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Posts from the ‘Scandinavian’ Category

Shovel Time: Agern

threeshovelTwo-and-a-half hours after taking my seat at the counter, early Friday evening (the only one doing so until a Japanese guy with hint of a man bun arrived later and was seated way on the other side of the open prep space), I was glad I didn’t change my reservation for something cooler. My original instinct.


Sure, high-end dining is a little weird just a few steps down the 42nd Street ramp into Grand Central. More than a couple under-dressed walk-ins looked at at menu at the host stand before leaving But also, and maybe more so, do we need more Nordic-tinged food in NYC in 2016? I wouldn’t say I get excited about nasturtium leaves or nettles and especially not dill. You know there is going to be pine somewhere and pretty borage petals are going to make an appearance. (Sure enough, was seated facing the woman prepping the lavender flowers.) It keeps persisting. Cooler might’ve meant waiting a few days and trying the new Aska. I still haven’t been to Blanca or Semilla, though. No one is giving-up tables for one at Le Coucou or that would’ve been part of my Solo Birthday Dining week. Honestly, I chose Agern in part because I suspected it was good value for a tasting menu. And it really was. $145, service included, for the land and sea menu. With beverage pairings (surprisingly heavy on New York state wines) you’re right at $230. Pricey, obviously, but not to the degree of more established, possibly more luxurious, tastings in the city. You feel good about the time and money spent at the end of the meal.


The non-table-seated view of Friday rush hour bustle. I watched someone struggle with rolling their wheelchair up the ramp for far too long. I wasn’t staring, but it was in my line of vision and struggled myself to come up with an apt metaphor. There wasn’t one. Just a non-young lady willingly eating algae alone.

agern snacks

You don’t receive any silverware during the series of snacks involving cucumber, fluke, horseradish, pine, celeriac, dill, oyster, awesome fried potato bread, and sweetbread that tastes like a fancy chicken nugget, and ends with a steaming, soft-centered round of dense sourdough cut into four wedges and served with butter whipped with buttermilk, which took me a few to realize was intentional. Lemon balm and cucumber gets distilled into a broth poured into a vessel the size of a Chinese teacup from a French press. And then you are on your way.


Points given for full loaves for one. So nice that bread is back.


Oof, I can’t remember the details other than tomatoes that I thought tasted dangerously close to melon were involved, something creamy, roe too, and that it probably could’ve been one-third smaller and have had more impact. It was the first night they were serving this dish and it’s not currently on the menu.


Beef heart with green strawberries, tiny rounds of grassy asparagus, and dusted with a nettle powder was a stand-out. This was more vegetable than meat and tasted like the color green.

What’s the vibe? Well, kind of formal. There is a lot of staff. I appreciated that the front of house wasn’t hyper-white. My server had just moved from Puerto Rico to work at Agern and was jazzed about foraging and local ingredients but still happy to talk to me about alcapurrias and morcilla. Not the youngest crowd. A twee version of “Teenage Kicks” started playing in that Nouvelle Vague manner. It probably was Nouvelle Vague. (Yes, I wasn’t sure if they still existed.)

agern beets

Then it’s the salt and ash baked beet. It’s quite a production, cracked and carved and extras plated on the side. It’s a lot of beet for one person. The sweet vegetable, paired with huckleberries, is accompanied by a really great chewy rye bread.


This is when I started getting full and fuzzy. Monkfish and apple…


The pork neck was rich but a little tough, at least too tough for a butter knife to saw through, but also very bright and vegetal with pea shoots and green beans, plus seaweed crackers, more specifically made from a dulse called söl. This was just about right for the savories to wind down.


My worst nightmare of a dessert. Cantaloupe (ugh) and cucumber with frozen skyr, lemon balm, and there’s that boarage. Minus the melon (which I realize is my own personal Kryptonite), this was a perfectly nice and refreshing palate cleanser. And then I got worried that maybe it was the main event and not an interim course.


Phew. We’re still not talking caramel, chocolate, or nuts, but I can deal with strawberries, kombucha, and rose vinegar. Ok, who am I kidding? That’s not a dessert either.


Candies are more me, earthy or not. Little Play-doh doses of chocolate (Brooklyn chocolate) with anise hyssop, chamomile caramel, mint dusted with ivy powder (yes, ivy).

agern bread duo

You get sent off with a loaf of bread, more of that delicious butter, a tin of jam, which I want to say was apricot and it’s a shame my fruit palate isn’t fully developed. Not quite peachy. Best Saturday morning breakfast really.

