The bronze sculpture of a nude woman, Havis Amanda, was widely criticized when it was unveiled in Helsinki in 1908. Dissenters and hard-core feminists slammed it as insulting to women, having her objectified like that on a pedestal, especially with the four sea lions at its base with their tongues lustfully hanging out. But they missed the point—it had nothing to do with women or lascivious men; it was simply the sculptor’s intent to have her symbolize the city’s rebirth.
Tastes change, of course, and today, it’s one of the most photographed pieces of art in the country. It’s also the namesake of one of Helsinki’s best seafood restaurants, just about half a block away.
Established in 1973 and at its current location since 2004, Havis was on the way between my hotel and just about everything I wanted to see in the Finnish capital. After a couple of days of enjoying reindeer prepared as both meatballs and in a stew, I decided to cast my net a little wider when considering dinner.
Upon entering Havis, you can choose to sit in the open kitchen room or out on the sheltered patio terrace. I preferred, however, to be seated in the lovely front dining room with the ocean liner mural and the vaulted ceiling stenciled with nautical images. At a window seat, you can take in the bustling harbor and the classic 1889 Market Hall across the street. It’s the perfect setting to savor something from the sea.
Try This: Whet your appetite by diving right into the seafood with a bowl of perch soup. If you’d like a more traditional opening, opt for the salad of tomatoes, chopped olives, feta cheese, fennel, and croutons in a basil sauce with a tiny scoop of tomato sorbet (which, although it sounds very peculiar, is actually quite fantastic). Continue with the Åland trout with apples, chanterelles, potatoes, and a chanterelle purée, or you might like the char-grilled whitefish with carrot and Verjus sauce. For dessert, you can stick to an old standard, like strawberry consommé, or you might go for the white chocolate mousse with birch sap sorbet.
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