Over the past few years, Denmark has gained a reputation as being the happiest country in the world. And that might explain why there’s not an abundance of Danish restaurants here — happy people don’t tend to emigrate.
142 University Avenue, Hillcrest
However, thanks to one young married couple who wanted to see the world, and found San Diego to their liking, we do now have a Danish eatery in Hillcrest. Taste of Denmark isn’t huge, and at the moment the table service restaurant is only open for lunch, but its owners faithfully reproduce the food of their nation, which, they assure me, features plenty of gravy.
I’ve eaten æbleskivers (the Danish pancake puffs made locally famous by the Danish-styled central California town of Solvang) but otherwise I have never knowingly eaten Danish food. So getting a look and taste of Danish cuisine proved a long overdo treat (and yes, æbleskivers are on the dessert menu).
Beside desserts, the Taste of Denmark menu is broken down into light lunch and large meals. The former includes hot smoked salmon served with poached egg on a bed of spinach; the latter includes the official national dish of Denmark: pan fried pork belly, served with parsley gravy alongside potatoes and roasted beets.
Call me goldilocks, because I settled somewhere in the middle, in the Bigger Meals section, squeezed in between light and large fare. These dishes include a burger, and a ground beef sandwich served with brown gravy.
I might have jumped at the chance to uncover what comprises brown gravy, but my attention was drawn to the puff pastry tartlets, which are filled with chicken and white asparagus, and smothered in a savory white gravy. I may never have been to Denmark, but I’ve enjoyed this flavor profile before: anyone who’s ever loved chicken pot pie will get down with this dish.
However, I did enjoy a couple more uniquely Danish tastes thanks to the bread service, which included smooth, creamy, whipped goat cheese served with Triscuit wheat crackers. I was surprised by a serving of pickled red cabbage, which I’d assumed would resemble sauerkraut, but instead tasted sweet, helped in doing so by cranberries and allspice.
But I was most taken by the Danish rye bread. The bread, baked in-house, is packed with seeds — rye and sunflower, not caraway seeds, which are often found in Jewish rye recipes. The seeds add plenty of enjoyable, crunchy texture to the otherwise stiff rye bread. In fact, it almost appears more seed than bread, which doesn’t disappoint me one bit. In addition to the goat cheese spread, it comes with a serving of the house remoulade, which involved turmeric mayonnaise loaded with diced pickles.
The sour and eggy flavors of the remoulade probably lined up best with my expectations, which mostly comes from dining in Swedish restaurants. But not all Scandinavian cuisine are created equal, and I for one am stoked to better understand this now.