Agern * 89 E. 42nd St., New York, NY 








There was that Ocean Spray brainstorming scene in
the last season of Mad Men where the descriptor "sour" was ditched
for the more pleasing "tart." Sour isn't necessarily a bad thing, of
course, and it had better not be for you if dining at Luksus is in your future.
The opening menu and beer pairings really play with the puckery end  of the flavor spectrum.

Luksus menus

The menu was $75, beer inclusive ($45 for pairings
after hard opening) which was a good deal, if not a little confusing because
with so much palate/palette misuse, I couldn't be sure if
"complementary" used in the reservation email meant well-matched or
free. It was both, as it turned out.

Luksus ham & vinegar

You begin with three snacks brought in succession,
no utensils; the first to appear is a ham chip (definitely more accessible than
Aska's blood cracker) coated in powdered vinegar. Salty and tangy, yes? And
wow, with a Berliner Weisse to really make a point. (I really want to Torst to
get on the homemade woodruff syrup.)

Luksus mussel & dulse

Dulse is an algae, if you didn't know. I would've
pegged the flaky squares to have been made with a mung bean or green pea flour
since they tasted more terrestrial. Marine-based crackers made sense paired with
the mussel fluff, though. Chopped pickled vegetables added more texture (and

Luksus carrot & beet

The roasted beets and carrots with an egg cream were
more straightforward and had a bitter finish.

Luksus bread

Warm sourdough bread came sort of as its own course,
tucked into what looked like a denim pant leg while the Outback Steakhouse song
played (well, the original Of Montreal version).

Luksus radish, razor clam, cucumber, bone marrow

Radishes sitting in a cucumber broth were the focus
(my very unhelpful notes say "sour not tart"). I'll admit that I
wasn't sure what role the bone marrow played. Initially, I thought the pinkish
translucent nubs were the marrow, but I suspect those was the razor clams.

Luksus little gem, salad puree, pea broth, egg

The leafiest course was meatless–at least
overtly–but robust. The little gem lettuce was charred (I do like all the
sooty burnt flavors that seems to be a Nordic hallmark) creating a presence
that didn't get overpowered by the maitake and slow-cooked yolk.

Luksus lamb, sunchoke, burnt hay, tongue salad

Lamb breast, rosy and fatty, was a solid main with a
lot of intrigue. Sometimes this style of food can be overly austere for my
taste, and that really wasn't the case at Luksus. Thinly sliced sunchokes and
ribbons of lamb tongue formed a little salad in the middle that had a mustardy
flavor hit with mint. I knew that hay was going to have to appear somewhere,
and I suspect that was the source of the black splotches.

When I posted a horrible Instagram pic of this on
Facebook because I'm a horrible person, the burnt hay threw an acquaintance for
a loop, reminding me that these ingredients and preparations aren't immediately
accessible. I mean, people still use arugula as a punchline. I had to explain
that, yes, it was hay not "hay." I do wonder how this style will
trickle down to the mainstream. Maybe more wild leaves and herbs tossed into
salads? More vegetable-based broths? Less reliance on meat for impact? Seaweeds,
lichen and barks have a ways to go.

Luksus spruce, blueberry, yogurt

The palate cleanser was the only thing I hated, and
I did not write than on my comment card because that's crazy subjective like
weirdos who don't like cilantro, coconut or blue cheese. I really can't deal
with pine flavors (maybe too much Northwest upbringing) so spruce sorbet was
not for me (and spruce isn't even native to the region, so it's not exactly
making a case for local-ism). The menu says yogurt, but the third component was
a sorrel broth. Guess what sorrel tastes like? Oh, it's tart,  all right. Even the blueberry gel was sour,
not sweet. My first thought, after the first bite was that Spain would never do
this to me. It certainly succeeded as a palate cleanser, however.

Luksus rhubarb, pea, beet, anise hyssop

Pea ice cream is fine by me, though. The cool
sweetness worked with the beets, rhubarb and licorice flavors. It was paired
with a sharp apple-like lambic (technically a gueuze) topped with  beet juice.

Luksus flodebolle

Ah, chocolate. This was a play on a traditional
Danish flodeballer and contained a brown butter cookie and a marshmallowy center flavored with strawberry cider, I think.

