Finding good Scandinavian fare in this city has nearly become impossible. Not so long ago you could count on Scandia for an opulent Danish Sunday brunch. Konditori in Beverly Hills served marvelous eggy Swedish pancakes, and Roda Rummet on La Cienega offered a delicious selection of open-faced sandwiches. It's hard to believe that, although Los Angeles' Danish population is the largest in the country and Swedes even outnumber Danes here, the lone Southern California outpost of fine Scandinavian cooking these days is Gustaf Anders in Santa Ana.
To combat my occasional cravings for excellent pickled herring and pungent Norwegian gjetost cheese, I often put together a Scandinavian meal myself from Olson's on Pico Boulevard, a few blocks east of Fairfax. This plain Scandinavian deli is the only place I know in Los Angeles (although there are other Scandinavian shops) where I can buy homemade components for an authentic Swedish smorgasbord buffet or for Danish open-faced sandwiches known as smorrebrod .
Olson's proprietors, Helene and Bertil Ohlsson (not the same Olson who founded the shop in 1948) have been baking their own Danish-style liver pate and pickling herring from family recipes since they took over the deli in 1957. Their freezer is well stocked with more homemade specialties including tiny Swedish meatballs, medisterpolse and other Scandinavian sausage. At Christmastime, homesick Scandinavians place their orders for julskinka-- honey cured Swedish-style hams, custom-made locally for the Ohlssons' store.
After only one whiff of the bracing vinegary aromas that drift from behind the deli cases I'm reminded of trips to Sweden, where extravagant hotel smorgasbords hold, among other things, up to 20 kinds of herring, each with a different taste. I also recall bustling lunchtimes in Copenhagen's ubiquitous smorrebrod cafes with their multitude of beautifully arranged open-faced sandwiches.
You can assemble such meals from Olson's collection of cured and pickled fish, meats, cheeses and Scandinavian groceries as easily as you would fashion an assortment of antipasti from an Italian delicatessen. Many of these foods are ready to put on the table.
SMORGASBORD SHOPPING LIST
Smorgasbord means "bread and butter table"--a wild oversimplification of what actually appears. The spread may include not only gravlax , salads and cold cuts but also a few hot dishes, such as those from the recipes given below. An abbreviated smorgasbord called SOS (standing for smor, ost and sill : butter, cheese and herring) is often listed on Swedish menus under appetizers. When it includes several kinds of herring, SOS makes an excellent first course or light lunch.
Here are a few more ideas for smorgasbord:
Pickled herrings: Olson's carries about eight styles of herrings, including matjes fillets packaged in three-pound tins or in small, two-fillet cans. These skinless fillets, cured in a spiced sugar-vinegar brine, are a basic ingredient in Scandinavian cooking. They are often cut into strips on the diagonal and served on a block of ice along with aquavit to drink, but they may be served mixed with sour cream and onions or surrounded with mounds of chopped hard-cooked egg, sliced marinated cucumbers, pickled beets and chopped parsley, or included in cooked dishes--baked with potatoes and cream, for instance. You can simply accompany the fillets with chopped onion and sliced boiled potatoes (hot or cold) sprinkled with fresh snipped dill.
Olson's house - pickled herring: Pieces of matjes fillet in a sweet-and-sour vinegar brine.
Skansen herring: Another version of sweet-and-sour picked herring, from a Swedish company in Maine.
Sauced herrings: These chunks of cured herring in mustard, tomato, dill or wine sauce are imported from Sweden or Denmark.
Icelandic herrings: Home cooks who want to make their own pickled herrings start with these salt-brined whole fish.
Herring salad: Olson's house salad is a mix of matjes fillet, chopped apples, pickled beets and macaroni in a mayonnaise dressing.
Swedish anchovies: The official name for these anchovies is sprats; they're a tiny member of the herring family. Unlike the salty Portuguese version so familiar in Caesar salad, Swedish anchovies are cured in a sweet brine. They're delicious with cubed boiled potatoes mixed with minced red onion and sour cream as a salad, or used as a garnish for deviled eggs. Like matjes fillets, these anchovies are often baked with potatoes in cream, as in the Jansson's Temptation dish (see below).