Though Washington, DC is known more as a destination for politicians rather than foodies, the culinary scene in our nation’s capital has flourished over the past few years. Some of the world’s most renowned chefs have opened restaurants in the city, such as José Andrés’ “Minibar,” Michel Richard’s “Citronelle,” and Boyardee’s “Canned Food Drive-Through.” As part of an occasional, Wheelhouse-exclusive and now syndicated series, this author will review some of the hottest new restaurants and give you the inside scoop on the burgeoning restaurant scene here in the center of democracy. So loosen that belt and warm up those taste buds as we prepare for the first stop in our fantastic food voyage: Viking Quest Restaurant.
Background and Location
Viking Quest is the latest in a bevy of Viking-inspired cuisine that has swept the culinary world like a battle axe through butter. The restaurant is owned and operated by a large, hirsute man known only by the singular name “Olaf,” who immigrated to the United States just one year ago. It’s the classic American success story–Olaf opened his restaurant with money he received after conquering a small but resource-abundant portion of Iceland, which then he sold back to Reykjavík after a furious bidding war between the government and the estate of Björk. After all, why flip real estate when you can flip autonomous territory, right? Assuming my interpreter, Lief, translated Olaf’s guffaws and violent gestures correctly, becoming a world-class restaurateur has always been Olaf’s long-held dream, and he settled on DC as a destination after mistaking the Washington Monument for the penis of Thor.
The restaurant is located in the little known but vibrant Nordic community on the outskirts of Northeastern DC. Recent immigrants like Olaf have turned this once decrepit area into one of DC’s most treasured hidden gems. So treasured, in fact, that the community has taken to fortifying their enclave with a herring-filled moat, unscalable walls, and rather menacing sculptures of Norse deities. Inaccessibility aside, once you enter the compound you’ll be glad you made the trek to “New Vikington” and supplied the gatekeeper with the correct password. What awaits inside is a charmingly rustic community that stays true to its cultural roots and is teeming with traditional Viking shops that sell products strikingly similar to those found in stores outside the gated community for prices so low it’s almost criminal. The gender ratio of the population does seem to skew overwhelmingly male, at least from a casual glance around during the mechanical longboat ride from the gate to the restaurant, but that only adds to the aura of Viking Quest being one of the city’s best happy hour destinations for single females and hottest after-hours spots for gay Norsemen.
The first thing you notice upon entering Viking Quest is the celebrity-filled crowd. Patrons included your usual DC pols and bigwigs, a litany of “who’s who” within Scandinavian diplomatic circles, poorly-animated characters from Ikea instruction booklets, and even former Vikings’ quarterback Fran Tarkenton. Unfortunately we were an hour too late and just missed meeting the stars of the famed Capital One “what’s in your wallet” commercials. Ironically, Viking Quest only accepts American Express.
Aside from the clientele, the general design of the restaurant seems to be one of chic minimalism. Almost everything in the restaurant is made from the same type of unstained wood–possibly teak, but also possibly drift–and with the exception of an oversized portrait of Olaf hung rather clumsily above the entryway, the walls are left bare. Far be it from this author to question the authenticity of segments of Viking culture, but I remain skeptical that the rhinestones used so prominently in the grand portrait of Olaf were a popular medium in the time of his ancestors. That one possible historical anachronism aside, the remainder of the restaurant did seem to project an unmistakable aura of true Viking-ness. Again with the assistance of Lief the Interpreter, I learned that Olaf chose not to hook his restaurant up to the power grid, given that electricity was invented far after the golden age of the Viking. Instead, everything in Viking Quest runs on power generated from dozens of wayward Hill interns shackled to rowing devices in the building’s basement.
Given the gluten-free, low-carb diets that are all the rage these days, it’s no wonder Viking food has seen its popularity soar. Formerly-fat celebrities who grace the covers of check-out aisle magazine like Us, People, and Cat Fancy, credit the Viking diet with their fit new physiques. Even Jared, the formerly fat but now just ugly spokesman for Subway, has forgone his usual diet of a $5 footlong sandwiches and is all about the Viking food craze. In fact, Us Weekly reported last week Jared is now dating a Kardashian that he met at a Viking cooking class. They later retracted this story after discovering no one gave a shit.
Regarding the cuisine, Viking food is based on three simple ingredients: meat, meat, and more meat. The exact source and type of meat is a well-guarded secret within the Viking Quest establishment. I tried my best to get Olaf to divulge the secret origins of their house speciality, but his ire seemed to increase as my questions persisted, to the point where his words morphed into what the increasingly flustered Lief said were sounds frighteningly similar to the battle cries of a long-extinct variety of whale. After he pointed menacingly to the basement and made a rowing-like motion, myself and the rest of the party to decided to drop the matter and go about enjoying our mystery meat.
The meat-food itself was delicious and is easily the best all-meat cuisine I’ve had in this city. Even the presentation was charmingly authentic. Having eaten varieties of food like Indian and Ethiopian that eschew the use of utensils I was well-equipped for a similar experience with Viking food, but was pleasantly surprised by the utter absence of plates or serving conduits of any kind. While I think little harm would done to the restaurant’s claim to authenticity by adding a sprig of parsley to their dishes, or even providing patrons with a singular Wet-Nap, their maniacal fixation on giving diners a “true” Viking meal is admirable and really the heart and soul of the restaurant’s appeal. We all had a good laugh towards the end of our meal when Lief, himself raised in an all-Viking household and hence no stranger to this style of dining, ended up nearly ingesting an inch-long splinter while the rest of us newbies ate unscathed. Even the usually stoic Olaf couldn’t contain his laughter and eventually joined us for a final drink, served in hollowed-out, intern-sized skulls.
If you’re looking for a culinary and cultural experience like none you’ve had before, Viking Quest is certainly for you. The one-item menu unfortunately leaves me no room to suggest a favorite dish, but chances are the chefs rotate the singular house specialty based on the season and resistance of outlying townspeople, so you’ll be in for a surprise treat regardless. The service may seem brusque, or downright belligerent at times, but chances are you’ll be able to look past that once you set your eyes on the charming two-horned helmets worn by the all-male wait staff. I would, however, suggest to Olaf that the restaurant employ some form of background music, if for nothing else than to cover up the faint sounds of tortured screams emanating from the basement, but even that fades into the background as the sounds of whipping gain an almost rhythmic, musical pulse to them. Do be sure to call ahead though. It’s necessary both to secure a reservation and to ensure your personal safety. If they say they’re packed just tell them Ryan sent you! And if that doesn’t work, quickly hang up the phone and get your number and address unlisted as fast as you can.