Americans seem kind of tepid about visiting Helsinki. Snap out of it! Helsinki is a fantastic city, a vest-pocket Stockholm with a lovely harborscenic, safe and walkable. Best of all, its restaurants took me completely by surprise. Young Finnish chefs are reinventing a robust and unsubtle national cuisine traditionally big on preserving (lots of smoking, pickling and salt-curing). They're emphasizing Nordic produce, meat and fish, working in a coolly modern idiom with French underpinnings and distinctly European, rather than global, fusion elements. Three chefs in particular stand out.
Markus Aremo at George is a classicist, a purist who reads Escoffier on his nights off and serves beautiful, perfectly cooked, modern Scandinavian-French cuisine in a warm, pretty dining room with cream-colored walls and dark-wood wainscoting. I had a great time listening to him whinge about the overuse of El Bullistyle jellies by young Finnish chefs as I happily plowed through a wonderful filet of red deer dusted with garlic bread crumbs in a thyme jus, served with potato fondant, pumpkin puree and diced rutabaga (Kalevankatu 17; 011-358-9-647-662).
Pekka Terävä at Palacenranta is a modernist. His food is simple, direct and unadorned, but with a style informed by training at the two Michelin-starred Edsbacka Krog in Sweden and travel throughout Europe. His restaurant is an extraordinary space, a hipster magazine fantasy with a giraffe-patterned stone mosaic floor and modular wood. I would kill for his parsnip soup, or for his sautéed fillets of plaice with tartar sauce. I wouldn't kill for the sea buckthorn berry tart, but that's because, I now know, I'm not crazy about sea buckthorn berries (Eteläranta 10; 011-358-9-1345-6752).