Ribe Restoran tied with Neh for my favorite restaurant in Estonia. Perhaps it was the unexpectedly posh, yet unpretentious atmosphere – a staff who welcomed us on our first Friday night visit without reservations and when every other nice option on Vene street was booked. Perhaps it was that first glass of a French sparkling rose as we sat down triumphantly, followed by a delicate, frothy pumpkin soup served as an amuse bouche (below). Perhaps it was the sharp contrast of their tenderly prepared duck breast (photo above), perfectly rare and delicious to the overcooked I had at my hotel at the start of the week (and an even worse version later in Latvia). Or perhaps it was the best black bread – moist and studded with gooseberries and nuts – I had in Estonia (and believe me, I tried it everywhere!). Whichever most impacted my experience, one can see that it certainly wasn’t a one-note restaurant.
Our second visit – a Saturday lunch – was every bit as delightful as the first. I chose a light autumn root salad of pumpkin, beets, and kale with a homemade, mild semi-soft cheese and promptly negated the lightness with three pieces of their delicious black bread. Of course we had to have sparkling rose (a bit pricier glass this time…oops, that’s what happens when you let the server choose for you) followed by a glass of riesling. Finally, I had to try a chocolate dessert that I had skipped but envied on another patron’s plate on the previous visit. The menu description had given no clues as to its composition or decadence, but it was hard not to try it after seeing it. While the primary chocolate portion of the dish – which looked like fondant or brownie but more resembled a bittersweet cookie bar – was drier and more crumbly than I’d usually like, it worked really well with the delicate ice cream and flecks of chocolate. Small portions were just the right amount for a wonderful impression – it was nice to leave without feeling that we had overeaten.
I’d like to take this opportunity for a sidebar here on black bread. Scandinavia and the Baltic region are known for their black bread: whole-grain rye, traditionally leavened with a homemade rye sourdough starter instead of yeast, and sweetened with molasses, honey, or brown sugar. Each baker has his or her own secret ingredients – from pumpkin seeds to nuts to dried fruit. I had wonderful varieties in both Estonia and Finland, but it made much less frequent of an appearance in Latvia, which had no less spectacular bread, but less rye. Ribe served my favorite version of the bread, but rarely did I find a version I could turn down in Estonia.
It is my personal vow that I will attempt to recreate Ribe’s black bread (well, minus the gooseberries). Look for it in a future post!