I liked Luksus, though I'm marginally biased since
I’m only one month post-Copenhagen and the food eaten there hasn't slipped my
mind yet. The cooking was strong for opening week with no real misfires (sorry,
spruce sorbet) despite the sour obsession; I'm sure it'll be refined with time.
I think it comes down to more of a matter of whether or not you dig this type
of thing–I'm more curious than fanatical–which will be important long-term
after the initial hype dies down.

Initially, I was thinking that the options for New
Yorkers to explore this trend seemed limited, but even three four  (Luksus, Acme, and Aska–oh, and Aamanns will be introducing a New Nordic dinner menu next Wednesday) restaurants in this style tops
the number we have showcasing avant-garde Spanish cuisine, despite its longer
lifespan. Something about the rough-hewn, pared-down aesthetic (maybe we simply
like stark white walls, blonde wood, and bearded men?) just seems to mesh with urban-naturalist
NYC at the moment.

Luksus * 615 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn, NY




Amass will soon take the spotlight, but for now
BROR, only open since March, is the latest entry in the Noma chefs set out on their own genre.

Relae projects the illusion of casualness, BROR actually is lower key. In
theory, I could see stopping in for a glass a wine and a few snacks like
catfish cheeks, chicken wings and kelp, or deep fried bull balls, which I
imagine as Danish Rocky Mountain oysters.  In practice, I'm not sure anyone does that;
people without reservations were being turned away and I didn't see a bar, at
least not on the lower level where I was seated.

Bror duck neck

My snack of choice was the duck neck, bread crumbed and sprinkled
with pine needles. You're given a finger bowl instead of utensils, and encouraged to pluck out the meat with your fingers.

Bror bread

The bread in Denmark was especially good, from the traditional dark rugbrød to the crusty artisanal loaves served in higher end restaurants.

Bror mullet, grilled cucumbers, pine

You can order a la carte, but the four courses of the
kitchen's choosing for 350 dkk (more or less $61) is the way to go. Since
there were only three starters and three mains listed, you will be served a
majority of them. First came mullet with grilled cucumbers, also tinged with
pine, and topped with nasturtium leaves, a seasonal favorite in these parts.

Bror catfish, onions, seaweed

Fish was followed by another, this time more substantial
catfish, double seaweed (from both Iceland and Sweden) and pickled onions.  I could see this being paired successfully
with sake. (I did not make notes of the wines served, with the exception of an
unusual orange Jura sparkling wine, ‘Tant-Mieux’ Petillant Naturel – Philippe
Bornard, though they were also biodynamic and French as at Relae.)

Bror pork neck, ramson, cauliflower

Pork neck, a shift from more austere to naturally decadent, was the main,
served with a charred leek, cauliflower puree, and countless leaves and wild
greenery, despite ramps being the only specimen named on the menu.  I would have to eat more extensively in
Copenhagen and revisit the few restaurants I tried before figuring out the nuances that make each place distinct.
If both pork dishes I had at Relae and BROR were put in front of me, I don't think I'd be able to say which was from where.

Bror buttermilk, walnut, blackcurrant

I was half-hoping I wouldn't get the rhubarb dessert for
variety's sake, and no, it turned out to be a strongy nutty  buttermilk-walnut ice cream, blackcurrant granita, and a poof of woodruff that I
really tried to taste because I'm still not convinced it's an appropriate
flavoring for green beer, as they do in Berlin, but the barely sweet dried foliage seemed to be more about texture
like the shredded phyllo coating used in kataifi.

The amazing thing, though I jest about the tight
repertoire of ingredients shared by restaurants, is how radically the menu changes with time. I saw a
set of photos from the following week and the only dish in common was the

BROR * Skt. Peders Stræde 24A, Copenhagen, Denmark


If you can't get into Noma, odds are you'll quickly
find a short list of alternatives, many  alumni ventures. Relae, helmed
by former sous chef, Christian Puglisi, is bound to come up. (Geranium, Radio, Fikebaren, Bror and soon-to-open, Amass, too.)

Relae menu

It's casual–blonde wood, tablecloths, printed-out paper menus (pardon my scrawling), self-serve
silverware, Joy Division might be playing–like a
nice weeknight dinner restaurant, if your weeknight dinners had seven courses with
French biodynamic wine pairings. Next thing you know, you've spent over $500. Oh,
Denmark. You also happy, tipsy, thinking about seasons and place.

