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Friday, February 19, 2010


No, I'm not in France, this is a restaurant in Helsinki. If you will recall, I yesterday risked my life to trudge through a snowstorm so that I could buy some local foodstuffs to eat in my room. Okay, it was only a 5 minute walk, but the wind chill factor was -30 C, and, unlike Hanoi, Saigon and Delhi, the danger in crossing the street was not motorbikes, but cars attempting a quick stop on smooth ice. Well, just as I was about to walk up to the sauna, at 6:30PM I got a call from the front desk and Chez Dominique had called to inquire why I had not honored my 6PM reservation. This is serious stuff here. This is the best restaurant in the country. I told that person my reservation wasn't until lunch tomorrow. So that was that.

But I thought I'd check my schedule anyway, and learned that, indeed, I was wrong. So I immediately called Chez Dominique and told them I'd be there in ten minutes.

I walked in and only a few tables were occupied in this Scandinavian chic, black and white, high-ceilinged establishment seating maybe 50. They had three levels of table d'hote meals: expensive, more expensive and ridiculous. Not to lose total face, I picked the middle set menu, with the complementary (no, not complimentary) wines. Maybe the best dinner I've ever had.

This one lasted only 3 1/2 hours, but the serving between tiny bites seemed interminable, for I was the only single. By mid-meal the place was mostly filled with two's and four's. I should have brought something to read, but made a game of swirling and sniffing the wine to occupy my time.

They knew in advance that I was allergic to shellfish. I started with a Kir Royale (champagne and creme de cassis), and they brought these lavash-type squares of four different types, all about a nanometer thick, and ranging from duck skin to lavash, when I thought it was lavosh.

Then half a quail egg on spaghetti carbonera, followed by an amusement of duck confit with beetroot borsch. I could be spelling this all wrong, because there is no menu. The chef just gives you want he wants. Then a raspberry sherbert. I should mention that the meal has not started yet.

Finally, with a French Becherellee Chenin Blanc, 1998, Chateau de la Roche-Aux Moines (13% alcohol), very, very dry and a bit too over the hill, maybe, in a Riedel chablis glass, came a raw whitefish with seaweed and roe. By now someone had swept my table of crumbs twice, and the assorted rolls (really terrific, hot and crispy) might have been the highlight of the meal, with the perfect butter.

I am now one hour into this experience, when came a cauliflower with truffles and mushroom consomme. So far, everything had been cold. As freezing as it was outside, you would think the chef would be serving hot soups. Anyway, amazingly enough, the meal had not yet started.

A Dr. Burklin-Wolf 1998 Pechs Resling Auschelese (11%) from Germany was poured into a Zweisel wine glass, and the real meal started with two duck foie gras concoctions accompanied by a pearl cannoli and toasted brioche. Fantastic. My table is swept again.

A 2003 Domaine Christian Moreau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos (13%) came, very light, with an almost raw halibut on top of artichokes, asparagus and caviar, topped with a vegetable foam and licorice sauce. This was, I thought, a tad too fishy, but, after all, this was fish.

At 9PM, a gin and tonic sorbet. No taste, really, but it did clean the palate.

Finally, the wine of the night: Chateau Clerc Milo (whoops, my writing went off the page), Pauillac Baronne Philippine de Rothschild Bordeaux. What they do is pour a Jeroboam of this stuff into, as you can see, an impressive decanter. The highlight was a Finnish beef filet mignon with veal sweetbread (sounds morbid, but this is the thymus gland near the brain of young beef), topped off with truffles (and it just occurred to me that they taste like something nutty, but sweaty) and a Madeira sauce.

A milk ice cream was served, covered with stewed forest (about the size of a small raisin) strawberries from Finland. The final wine was a 2007 Perrin & Fils Muscat Beaumes de Venise (15%), having a bouquet of litchi. Then a plate of chocolate cake, banana sorbet, green tea puree and caramel. If you remember that Monty Python episode of a fat man eating too much in a fancy restaurant and exploding, that was about how I felt. I had had a reasonably filling lunch that had ended at 2PM. Good think I hadn't started on my room meal.

The chef is the now famous Hans Valimaki, the service was controlled and impeccable (Ryan, you and Satu should dine here one night and observe that your kitchen and floor do not have to be frenetically in constant motion, and still maintain efficiency--of course, the staff/guest ratio can also be improved) and food incredible. They swept my table seven times.

Yes, maybe my best meal ever. Cost? Lower than a night in the cheapest room of the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Chez Dominique is only #21 among the top 50 world restaurants, but it jumped up 18 places from the previous year. Next, #3 Noma in Copenhagen. I have only today left and must eat the food I bought yesterday and have that sauna experience. A full day ahead.

Tropical Cyclone Gelane is easing past Mauritius and Le Reunion:
Tropical Cyclone Gelane

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French Togoland became Togo in 1960. Gen. Gnassingbe EYADEMA, installed as military ruler in 1967, ruled Togo with a heavy hand for almost four decades. Despite the facade of multiparty elections instituted in the early 1990s, the government was largely dominated by President EYADEMA, whose Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party has maintained power almost continually since 1967 and maintains a majority of seats in today's legislature. Upon EYADEMA's death in February 2005, the military installed the president's son, Faure GNASSINGBE, and then engineered his formal election two months later. Democratic gains since then allowed Togo to hold its first relatively free and fair legislative elections in October 2007. After years of political unrest and fire from international organizations for human rights abuses, Togo is finally being re-welcomed into the international community.

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