A Magical Tasting Menu in Tallinn at Art Priori
Art Priori did not show up when I researched Tallinn's top restaurants, making this year-old fine dining a true hidden gem. Tucked away on a tiny street, Art Priori is a restaurant that strives for "high-level art elegantly combined with excellent food"
The space itself doubles as an art gallery, with rotating exhibits of fine art on the walls. Pair that with their 5, 7, and 9 course tasting menus at accessible prices, this is experience is 5-star at a fraction of the price it should be. The restaurant’s chic interior is in spirit of the Gothic architecture characteristic of Tallinn in gleaming black and white tones, linking the old world with the new in a modern way.
The exhibit during our dinner was a called Metamorphosis: Timeless Art. The photographs featured the staff and chefs of the restaurant posed in typical medieval settings with just one modern object among the pelts, pears, goblets, and gold. It was the perfect art to compliment the decor.
I'm no stranger to tasting menus, I take in a couple a year when I feel the place and price is right for a truly fantastic experience. (This past year highlights were Eleven Madison Park and Blue Hill at Stone Barns.) When I heard about the concept at Art Prior, and saw the 5 course tasting menu was only 69 euros, I felt like I had come across a Picasso marked $20 at a garage sale.
The Service was exceptional from the moment we arrived. Girti, our lovely waitress delivered each course with a smile and explanation of the dish, was there to refill my water the moment it was low, and wore black gloves like a spy when she served our plates so she wouldn't get fingerprints on them. After our meal she offered us a tour of the restaurant to see all the art and private rooms.
The restaurant's main dining room is intimate, bright, and modern. Our table had wax-sealed menus on top of plates that looked like craters of the moon, and a slab of dough sitting under a bell-jar as a centerpiece. This would rise before our very eyes during the first few course, and then be taken away, baked, and served warm with our entrees later. I have never been served bread like this before, and I felt like a kid on Christmas when it finally came time to eat it.
Travel Tip: Since I know from experience that tasting menus often involve added amuse-bouches, delicious bread, and little surprises, I usually opt for the lowest-number of courses offered so I don't get unpleasantly full. Two large amuse-bouches came out compliments of the chef previous to our 5-course tasting beginning, there was a palate cleanser in the middle, the aforementioned dream bread, and an extra dessert at the end. So our 5-course menu was really more like 9.
As each course arrived, it was accompianed by a story. The chefs had foraged for these herbs in the forest earlier today. This squid was caught off the coast this morning. This root only grows in Estonia during the summer months. Each bite was a true Estonian experience.
The most surprisingly and artful course was by far the finale, brought as a surprise compliments of the chef. Girti described it as an enchanted Estonia forest, with actual moss covered in chocolate, white-chocolate truffle "rocks", raspbery macaron "mushrooms" and beer-caramels with edible rappers. "To go with the forest, you need some Estonian weather" and with that she poured some water into the base of the edible terrarium and our tabletop became a sea of grey, smoky waves.
It was a magic trick! Achieved with dry ice. (Josh and I actually did this for one of the courses at our wedding last year). This presentation combined with the unique treats on top of it is the most creative and beautiful dessert I have ever eaten. And we all know I have eaten a lot of desserts.
It's worth a trip to Tallinn just to experience this exceptional restaurant. It's not often you can find a place that combines fine art with fine food, and adds a touch of magic.