Story and photos by Bo Zaunders
Cornelius, Island of Bjorøy
In Bergen, standing in one of the narrow alleys of Bryggen, gazing up at some of the old Hanseatic League warehouses, I recalled that this was once the biggest cod-packing facility in all of Europe. Then, as I lowered my gaze, I could almost catch a glimpse of the nearby harbor market, now a world-class venue for seafood lovers from all over the world. From a visit a couple of years ago, I remember sumptuous displays of fish, explained with signs in as many as eight languages, and, as an indispensable part of the Bergen experience, breakfast al fresco - rundestycke med laks (fresh-baked rolls with smoked salmon), boiled shrimp, and cooked crab. And how could I forget the restaurant across the street? Its commitment to seafood was such that the only meat dish was called “No Fish Ohlsen,” and served begrudgingly at a discouragingly high cost. And what about that gravlax we once ate in Trondheim…
Though well aware of Norway’s dedication to seafood and its preparation, my wife Roxie and I were still not ready for the all-out excellence of Cornelius.
Established in 2004 by chef Alf Roald Saetre and Odd Einar Tufteland (known as “Shellfish Man” and the third generation in a family of shellfish farmers), Cornelius is a dining destination on the island of Bjorøy, a 20-minute boat ride from Bergen. Appropriately, the restaurant sits on a quay, overlooks a fjord, and boasts a small sea farm. On the quay, the moment we stepped off the boat, we were treated to fresh oysters and drinks. Fish swirled in the water tanks next to us, and just feet away rose a small shellfish tower. After we had been seated indoors, I was taken to the tower by a charming waitress, and shown live lobsters, crabs, and other shellfish.
Before returning to my seat, I was asked to pick my own scallop. I did, and minutes later, it arrived at our table as an extra appetizer, neatly arranged on a rectangular plate, complete with a generous bowl of sea salt. Wondering about the tiny red pieces that came with it, I was told that this was a part, which with some but not all scallops, is particularly succulent.
Down they went – along with a deep swallow of Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve 2001. Succulent, indeed!
And so was the rest of the dinner, which began with trout mousse, on a bed of spinach, with truffle, and shrimp marinated in orange mango salsa.
Baked catfish followed. To the white wine sauce had been added a little tomato flavoring, and with the dish came chanterelle mushrooms, asparagus, carrots, and small boiled potatoes, which, the waitress pointed out, were called French potatoes in Norway, and famous for their light sweetness. Our wine was now a Chablis J. Moreau & Fils 2007, and things could hardly be better. Outside, dusk was falling. Not any dusk, but the soft lingering twilight of a Scandinavian summer evening. Inside, dessert was coming.
It was a worthy completion of our meal. A rhubarb and plum tart in a crunchy crumble with cinnamon and brown sugar, topped with a couple of strawberries and sour cream and, for a touch of elegance, a sprig of mint.
This feast in the Norwegian archipelago did not come cheap, but it was an experience we wouldn’t want to have missed.
Going back to Bergen, I kept thinking of that scallop, alive and well, sacrificing its life so that I could indulge myself.
Cornelius is situated on a small island, and is not accessible by car. It is important to make reservations. Unless you have your own boat, the restaurant will make arrangements for you to get there by boat taxi from central Bergen.
For more information, go to www.cornelius-restaurant.no
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