From Iceland — Cruising At Caruso

Cruising At Caruso

Ragnar Egilsson
Words by
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Published September 6, 2015


Austurstræti 22, 101Reykjavík
Mon-Thu 11:30 - 22:00, Fri 11:30 - 23:30, Sat 12:00 - 23:30, Sun 17:00 : 22:00
What we think
Great service, decent execution, muddled theme, modest aim.
Chill (I’ve never heard reggaeton played that low).
Price for 2 (no drinks)
15-20,000 ISK

My gay-for-pay date for the evening was looking very happy with his meal. His manly physique was wrapped in an Entombed t-shirt and his muscular fingers tapped away in preparation for an upcoming issue of the very magazine you hold betwixt your eager fingers or tippety-tap your way through on a flickering screen.

We knew we weren’t about to go on a culinary voyage careening on a bobsled of gastronomic hipsterdom. The Caruso cuisine is more like a group of American friends wandering aimlessly across Europe on a last-minute Interrail tour (a little like the movie ‘EuroTrip’—a recommended watch if only to witness the Vinnie Jones’s career-defining role as an English football hooligan). What I’m saying is, the menu is a bit of a patchwork—not all that hip—but we knew what we were getting into, and longed for the familiar embrace of some pasta with sauce.

It’s hard not to pine for Caruso’s old location (where restaurant Primo resides now—see that other restaurant review) with its lived-in feel and the old woodburning stove its proprietors had to leave behind. Their new digs at Austurstræti 22, which used to house Icelandic theme restaurant Jörundur (the latest in a long line of failed ventures the building has housed), was definitely designed with the homey vibe in mind, but it does feel a little tacked-on. From the inside out, the house is meant to invoke the charm of the old Icelandic colonial houses you will find at the Árbæjarsafn living-history museum, but the faux-antiqueness of it all is palpable. The location is also somewhat smaller than what the restaurant had to work with back at their old Þingholtstræti location.

However, it’s not hard to see why they went with it on a short notice—the restaurant is centrally located, and offers a good view for people-watching. The proprietors are clearly doing their best to imbue it with that friendly Caruso warmth.

My dinner date and I ordered the grilled giant scallops with verde sauce (2,490 ISK) and a classic Escargots à la Bourguignonne (2,390 ISK) to kick off the meal. The snails were served in one of those ceramic snail holders with plenty of tasty garlic butter on top of the earthy snail flavour; everything was as it should be. The scallops were not what would be considered giant scallops anywhere outside of Iceland, but they were tender and cooked just-so. However, they could have used more of a sear and the salsa verde was both oily and composed of dried herbs.

A bottle of Masi Campofiorin (at 8,900) was recommended by our waiter. With its balanced acids and light cherry notes, it worked well with the seafood pasta we enjoyed.

The pasta dishes set everything straight. The spaghetti with sautéed scampi and chilli (3,390 ISK) was ridiculously generous with the giant shrimp, and had a pleasant heat for an otherwise simple dish. It wasn’t over-salted, the pasta was al dente and they resisted the urge to crowd it with different flavours. The same could be said for the langoustine tagliatelle with mushrooms and leek (3,890 ISK). Creamy tagliatelle, modestly seasoned, cooked al dente, with plenty of ultra-tender langoustine lurking in the bowl. Both delivered exactly what we had hoped for.

For dessert we shared a tarted-up chocolate molten lava cake (1,490 ISK). Yes, “tarted-up” means a cape gooseberry and a dollop of whipped cream, of course. Like the pasta, it fulfilled expectations completely. To drink I had a snifter of calvados (1,100) and my date went with the baffling choice of Diablo, a milky coffee drink with Sambuca, brandy and Grand Marnier (1,500). All I can say about the drink is that every ingredient was clearly accounted for, and it was fucking demonic. I almost called in an exorcist after seeing the face my date made.

The owner of Caruso, Jose, hails from Tegucigalpa, Honduras and I can’t help but wonder what he could do with his native cuisine. Reykjavík is in dire need of a good quality Latin American place that serves up tamales, carne asadas, platanos, and coconut broths.

Not that Caruso doesn’t have its fans— on a Tuesday night we saw a butt on nearly every seat. They have a client base they have built up carefully over the years, a tourist-friendly location, a non-threatening menu, and plenty of goodwill from us locals following last year’s real estate drama (see our review of Primo for more on that).

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