Usually, when someone says, “I just ate the best [insert dish here] ever,” he or she is exaggerating for special effect. Most of the time, that means nothing more than, “I just had a pretty great meal.”
So it’s with great care and deliberate intent that I tell you this: I just had one of the best meals of my life. In fact, I may have just eaten the best fish I’ve ever tasted. And, frankly, I’m heartbroken about it — because the restaurant that served me the perfect fish soup … the perfect halibut … and the perfect, buttery “plaice” (a flatfish — or a type of flounder) … is 5,000 miles from home.
I’m talking about Tjourhusid, a fish house in a low, wooden space reminiscent of a Viking hall right beside the harbor in Isafjordur, Iceland. We stumbled on it by sheer luck, learning only later that Tjorhusid is regarded as one of the very best restaurants in Iceland.
That reputation is well-deserved. We started our meal with their fish soup — not something I’d normally order, mind you. Fish soup brings up visions of heads and eyeballs in a broth. But here at Tjourhusid, we received a bowl of the freshest, richest, most heavenly soup I’ve ever slurped off a spoon. The recipe is secret, but we’re agreed there’s tomato … and maybe just a hint of curry … and coconut milk (maybe?) … and butter? Oh — and chunks of tender fish so big they almost defy description.
We split and finished an entire tureen of the stuff. (I almost put my head in there, just to get the last few drops.) And then — the halibut arrived:
Cooked with potatoes. And grapes (!). In either butter or oil — they wouldn’t tell me which. I can only testify to this: I couldn’t quit eating it. It was the lightest, most tender halibut in the history of the universe. This was the kind of fish a Messiah might feed the multitudes. This was the kind of fish that might have tempted Ahab away from his Great White Whale. This was the kind of fish that — well, you get the idea. “Delicious” fails to capture it. So, so perfect.
When the final plate arrived — my first serving ever of plaice, if I remember correctly — I didn’t know if I could even taste it. I mean: I was stuffed. But one bite later, and, well, I simply had no choice. People say things “melt in their mouths “all the time, but listen: this fish didn’t just melt. It gave itself to me, spreading out on the tongue with a sort of languorous, lascivious joy. It tasted of butter and gold and childhood and roses and love. It was religion on a plate, or passion in a cast iron skillet.
I had to be carried out — almost literally — partially because I was so full, but also because I was swooning.
And so now, I’m spoiled. Every fish I eat from this point on is going to have to be judged by the fish at Tjoruhusid, and Tjoruhusid will the 5,000 miles away, and all I will be able to do is pick at whatever fillet is plunked down in front of me … and weep.