By William Collins
Last Friday night, at the Arts at the Armory on Highland Avenue in Somerville, a journey into the Viking afterlife, Valhalla, replete with Odin, oysters, mead, song, dance, and delightful food took place. Put on by the local restaurant Cuisine en Locale, O.N.C.E. (One Night Culinary Events) in Valhalla was rife with good spirits as a ten course meal was served amid general Nordic frivolity to the sold-out and hungry crowd.
As this was the third annual O.N.C.E. in Valhalla event, it was clearly organized with zest and a passion for providing entertaining, if not entirely authentic, Viking traditions, as well as a myriad of beers, wine, gourmet foods and friendly hosts.
General Manager of Cuisine at Locale, Angie Gaimari, described the fare as “food [Vikings] would dream of eating,” and as I watched the chefs chopping pork liverwurst before my eyes, and enjoyed the aroma of the rich, malleable sausage, I couldn’t help but think that the Vikings were not alone.
You might be thinking, “What in the heck is Viking food like?” And for an answer to that question I consulted Head Chef Brian Sway. “Lamb, big bone and savory” was to be the main dish. In a ten course meal, what does “main dish” mean anyway? It was to be preceded with delicacies such as parsnip soup, ryeberry pilaf and cheesy oats, ancient inspired food with that modern gourmet touch.
Mr. Sway informed me that the food served that night, as well as at Cuisine en Locale, was sourced locally, with much of the raw materials provided by Stillman Farms in Jamaica Plain. Island Creek provided the oysters, which were shucked by the chef at an open oyster bar preceding the meal, a good start for any feast.
The libations consisted of a healthy mix of meads, wine and beer, with an early evening tasting provided by local Somerville brewers, Slumbrew. The crowd happily indulged while bassoons, flutes and fiddles played throughout the night.
It was a family affair, attended by couples and groups of friends, and to enhance the fantastical atmosphere there were hordes of face-painted, snarling kids, “Loki’s monsters” as they were called, and adult volunteer Vikings arm-wrestling, pontificating, and generally providing flair and good fun for the engaged guests. Some of the more enthusiastic members of the crowd came in costume, but for those who didn’t, Miri Rooney, designer of hats at Shortarmy.com, peddled purchasable horned Viking beanies.
If there was ever a time to be fully immersed in Viking culture, this was it. Assistant Chef Sean O’Brien called the evening a “fantasy vision of Viking lore,” and as costumed Viking impersonators spoke of myths in front of a giant blazing televised fire, it was easy to agree with him.
In general, the air was filled with merriment among those attending the event, as well as those working it. Beards were aplenty, weaponry was that of fork, knife and chalice, and all were induced by the great god Odin to enjoy and be happy.
Visit Cuisine en Locale in Somerville if these tastes apply to you, though I wouldn’t expect to find Vikings perusing the grounds.