One of the mottos that has consistently served me well in life is to surrender to serendipity. Richard and I did just that on Friday 17th June and ended up richly rewarded with not just a memorable meal but four great new Swedish friends. It was my 54th birthday and since Dalaro is rather a one-horse town we only had two restaurants to choose from, but given the fact that I fully expected to be stumbling drunk by night’s end we decided to try Bistro Solsidan, located right next to the dockmaster’s office in the marina.
The place is typically Swedish, making the most of limited space with its largely white interior accented with nautical and botanical prints. It benefits from two huge bay windows to showcase the unhurried Swedish sunset and on the night we visited the atmosphere was buzzing, helped by a bibulous goodbye party for local teacher with all her female colleagues.
As for the grub, what a pleasant surprise it was. The blackboard featured a menu of locally sourced fish and meat including sea bream, pike-perch, salmon, Swedish lamb and a reindeer hamburger that was essentially rare inside and all the better for it. I struggled to decipher the proprietor’s inventive Swenglish but my ears perked up when he described the kyckling vitello tonnato. For the uninitiated, Vitello tonnato (and I’m quoting Wikipedia here) is a Piedmontese dish of cold, sliced veal covered with a creamy, mayonnaise-like sauce that has been flavored with tuna. It is served chilled or at room temperature, generally in the summertime. In this instance the veal had been substituted for chicken and the whole thing was adorned with a cress and arugula garnish.
The wine list also made for good reading, a small but imaginatively chosen selection from which we opted for a Provence rosé priced at about $40 – a bargain by Swedish standards. Including coffee and dessert the bill came to around $112 which I considered a good deal considering some of the mediocre meals I have had for the same price in Los Angeles.
However, best part of the meal was befriending Olle and Annika, a fifty-something Swedish couple at the table next door. We struck up a conversation with them after Olle, translated ‘pike-perch’ from the proprietor’s tortured food descriptions. Turns out he and Annika were fellow sailors and within minutes we were fast friends, getting tips about secret spots in the archipelago while he quizzed me as to the provenance of my boat.
As they restaurant emptied Ollie insisted we share a post dinner drink with them, then another, and then their friends arrived, a Swedish businessman named Torbjorn and his wife Ann from Laguna Beach in California. More drinks followed along with tales of the Golden State from Ann and myself and to nobody’s surprise we all decamped to my boat in the driving rain for even more drinks. We all became fast friends very quickly.
We were rained in to Dalaro for several days which allowed us to enjoy another nice dinner with our new friends – this time at Torbjorn and Ann’s house and what a treat it was. Their large and comfortable house, decorated in a pale palate and dotted with large candles in hurricane jars, just oozed Swedish calm and we enjoyed a typical locoal meal of steamed salmon and monkfish, boiled potatoes, carrots and asparagus and raspberry and mixed leaf salad. Since there is no systembolaget in Dalaro we didn’t bring wine, instead contributing a rhubarb compote from the excellent local deli. We were joined by another sailor named Jonas, a Hallberg-Rassy owner, who had seen my Allied Seabreeze in the marina and also peppered me with a million questions. Jonas was a fearsome-looking fellow with a shaved head and big Viking beard but was actually quite mild mannered, telling us that last summer he had done volunteer work among the seaborne migrants in Turkey and Greece.
If you do find yourself in Dalaro, do not miss the Bistro Solsidan, or the Dalaro Bageri (bakery) or the deli about six doors down from the bakery whose name I neglected to note. However steer clear of the only pizza place in town, which although benefiting from friendly service, serves possibly the worst pizza I can remember having in recent memory….
When we finally pushed off for Sandhamn on Sunday morning we cast a long and fond backward glance at Dalaro. It was happenstance that we came here, but I for one will definitely be back.