Mention the term “American food” and the first thing that normally springs to mind is the holy trinity of hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza. While certainly classic examples, they’re not the only ones. American food, like many aspects of American culture, sometimes borrows from abroad to create something modified and/or new, and sometimes invents something outright. And for a good example of American food done right, Red Chili is an excellent place to start.
There’s already one Red Chili on Laugavegur 176 (where the restaurant Old West used to be), but we visited the new location at Pósthússtræti 13. For those who remember the spacious environs of Póstbarinn, you won’t be disappointed – the changes made to the interior are few. However, the changes that were made give the place a subtle Southwest feel, without any sombreros and guitars nailed to the walls.
To start out, we thought it best to go with the starter sampler: deep-fried shrimp, chicken wings and potato skins served with bleu cheese and ranch dressing. This is a great choice for couples and for those seeking an introduction to some staples of American bar food, and it is usually safe – bad chicken wings can be smothered in ranch dressing in a pinch. Fortunately, though, we found the quality of these staples above par – rather than burying everything under a thick, oily layer of fried batter, the Red Chili approach is clearly to class up the old favourites. Although the bleu cheese dip didn’t have as strong a flavour as I remembered (which might be due to a faulty memory or some adjustments in the kitchen to better suit the Icelandic palate), it served as a good entry for the main event.
Ever the health conscious one, my wife went with the barbequed chicken breast, baked potato with sour cream and salad (as well as an additional plate of “steak cut” – very large – fries ordered later). But from the moment I opened the menu there was only one thing I had in mind: baby back ribs. Those who’ve visited Ruby Tuesday’s or TGI Friday’s are probably familiar with the dish. As these are the ribs cut closest to the pig’s spine, on the top of its back, the meat is generally lean but also greatly under-exercised, and thus tender. However, due to the low fat content (for pork, anyway), it’s easy to overcook them to the consistency of leather.
Once again, Red Chili improved on the American standard. The ribs were served with steak-cut fries and a little bowl of extra barbeque sauce, as per tradition, but this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill barbeque sauce – the recipe had been tweaked a bit, successfully. The meat from the ribs practically fell from the bone, as it should. I couldn’t help but sample some of the baked potato with sour cream, and wasn’t disappointed.
For those looking for reasonably priced American food, classed up a bit and served in a relaxed, open space, you can’t do better in Iceland than Red Chili.