By Christopher Pape
Fish, fish and then for some variety some dried fish. That and bland flavors are what come to mind when one thinks of Scandinavian cooking. And yet that couldn’t be further from the truth. Like their famous furniture and automobiles, Nordic cuisine uses clean lines, clean flavors and a clean modernist approach to food. These are, in fact, the true hallmarks of the great Northern cuisine. Aquavit in Midtown, a standard-bearer and destination restaurant, known the world over, serves this underappreciated and underrepresented but awfully delicious food.
Having been to many fine restaurants in the city, I thought I knew food. In my mind, I could rank the top ten or even twenty places. Then I was invited to Aquavit. I had no idea what I was missing. From the first moment to last; from first bite of amuse to last scoop of dessert, my guest and I were over-the-moon with joy and so were our stomachs!
I knew we were in for a special night the instant we stepped through to the main dining room. The Scandinavians have a flair for the simplistically elegant and here was no different. Modern, yet understated chandeliers lined the room and attractive bleach-blond wood was used on the tables.
These elements only heightened our awareness and appreciation of the food. And so to put the kitchen through its steps to see if it could maintain this almost Zen-like, less-is-more approach, we ordered the overly decadent seven-course tasting menu which also included two amuse-bouche, an experimental dish that Executive Chef Marcus Jernmark wanted us to try, a palate cleanser and petits fours. But by the end, rather than be bloated, we felt satisfied and refreshed.
We started with American Löjrom (caviar) served with diced red onion and sour cream. Most interestingly, Mr. Jernmark infused the dish smoked and then went further by enclosing the dish with a glass lid that trapped in even more smoke. And what can I say other than, what a masterpiece! The fish eggs were delicate and slightly salty without being overly fishy. The diced onion, which can run away in taste, was perfectly matched with the sour cream; and that smoke imbued the dish with mystery and made us wonder what other tricks the Chef had coming.
Herring; crab and lobster; sweetbreads; cod; pork and oxtail all followed. To sort through each one requires more space and more talent than I posses. However, I’d be remiss without mentioning some more dishes. If when we arrive at the Pearly Gates, God asks, what’s one food you can’t live without, I might conceivably answer sweetbreads. On Aquavit’s menu the dish was entitled ‘Dirty Roots’ and served with carrots and sunchoke and a very beautiful German Riesling. The tenderness of sweetbreads is legendary, but here they presented the meat in a crispy fashion, which I had never seen before but certainly was most appreciated and utterly devoured. The carrots and sunchoke were the perfect accompaniment.
It is my hope that Mr. Jernmark adds the leek charred pork breast to the menu which he so kindly entrusted us to taste-test. It was just on the boarder of overly salty, but well worth the cliff-hanger as the skin was beautifully crispy and the interior was almost as if it were emulsified. I plan to go back to the restaurant just to have this again. Take my word for it and put Aquavit on your menu. From the wonderfully helpful and professional staff, to the talented (and debonair) Chef Jernmark, Aquavit will not fail to impress.
For more information on Aquavit visit