There, in an 18th century barn, we were treated to a dark, beautiful, nearly wordless dissertation on Autumn - from the dense vegetables to the fading light to the woodfire and our bed under the eaves. Fäviken is a total experience. One arrives, explores, eats, sleeps, wakes up, has breakfast and leaves... baffled, excited and with a new concept of what a restaurant can be. Namely, environmental. As a final petit-four we were given a plate of tiny raspberries, lingonberries and blueberries. The fruit was small-globed and cold from the night air. It had just been picked.
All of us guests were excited about the food, but even more so about sharing an adventure. Part of the point of the place is that it's completely overwhelming; the bedrooms, the shared sauna, the long drive north, the wet meadows outside, breakfast in the morning - it's a total experience, and immersion is unavoidable. Nobody quite knows which door to go through, how to dress or what's going to happen. It's mysterious, but easy - the meal takes on the tone of a dinner party. There were only ten of us. There's one seating, every course is served to everyone at the same time. I've never been in a restaurant where the whole room says goodnight to one another, or where everyone says hello again at their breakfast tables.
Fäviken would be fun even if the food wasn't great. But it is great. It's so good that we wondered if it was the best we'd ever eaten. The problem with comparing it to other restaurants is that other meals seem so staid in comparison. Our dinner was a procession of thoughtful surprises. Above, a ball of what was called "pig's head." It was so tender that it could have passed for melting butter. The fried outer crust burst between the teeth, the flavor was intensely porky. Just before this, we'd had toasted lichens, dusted with dried trout.
Before the meal, we'd taken a long walk around the fields and into the trees. We'd seen the kitchen garden, under an old stone wall. The sheep had trotted over to meet us. The same aromas that end up on the plate - spruce, reindeer moss - begin in the dripping woods. That turnip had been served under a bed of "last autumn's leaves," which had been collected in the springtime when the snow retreated. The kitchen boils them with the roots, and then piles them on the plate together. We were urged to search for our vegetables - like digging in forest loam - then slather them with butter. It was a warm, earthy dish that went beyond taste. Something of the chilly wilderness had come in with the leaves and the turnip, harvested just then in the dark outside. We were being given a taste of the seasons - both last year's and right now.
authority. By the end of the evening, he seemed like a friend or a neighbor.
Though he's exceedingly humble, Nilsson does have a dramatic streak. He chopped cauliflower with an ax and put glowing embers on the table. He likes to play with twigs, sticking them into food to make little antlers and using them like toothpicks.
The meal had more fish than meat, but there were some bloody exceptions. Trout roe was cupped inside a dried crisp of pig's blood. The bone marrow and heart dish was the loudest exclamation, but the most endearing was one of the first: a few strips of cured pork belly, "from last year's fattest sow."
The desserts were concise and fun. The most memorable was a sugar-cured duck's egg yolk with a kind of crumble. The crusted, shiny orb got broken into the dry grain, releasing the yellow liquid inside. "Mix it together to make a little dough," the sommelier said, "then have it with some of this meadowsweet ice cream."
Our favorite food at Fäviken? To tell the truth, it might have been the butter. It was so rich that the color was almost orange. The taste was of summer grass. It's made from mountain cow milk, old Swedish breeds. Our host agreed that it was delicious. "You're lucky to have it, actually," Nilsson said. "The brothers who make it don't get along. These are the last days of the butter."