Actually, you don't start thinking about late spring
and local ingredients until your second encounter (Bror in my case) with this relatively recent style of
modern Scandinavian cooking. I've seen others' insane itineraries; one blogger who
arrived in Copenhagen as I was leaving was going to Noma and Relae on the same
day and doubled-up daily. I'm no longer that gung ho even though I understand the American urge to
cram as much into our precious days off as possible. (I almost cried, not
figuratively, upon hearing about the five-week Thailand vacation being planned
by the train conductor  who befriended me in Copenhagen.) I've learned that two,
maybe three tops, is enough Michelin stars for one week or you start losing
perspective. Even in different guises, no matter how well executed, one can
only eat so much rhubarb, ransom, nettles, cucumber, nasturtium, seaweed, necks and
collars in a short time frame.  

With that said, I really liked Relae. I would, and
have already, recommended it. One aspect of note, and I don't know if this is a
Nordic thing, was the literallness. If they say seven courses, they mean seven courses,
no amuses, interim desserts or mignardises like you'll encounter with tasting
menus  elsewhere. Another Nordic quirk, if you happen to be visiting this time of year is amount of natural light during dinner. Since the sun doesn't set until close to 10pm, you can eke out some photos without relying heavily on candles or overhead lamps.

Relae langos

This snack, a Danish take on langos, fried
bread with an herbed yogurt spread, had to be tried since my dining companion was
in Budapest the day before. It was the only starter on offer and not part of the
675 kr menu. Add in a glass of organic sparkling wine, and this was definitely not like anything
I had in Hungary.

Relae raw beef, anchovies, ramsons

Raw beef, anchovies, and ramsons (paired with Sorga
Blanc '10 –La Sorga, Rousillon). I do sometimes wonder if something is askew with
my palate because I don't find ramps to have a very distinct flavor, despite
everyone's mania for them.

Relae new radishes, egg

New radishes and egg (Cul rond '11–Domaine de
l'Octavin, Jura). The "yolk," a salty translucent sheath, is hiding a
dollop of stiff fluff (ok, it's foam) that needs to be mixed into the aggressively
bitter and peppery sprouts for the full effect.

Relae asparagus, sunflower seeds, mint

Asparagus, sunflower seeds and mint (Temp fait le tout '11–Remi Poujol, Languedoc). This is where I got it, the appreciation of
vegetable-forward dishes, strength in simplicity. Asparagus and sunflower seeds
don't sound like the most convincing plate of food, but this was the standout of
the meal. The asparagus tasted like itself but was far from austere, bathed in
a browned butter that was so complex I assumed cheese and lemon were present (they
were not). The seeds gave the dish body and little Grape Nut-esque nuggets added
extra crunch and toastiness.

Relae steamed danish enoki, sand leeks

Steamed Danish enoki and sand leeks (Katori 90, nama genshu–Terada Honke, Chiba, Japan). The  mushrooms, greens and sweet, smoky sauce made
from charred, pureed onions also out-performed their basic nature. The sake was a wise pairing (even though I was practically still feeling the effects of a 1.8 L bottle split among three on Memorial Day weekend, just a few days prior).

Relae hindsholm pork, nettles, cucumber

Pork from Hindsholm, nettles and cucumber (Le boit
sans soif '11–Jean-Francois Chene, Anjou). And yes, there is meat; slices of
naturally rich pork with a very tart jumble of greenery.

Blå kornblomst and green herbs (Plume d'Ange
'10–Etienne Courtois, Soings en Sologne). It very rarely happens, but I forgot
to take a photo of the cheese course, which isn't really a cheese course at
all, but a pulverized blue cheese with herbs peeking through like

Relae rhubarb, buttermilk, potato

Rhubarb, buttermilk and potato (Ze Bulle–Chateau Tour Grise, Samur). I'm not sure how the potato sweet came to be a
Danish thing, but I know Noma has a plum and potato dessert. Unfortunately,
desserts after a procession of dishes and wines, don't always make a strong
impression me, no fault of the pastry chef. I did appreciate that it was light.

Relae * Jægersborggade 41, Denmark, Copenhagen

Meyers Deli

Not everything on bread is smorrebrod, of course.
Meyers Bageri, one of Copenhagen's top notch bakeries (my airbnb rental had two
Claus Meyers books on the shelves, one bread, one sweets; I couldn't read
either, though the photos were convincing) has an outpost in the basement of
department store, Magasin du Nord. It was not my intent to stop in, but it had
gotten to 3pm and I couldn't settle on anything for lunch and didn't want to
waste money on an outdoor tourist cafe. (Actually, I was in this part of town
to find a McDonald's, but felt like eating real food rather than tracking down
a novelty on this particular afternoon.) The deli had some nice looking
sandwiches. In particular, Lun Flaeskestegs. This is as close as I'd get to
traditional roast pork.

