Burro is a pan-Latin tapas place from the people who brought us Public House. My most recent visit happened to coincide with a special menu in celebration of the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo is one of those weird cultural imports that have found more success in the U.S. than they have in their places of origin—alongside things like denim (Italy), bagels (Poland) and Newcastle Brown Ale (Uranus).
At Burro, Mexican food has similarly fused with the local culture. Latin cuisine is used as a jumping-off point and then customized with far-flung ingredients and influences. This results in such gleefully sacrilegious dishes as “Arctic char ceviche with beetroot crisps and avocado purée.”
I sat down with head chef Theódór Dreki Árnason and part-owner Samúel Þór Hermannsson to see what the big idea was. “We’ve been trying to do something different,” says Samúel. “To create a tropical getaway, to help Icelanders forget that they are living in the middle of a snowstorm.”
The tropical cocktails, courtesy of upstairs tiki disco Pablo Discobar, help the escape. The name is a not-too-subtle reference to a popular Latin American export and judging by the cocktails, they may have been dipping into the shipments. At Pablo, you can get anything from “Puff the Magic Dragon” (with rum, green chartreuse, and cocoa puffs) to Disco Zombie (a $1000 mega cocktail containing 2-3 bottles of rum and a chalice-worth of absinth). Downstairs, we stick with our boozy palomas and a frozen margaritas in honor of the holiday.
Concerning the menu’s use of rare ingredients like tonka bean (a fermented legume banned in the US), Theódór says sourcing ingredients from outside of Iceland is getting easier. “With more tourists the overall customer base in Reykjavík is growing,” he explains, “which helps justify some of the stranger imports. But our customers are 80-90% Icelandic, which is unusual.”
Sting in the tail
I wonder if they’ve tried anything that was too weird for the Icelanders. “Well, we had a maize dessert which I loved,” says Theódór, “but when people would choose between that and the chocolate dessert, they’d always go with the chocolate, so we took it off the menu. But we have been toying with the idea of adding crickets and scorpion to the menu. We’ll see if we can convince the health inspectors.”
The five course Cinco de Mayo menu was reasonably priced at 6990 ISK. It kicked off with a tuna tiradito with ponzu and puffed rice. This was followed by a soft maize taco with pulled pork, BBQ mole, and chipotles. Next came a baked cod topped with edible flowers, red cabbage and chicharrón. The main protein was a grilled beef fillet with a mild, peruvian aji amarillo paste and a thin chimichurri. Dessert was a caramel mousse, skyr sorbet, cocoa nibs (I think… it was getting a little hazy at that point).
I ask Samúel what it is about the tapas/small plates approach that has proven so popular in Reykjavík lately. “The tapas approach appeals to me because it allows me to taste more dishes,” he explains. “The older people aren’t as wild about it, but for younger customers eating out is synonymous with sharing and tasting as many dishes as possible.”