritz informed us that it’s not in season now anyways so I guess we have to return. Soon.

A bar full of pintxos

Dining in Istanbul

View from the Bosphorus

Me and Lisa was down in Istanbul before summer. Basically to jump start the summer but also to experience the city so many spoke so highly of. It’s suppose to be the worlds fifth largest city in the world not counting suburbs.

During the long weekend we stayed at the W which was a real treat. As always we wanted to dine our way through the city and here’s what we found.

The best dining in Istanbul are the local gems. Whether it’s a backstreet in Beşiktaş or around the Grand Bazaar you can always find a good charcoal grill. For dinner we went to one of the best – Köşebaşı. Great grilled meats and mezes matched with some nice local red wines.

Two more posh places were recommended. The first, Vogue, was ok. They had good sushi and decent entrees. All in all it was a tad overrated and thus overpriced. The second, 360, was lousy as a restaurant but picked up more points as a club. The food was so so, the service was worse than average, the cocktails was a joke but the club had a good DJ so with a few beers the night ended well.

Fresh fish

A Good Restaurant in Córdoba

The Mezquita in Córdoba

Stepping out of the car and into the oven that was Córdoba we realized that the day needed to be divided into brief walks between anyplace air-conditioned. The Mezquita was amazing but I’ll focus on the lunch we had.

If you’re in town go to El Caballo Rojo, just of the side of the Mezquita. The service was very good, the facilities comfortable and the food interesting and well prepared.

When in Andalucía, try the local variety of Gazpacho called Salmorejo and that’s just what I started with – it was one of the best I tried in Andalucía.

Lisa and I then shared entrees. First one was a Mozarabic inspired cod with cinnamon. Just enough sweetness to go with a great fillet of fish. Since we’re in bullfight country the second one was ox tails. They were very tender in a boeuf bourguignon type of way.

I should also mention that we got a dry, cold, fino when we arrived – a perfect start on a lunch on a hot day.

A place I was recommended but didn’t got the chance to test was Casa Pepe (de la Judería).

More restaurant experiences coming up…