Meyers deli lun flaesketegs sandwich

There were thick slices of meat, still rosy in the
center, juicy and fatty with strips of cracklings, separated and added-in for
extra crunch. Pickled red cabbage, cucumbers and slivered red apples added
tartness and texture, and a creamy sweet mustard sauce bound it all together. This
was a serious sandwich, almost too much for one sitting (I would've asked for
half to go, or rather takeway, as the rest of the universe says, but wasn't
sure if that was couth).

And the potatoes, which made it a real meal, weren't
throwaway. I had to stop myself from eating all the crispy skinned wedges that
had a richness that could only come from being submerged in quite a bit of

Meyers deli lun flaesketegs close up
Crackling close-up

I was asked if I wanted mayonnaise and I wondered if
it was because they assumed an American would prefer ketchup (you shouldn't; I'm
sure it was house made, but it was watery and weird) . Maybe, maybe not, though
I'm pretty sure the cashier checking to see if I needed ice for my bottle of
Pelligrino was trying to accommodate US tastes. (I'm fine without ice, though
my travel companion was dismayed at its absence from the Ikea cafeteria.)

Meyers deli lun flaesketegs sign
It was only after decompressing a bit in the nearly empty seating area that I
realized 125 DKK was $22. Ouch. That was one expensive sandwich. You could try
and reproduce it on the cheap–the recipe is online with the translated
headline "Have you pig left over?"

Meyers Deli * Nytorv 13, Copenhagen, Denmark

Grøften & Schønnemann a.k.a. Things On Bread

If your only exposure to smorrebrod is Copenhagen
import, Aamanns, you might get stymied when figuring out how to order the
open-faced sandwiches in a more traditional, albeit touristy, setting.

Groften menu

At Grøften, inside Tivoli Gardens, you're presented
with a checkbox list, broken down by topping type–seven herring variations,
alone–and each with the choice of rye, caraway or white bread. (Locals know
which pairs with what and there are definitely rules. I didn't want to be the
blueberry bagel ordering foreigner.) Is this like dim sum? Pick away, share? Using
price as a guide isn't reliable since nearly everything ends up costing more
than you think it should anyway. Is a $16 sandwich plenty for one or barely a
snack a la Aamanns?

Groften smorrebrod

We decided on two each, which I now think was too
much (see Schønnemann, below), plus, meatballs, which was definitely way too
much. Yes, there is actually a slice of bread hiding beneath the tuft of
shredded horseradish, sweet pickles, remoulade and fried crumbled onions (a
garnish so popular it's sold in little plastic tubs at Ikea). Oh, and roast

Groften tartare smorrebrod

Beef tartare, egg yolk and horseradish was
straightforward as can be. Capers, chopped onion and turmeric-tinged pickled
vegetables, similar to piccalilli, came in little glass bowls for all the sandwiches
but  made most sense with the slab of
chopped raw meat. The same sandwich with black caviar is called "løvemad,"
or lion's snack in English. Cute either way.

Groften fried herring smorrebrod

Fried herring was a little more subdued.

Groften meatballs

Frikadeller, a mixture of pork and veal, I'm pretty

As my first restaurant meal in Copenhagen, I was a
little surprised (not unhappily, as I love smoking on vacation) to see you
could still smoke indoors since Scandinavia always struck me clean-living–maybe
it's the propensity for biking? (It was also not unusual to see parents pushing
strollers with cigarettes in hand, a practice that would be certain to induce
severe shaming in many parts of NYC.) This was an anomaly that wasn't repeated
at any other restaurant I visited, though.

* * *

Schønnemann is also a traditional purveyor of things
on bread, mostly rye. There's nothing wrong with old-school Danish food; I
would highly recommend a little stodginess in lieu of  seaweed broths and charred cucumbers for one
meal. Luckily, we were seated closely, NYC close, to a Danish twosome who made
sure we ordered right. (I ended up spending Saturday hanging out, barbecuing
and drinking at their "kolonihave" outside the city and was all the
better for breaking out of the New Nordic confines that can limit the

Schonnenmann beer & aquavit

House brews, referred to as "lunch beer"
by our waiter, and a delicate walnut aquavit are a great way to start off an
afternoon. (While I'd recommend eating some regular food in Copenhagen, I can't
say I'd advocate multiple shots of thick salty black licorice liqueur flavored
with pomegranate, which I was exposed to later.)

