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Pop-up restaurant does not capture Icelandic flavors

The Zeppelin Station pop up disappoints with a limited and poorly served menu.
Photo: Taelar Pollmann · The Sentry

No cheers for Skál

Skál opened in Zeppelin Station on Feb. 22 and will stay until April as part of the “Made in a City” or more correctly “Made in Reykjavik” pop up. “Made in a City” is a campaign by Zeppelin Station to bring other cities around the world to Denver. 

Across from this Icelandic counter service restaurant with a limited menu is a small specialty goods shop with items from the country. If Zeppelin Station was hoping to make its visitors feel transported directly to Iceland, the immersion factor misses the mark.

Icelanders have a reputation for an eclectic palate favoring funky flavors, like fermented shark, which is frowned upon in the United States.  Despite cultural differences, it was disappointing to see that Skál played it safe with their menu of nine items total—two appetizers, two types of sandwiches, two meat-based plates, a side of potatoes, a hot dog, and a dessert. Along with the disappointment at the menu, there are no traditional Icelandic drinks offered.

The lamb belly is exceptionally fatty along with random bits being too charred to chew through.  Every bite includes an unpleasant texture or flavor that must be removed from one’s mouth, making the whole eating experience tedious and unsatisfying. The fingerling potatoes are bland without the remoulade and horseradish dip that accompany them.

According to the full restaurant’s menu in Iceland, they offer a dessert called Loveballs that are made of caramelized whey cheese and cardamom sugar in addition to  chocolate mousse that is garnished with sea salt, olive oil, and a bay leaf granita.  The mental image and assumed taste of the Loveballs that is conjured from the description is better than the chocolate mousse that is served at the pop up.   

Because everything is served together, when it comes time to focus on the sweet course, the olive oil has started to separate and create a slime ring around the pudding-like substance masquerading as a mousse.  Sitting atop the brown goop is the bay leaf granita, an ice-based dessert from Italy. The texture of the semi- frozen ice does not combine with the eggless mousse. The bay leaf overpowers the weak chocolate favor that is followed by the feeling of olive oil sliding down the back of the tongue.

The only redeeming item on the menu is the fried cod sandwich. The juxtaposition of this sandwich in both flavor and quality is stark compared to the other items on the table. The fish pairs with the pickled celery, dill, coleslaw, and remoulade to create a bold and pleasant flavor that lingers on the tongue.   

It is surprising to see sandwiches on the menu since bread is not a staple of Icelandic cuisine.  Traditionally, dried fish jerky replaces bread as a side dish. Opting to try the dishes that include bread is possibly a downfall, but based on the sandwiches, the fried fingerling potatoes, and vegan chocolate mousse, this is one pop up that is not worth taking a special trip for, even with it being just once stop past Union Station on the A Line.

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