Aquavit never would’ve occurred to me as a special occasion restaurant to choose but it was a welcome diversion from genres I’ve mildly bemoaned in the past. For a spell, it seemed like all surprises entailed manly/meaty or Latin American, all styles I enjoy, but not for every celebration.
Originally, I was tempted to say that the food wasn’t overwhelmingly Scandinavian. But I take that back. I probably shouldn’t be fit to judge anyway, considering my Swedish repertoire barely extends beyond Ikea meatballs and lingonberry sauce. As I started looking over my (overly dim and yellow) photos and tagging them in Flickr, it became apparent that Northern European components were definitely being employed, though the overall effect on a dish was frequently mitigated by a more familiar (avocado) or foreign (tandoori spicing) flavor.
The room was easily 80% full when we arrived, though you wouldn't guess it from this photo at meal's end. We eat slowly.
To generalize, the cuisine was very clean, sharp and in more than a few instances, bitter. That’s a profile I’m not naturally drawn to; it’s a cold shoulder. Bitter and sour are slow going while hot and sweet never fail to immediately win me over. It’s good to diversify.
Amuse of lettuce soup and something fishy.
I’d already downed a couple of gin and tonics at frozen-in-time Bill’s Gay Nineties, one block south, so not everyone would think a flight of three aquavits wise. I did, and chose saffron, cucumber and pear, vanilla and black pepper from a long list. I preferred the spice and fruit of the latter, cucumber was as you’d expect and saffron despite its golden color had little taste. These kept me occupied through the first few courses. At some point I switched over to a 2005 Weingut Meinhard Forstreiter Gruner Veltliner. Just a glass, though.
Another amuse. Clockwise from top right, pickled herring, tandoori salmon with what I swear was a dab of bbq sauce, oyster and something topped with roe that I can’t recall. This is when we noticed that they really love micro greens. Or green. Single miniscule leaves turned up throughout the meal.
I’ve never encountered a tasting menu presented in this manner. There were 14 dishes listed, which in hindsight sounds voluminous, even if they were only a few bites each. As it turned out, each diner gets seven, one all from the left column, the other from the right with no say in the matter. We were initially baffled when James was presented with a lobster roll (spring, not Maine style) with bacon and trout roe and I received yellowtail tuna, sea urchin, lime sauce and duck tongue.
Mine was like pure ocean. I felt a little guilty eating bird tongues like that’s the kind of callous opulence (though it’s not as if people are slaughtering ducks just for their tongues) that would cause PETA to threaten ripping out my own tongue. I have no idea what those black, slightly sweet wafers were made from but they tasted like candied seaweed.
Hot-smoked trout, salsify, apple-horseradish broth. This wasn’t mine. But all those flavors are way Scandinavian. I’m eating my words now.
Octopus, smoked avocado, lemon vinaigrette. As implied in the name, this was a smoky dish and the charred around the edges cephalopod added to that. The charcoal tastes were smoothed by the creamy avocado and tangy lemon.
Foie gras ganache, cured quail, raisin vinaigrette. This was the only dish where I was like, “that should’ve been mine.” Sweet, rich and meaty is my M.O. Luckily, it was too much for James and I got a few bites.
Beef tartar, mushrooms, salmon roe. Mine was the dead opposite. Literally cool, atop ice, raw and punctuated with grated horseradish. I would’ve loved this completely if there wasn’t quail and foie gras a few inches from me.
Short ribs and rib eye, asparagus, hop sauce (the unpictured companion was venison, green asparagus, bacon, horseradish dumplings). See what I mean about bitter? The slight bite from the hops did work, especially with the tender but compact brick of shredded short ribs.
Sorrel granite, rhubarb, yogurt foam. This was a palate cleanser all right. Triply sour but definitely sugared, as well. The yogurt gelled the ice and crunch. Vegetal granitas are the type of thing I would never make for myself but that I envision concocting for a dinner party.
Fourme d'ambert, apple, date bread.
Humboldt fog, blackcurrant, olive bread. Behold the microgreen. I was pleased that I got one of my favorite chevres instead of the blue (and I love blue cheese) and that it was ripe and runny. Cheese at my house rarely gets to that stage because I eat it too fast.
Floating island. This was complimentary and I’m not sure what all the ingredients were. The ice cream contained either cream cheese or yogurt and the sorbet seemed like raspberry. All three desserts came at once so there was a frenzy trying to sample everything before the chilled bits melted into nothingness.
Mint-chocolate mousse, orange sauce. Junior Mints and Peppermint Patties have always been my enemies. Sweet mint doesn’t do much for me. But the mint in the few bites of mousse I tried was very herbaceous and much better than similar things made with extract.
Chocolate cake, licorice, plum, chocolate stout sorbet. After the sweetness of the floating island, this mix came as a bit of a shock. The licorice and stout were anything but fluffy. I’m still not sure that I liked the dark, yes bitter, flavors. I can remember them vividly three days later, though. In fact, I’m getting the same sensation from a cup of strong black coffee as I type.