Schonnenmann  herring salad

Herring salad, yes, on top of a thin, chewy slice of
nutty rye. We were told we should've asked for more bread so you're not just eating
fish, beets and sour cream.

Schonnenmann  veterinarian's midnight snack

Just one smorrebrod apiece, the normal way of doing
things. I had been previously charmed by lion's snack, and this, the
veterinarian's midnight snack, was no less poetic. That translates to a thick
spread of pate, salted beef similar to sliced corned beef, aspic and raw
onions.  This is my kind of sandwich. Dark bread and liverwurst? Yes.

Schonnenmann  the harbourmaster

The Harbourmaster, cured salmon, chives, dill,
potatoes, red onions and smoked cheese, also had an impressive name. The lime
seemed odd to me.

Make sure to have another beer, don't look at the exchange rate too hard, have a good time.

Grøften * Vesterbrogade 3, Copenhagen, Demnark

Schønnemann * Hauser Plads 16, Copenhagen, Denmark




threeshovelSundays are not typically for dining-out in my world, but it turned out that Aska was a perfectly suited end cap to the week. After a hazy week of holiday party drinking and the accompanying cheese plates, skewers and trays of cookies, it was refreshing to dine on composed plates of light food instead of buffet grazing (unless you’ve been attending parties serving moss and roots).

The $65 tasting menu, $20 more than previous pop-up incarnation, Frej, is still a good value. And a wine list with bottles starting in the $20s also sets the easygoing tone. Service and execution is friendly and polished–not to feed into a cliche, but finding both in Williamsburg is a rarity.

Aska duo

The Bond, described as similar to a Vesper (but using Pineau des Charentes and Swedish punsch instead of Lillet) was crisp and aromatic but not so much that it distracted from the opening amuses, both containing puffed, fried skins, one pork, one pike. The non-fishy one came with super-Scandinavian sea buckthorn (grown in Maine) and strip of dried pig’s blood that resembled jerky but was textured more like frico (a scabby frico, but sure).

Aska bread basket

Warm caraway-studded rye rolls and a yeasty flatbread with a powdery white cheddar quality similar to Smartfood were in the bread basket.

Aska shrimp, cucumber, dill, rapeseed oil

Shrimp, cucumber, dill, rapeseed oil was straightforward, like something you’d find on thin slice of rye.

Aska broccoli, mussel, seaweed

Broccoli, mussel, seaweed looked straightforward, single floret presentation, aside, but the saline flavors were less usual. It’s the crudite you might find at that mythical moss-and-roots party. You aren’t given utensils for this course, by the way.

Aska potato, onion, mackerel

Potato, onion, mackerel was mostly about the potato, still shining through a blanket of sour milk foam.

Aska squid, turnip, purslane

Squid, turnip, purslane was my favorite, partially because of the painterly composition, and also because it exemplified the muted style of cooking. Muted (grilled squid, raw root vegetable) but not dull (fermented weedy herb).

Aska salsify, lichen, autumn leaves

Salsify, lichen, autumn leaves was the most challenging, and probably the most overtly forage-y. (My half-assed illegible notes that I didn’t start taking till this point read: “dirty bitter seawater.”) It reminded me more of a medicinal soup, a little hippier than Chinese.

Aska pork shank, apple, sunchoke

Pork shank, apple, sunchoke was satisfying with the fatty cut of meat contrasting with the austerity of the former course.

Aska interim dessert

Tart whey and torn sorrel leaves transitioned from savory to sweet.

Aska cardamom, brown butter, hazelnut

And Cardamom, brown butter, hazelnut was a conventional dessert–not a leaf, flower or herb in sight–that felt more warm and grandmotherly (not my grandma, mind you) than cool Nordic. The spiced ice cream and crumbles
were delightfully salty-sweet.

Aska * 90 Wythe Ave.,  Brooklyn, NY

Red Rooster (Christmas Edition)

It took Christmas to finally make a trip to Red Rooster, the finally agreed upon choice among my group of three (Chinese or not is always a tough decision), to partake in the advertised buffet. Because holidays=excess.

