New Nordic was one of the most pervasive American restaurant trends of the last few years, with seemingly every young cook experimenting with the spare, earthy sensibilities typified by Noma chef Rene Redzepi. But the splendor of the North doesn’t stop in Copenhagen. As Americans have adjusted to Scandinavia’s influence on fine dining—the naturalistic plating, aggressive seasonality and unusual ingredients such as lichen, hay and the occasional live ant—a space has cleared for the rest of the region to show off what it can do.
Enter Iceland. An island nation bobbing away in the glacial waters just south of the Arctic Circle, Iceland’s unique topography and relative remoteness has bred a spirit of ingenuity deep in the civic marrow. “The country of Iceland is completely self-reliant,” says chef Thrainn Freyr Vigfússon of Lava Restaurant in Grindavík. And he’s right: Iceland is powered almost entirely by its own renewable energy; organic produce grows year-round in geothermal greenhouses; and a long tradition of drying, smoking and curing makes the most of native proteins like pristine fish, free-roaming lamb, and cattle with Viking bloodlines. “Icelandic products are pure and extremely local,” he says. “The chefs here learn to work with only a few, simple ingredients that are available to them each season, which results in very fresh, creative dishes.”
There’s a lot to love when it comes to eating the Icelandic way, and now more than ever Americans have opportunities to get to know it. Icelandair continues to expand its stateside footprint, making it easy and affordable to fly into the capital city of Reykjavík—you can even stop over on the way to or from Europe for no additional airfare. In turn, Icelandic culture has started to trickle into the U.S.