Hyvää ruokaa Oulussa, part two
Well, my Fulbright experience in Finland is half over, and I can say that so far I bear responsibility for nary an international incident. Of course, that could change if Jacques Chirac ever discovers this blog.
In the meantime, let’s turn to the Good Eats in Oulu Sweepstakes for October. Third place goes to Pikku Thai, centrally located on Pakkahuoneenkatu. I love Thai food with a passion, and so Pikku Thai would have had to really mess up not to make my all-star team. I have been there three times, and they haven’t failed me yet. This month’s award is given in honor of their chicken with green curry sauce, which was offered as a daily special at one point early in the month. The special always comes with an excellent spring roll and a vinegary little salad that nicely complements a sweet duck sauce. The steamed rice is not gummy, and it is very, very tasty. Their portions are little on the small side, which is not an altogether bad thing, especially when the special includes vanilla ice cream topped with either toffee or chocolate sauce. I could dock them for keeping their red wine in the fridge, but that would be churlish. The special is a bargain at 12.50, and even with two glasses of that chilled red wine, my total ran to just 21 euros.
The second place winner for October is Istanbul Oriental at Kauppurienkatu 11, directly across from Stockmann and next door to Winger (see “Hottest Wings, Coldest Beer, Soft Ice,” over there in the archives under October 3, 2006). I have had my eye on Istanbul Oriental for a long time, but I was not making much progress with the menu at the front door, given that it is a detailed Finnish-language account of Middle Eastern food. I screwed up my courage and went in one Friday night, and then I stood in the doorway and admired the polished brass décor for about ten minutes while they tried to find me a table. I was impressed that instead of shoehorning me in, they offered to reserve a table for the next night instead. I said sure.
I ordered the prawn shish-kebab. I had an appetizer of yogurt, cucumber, dill, tons of garlic, with truly fabulous fresh bread. The prawns were large, numerous, and very tasty, and the vegetables were fresh and well seasoned. With one glass of wine and Turkish coffee at the end, the total damage was 45.50 euros, which qualifies as a big splurge, to be sure. But I have no regrets. Istanbul Oriental obviously is a very popular place. The service was as outstanding as the food. Here’s a link to their website: http://www.istanbuloriental.fi/
For the second month in succession, the Russian restaurant Zakuska makes the finals, and this time it finishes at the very top of the heap. I took Jane on her last night in Oulu, so okay, Zakuska had the romantic edge on the competition. We enjoyed the meal, the décor, and the relaxed atmosphere. (See photo up top.)
Plus, we had a little lesson in the linguistic generational gap that prevails here. We were surrounded by 14 other customers—we counted—including a large table of Nokia employees. Every one—literally—was chattering away in English. While one of the two middle-aged waitresses spoke English well, the other’s English was as rudimentary as my Finnish. Eventually, I was able to get a pitcher of water from her.
I ordered the flambéed brandy tournados, which came with potatoes parisienne, a red wine sauce, and mushrooms. My bride ordered the fish (mainly salmon) and crustacean (mainly shrimp) kebabs, billed as a Ukrainian dish, which came with fried rice and herbal butter with sour cream that was laced with pink peppercorns. She loves pink peppercorns. Both entrees arrived with red cabbage and julienned carrots mixed with at least one other root vegetable, which must have been either parsnips or turnips. We couldn’t decide. The home-made bread was excellent. The total damage—with a decent bottle of valpolicella—came to just under 90 euros for two. I was so pleased I used the change from two fifties to spring for a taxi to convey us back to the flat, thus sparing us a long walk through the cold and dark. For those of you keeping score at home, it was minus 10 degrees Celsius last night. Both of us bought wool sweaters during her stay here. Jane bought hers at the crafts market in Tallinn. I bought mine at Stockmann.