The spread was by far more Scandinavian than Soul, though, so it didn't exactly count as a typical dining experience at the restaurant. That is not a complaint–the only thing I truly missed was the opportunity to try the yard bird, a.k.a. fried chicken.

Red rooster bread table

Well, there was cornbread in the selection of starches. It was the flaky scone-biscuit rounds with clotted cream that got my attention, though (twice).

Red rooster rainbow produce

The best part were the starters, anchored by a dazzling array of colorful radishes, cauliflower, and carrots. I love rainbow food to the point where I started a Pinterest board, Taste the Rainbow, before learning that was a cliche. I filled up on two trips-worth of gravlax, and herring prepared a million ways (ok, three: pickled, in sour cream, and in a thick green herbal sauce that wasn't pesto).

Red rooster christmas buffet plate one

Round one.

Red rooster christmas buffet plate two

I didn't even get a chance to try the Swedish pork with lingonberries, though I did my best to get a small scoop of just about everything else: mashed sweet potatoes, collard greens, red cabbage, chile-spiked salmon, a small slice of roast beef, skinny green and white beans, Jansson's Temptation, a potato casserole with some sort of pickled fish, and easily the weirdest thing, a Swedish meatball and cocktail frank bake that would be at home in the Midwest. Note the one meatball and one weiner, front and center, that came as a pair.

Red rooster christmas desserts

Desserts included pumpkin pie, fudge, macaroons (not macarons) and a molasses cookies that probably have a Swedish name that I don't know. I forgot to order Glögg, though I kind of maxed out on mulled wine after more than few cups of Glühwein in Berlin a few weeks ago.

The basement set-up, complete with a live band and a roaming woman crooning, There's a Stranger in My House (at least I think that's what the song was) elicited comparisons to a Catskills resort (not that I would know firsthand–Dirty Dancing is my only frame of reference). And we were this close to going to Kutshers for Christmas.

Red Rooster * 310 Malcom X Blvd., New York, NY

Crêpes du Nord

I don’t make a habit out of eating two crepes for lunch, but if a near-stranger with a gift card for a restaurant across the street from my office offers to share their bounty, I don’t say no. I’m up for food blog blind dates.

Crepes du nord proscuitto crepe
I enjoyed a buckwheat crepe similar to what they serve at Bar Breton. The grains add heft to the soft pancakes and make the meal feel healthy even though it’s filling. I feel the same way about soba; even though I prefer udon the brown pleasingly gritty noodles just seem more angelic nutritionally. Mine was served open-faced, filled with ricotta and topped with a handful of arugula and slices of prosciutto. Though a few dollars more than I normally allow myself for lunch (this one was $11 but many are $8-$9) a savory crepe could make a nice sandwich alternative and certainly beats a BMT (yes, I’ve been known to frequent the Subway, a few storefronts down the street).

Crepes du nord chicken crepe
You know this is the country herb chicken because they put a few meaty clues on top.

Crepes du nord cloudberry crepe
Since I was double-creping it, I went simple with a triangular (these are not buckwheat, as you can probably see) pancake drizzled with a cloudberry syrup and a dollop of cream. Lingonberries, cloudberries, gooseberries…all foreign and indiscernible to me. Of course, I can tell a raspberry from a blackberry from a blueberry by taste, but cloudberries in this form? I could only describe the flavor as sweet with the smallest amount of tartness.

A sweet crepe filled with chocolate, probably Nutella, was the first thing I ever ate in France so I always associate the folded-like-a-napkin treats strongly with the cuisine (never mind that Crêpes du Nord is billed as French-Scandinavian). And that sounds far more pretentious than intended.

Whenever someone mentions going to France as a kid, it shifts my opinion of them, and not always for the better. Tony Bourdain, who I’m lukewarm on anyway, loses me when he drops childhood visits to France into his shows. I’m currently reading Rob Sheffield’s Talking to Girls About Duran Duran and I was like “what?!” when I hit the chapter where his family takes a road trip across Europe. It’s hard to paint yourself as an awkward teen with crappy jobs when you get to go to France, Italy and Spain for the summer. And sure, European Vacation was about rubes abroad, but in reality with only about 30% percent of Americans owning passports, traveling to France with kids is not only a luxury, it’s a rarity. I can only think, “Wow, you had a charmed childhood and wealthy, open-minded parents.” I feel the same about where-to-take-the-parents round-ups that suggest Daniel and Minetta Tavern. Sorry, you're getting Totonno's and East Buffet.

I did stay with a family in Nerac, France, so-called melon (the only food I won’t eat) capital of the world in July 1989. I couldn’t swing a full year or even a semester abroad, but I was serious about saving up for my month and got my first job, bussing tables for $3.35 an hour at Hunan Garden, on the same strip as Skate World and Donut Barn. Even though I ended up being kind of bored and miserable in the countryside (I wanted the romance of Paris, duh) and ultimately getting parental financial assistance (which I’m still surprised happened) the 31-day-trip was one of the wisest things I did in the ‘80s. And despite numerous trips to Asia and other parts of Europe I’ve never returned to France and currently have no inclination to (right now, I’m toying with San Sebastian or Lima) because I hate idealized Cartier-Bresson/Amelie stereotypes. The Japanese have learned not to idealize (seriously, you have to read about “Paris Syndrome”) and so should we all.

As to Crepes du Nord, I would return if I could sneak out of the office for a late lunch and take advantage of their two-for-one 4-7pm happy hour. Drinking during the work day is a luxury I’ve managed to resist so far, but 2011 may be the year I cave. There’s nothing uncivilized about an occasional midday glass (or two) or wine, right? Oh dear, now I’m starting to sound French or something.

Crêpes du Nord * 17 S. William St., New York, NY

Vandaag: Pining Away


When I first started hearing burbling about Noma—was it years ago? Months ago? It now feels like Rene Redzepi has always been present—the first thing I thought was that I’m never eating pine needles no matter how en vogue it becomes (then again, I also said I’d never wear leggings when they started reappearing in early ’06 and now I do occasionally. Next stop, pajama jeans).

Buckthorn, hay, nettles, fine, but pine needles—even though the prickly leaves and menthol perfume aren’t radically different from rosemary—conjure up a depressing Pacific Northwest dampness from my childhood. Hobbitty, green and moist with moss clinging to tree bark, mushrooms sprouting in suburban lawns, sidewalks slicked with drowned earthworms after a hard rain, larvae the size of two grains of rice wriggling from filberts you’d crack open with rocks during recess and slugs, nearly black and glistening like a turd with feelings, soft little giraffe horns moving. Were they looking at you? No matter where the gastropods appear, they always surprise and spark a guttural repulsion (just looking at photos makes my stomach upset). But I never wanted harm to come their way. I just didn’t want them in my life. I still don’t.

But to my knowledge, modern Scandinavian cuisine hasn’t added slugs to their repertoire yet. They certainly weren’t on the menu at Vandaag (more Dutch and vaguely Northern than Nordic) where I spied many signifiers of this growing trend: juniper, rye, mead, kelp, sea beans, caraway and yes, pine needles (in a duck for two special that I now kind of wished I had tried). Things were being pickled and smoked with wild abandon.

The hefty toast triangles that came with my clams in an vanilla-aquavit broth (prettied with a few flower petals— along with long-stemmed leaves, another phobia of mine that I’ve come to terms with) weren’t merely grilled, but smoked with a wood that our server couldn’t identify for sure but knew had to be a conifer. And the subtle resiny, charcoal flavor was wonderful. I could be wrong about this pine thing.

My spice tree cocktail, a blend of Applejack (I’ll always try anything with this sprit, and it’s certainly the season), honeycrisp apples and ras el hanout aquavit, was more fruity than spiced and definitely not tree-like. There’s not a single pine needle on the drinks list.

The kicker turned up on the dessert menu. A six-dollar-item simply called pine cone. What the heck? I did not order the pine ice cream drizzled with pine syrup in a cone that may or may not have been pine flavored because I imagined something garish and beautifully emerald (I am a freak for unnaturally hued foods, particularly green and blue ones) like a Shamrock Sundae even though I doubt Vandaag would employ artificial dyes, and couldn’t stand the thought of not being able to take a photo.

Despite my goal of weaning myself from photographing restaurant meals, I had indeed toted my camera along—only to discover that I’d forgotten the memory card at home. This had to be a sign. But I’m not superstitious, don’t believe in higher powers and think resolutions are a crock, so I hope to return soon, camera in hand and plans to go pine crazy. I’ll be open-minded until I start seeing slugs appear on menus.

Vandaag * 103 Second Ave., New York, NY

Images from nikao and Arj