Aquavit, NYC 3

September 15, 2010

We have always enjoyed Aquavit and thought it to be generally underrated by other critics. In recent years it has wandered a bit from its Scandinavian roots and its chef, Marcus Samuelsson, has been involved in other ventures. So we were pleased when we read that a new chef, Marcus Jernmark, would be bringing it back towards its roots. Its website says: “Restaurant Aquavit today showcases modern Scandinavian cuisine by combining age-old culinary traditions of Sweden with the ambitious creations of our chefs.” Seven of us went for dinner on August 29, 2010. We were seated at the table as one enters the main dining room. We started with a bottle of Argyle Sparkling a chardonnay pinot noir blend from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. This was the first Oregon sparkler I have had and was surprised how good it was.  This was followed by an excellent bottle of 2009 Bethel Heights (Willamette) Pinot Gris, a Gaisberg Riesling from Austria and a nice bottle of 2007 Bethel Heights Pinot Noir.

We ordered Aquavit’s Tasting Menu for everyone.

There was an excellent starting plate with six tidbits.

Each one had a good main ingredient and one or two appropriate garnishes. They all had a Scandinavian feel.  

NEW JERSEY HEIRLOOM TOMATO
salt baked beets, goat cheese, elderflower vinaigrette

This course was a disgrace. We waited forty-five minutes for it. The tomatoes were underripe and undoubtedly had been chilled, killing the flavor. This is at a time when the greenmarkets are full of luscious tomatoes.

MATJES HERRING
roasted yellow beets, quail egg, red onion, sour cream, brown butter


This was good and fun. The finely chopped garnishes were pretty and too fussy, but that did not take away from their appropriateness for the herring. We were surprised when asked to pour the brown butter over the herring, but it was really good, adding an unctuousness to a spare ingredient. The purple and white boiled potatoes are traditional with herring, but the two pieces of cheese didn’t go at all.

HAY-SMOKED SWEETBREADS
parsnip purée, fava beans, grilled bread, apple cider

The sweetbreads remained moist, but the dish didn’t really have any strong or interesting flavors.

HALIBUT CONFIT
baked fennel, braised octopus, fumé

My piece of halibut seemed stale and uninteresting, but some of the others liked theirs. The dish was pretty, but the complexity didn’t work well.

PAN ROASTED PHEASANT
wild mushroom butter, milk poached garlic, brussel sprouts, lingon berries

The mushroom butter inside the rolled breast meat of the pheasant kept it moist while the skin was crisped. This was nice.

HAWTHORNE VALLEY FARM CAMEMBERT
truffled clover honey, granny smith apple

I am all for using local cheeses, but I would have thought the choice would be for one in a more Scandinavian style. My wedge seemed chalky and underripe, but most of the others were happy with their pieces.

MINI ARCTIC CIRCLE
goat cheese parfait, passionfruit curd
  

Very nice. 

CHOCOLATE RASPBERRY BAR
amaretto foam, toasted almond ice cream


This was excellent. The dark chocolate dominated, but merged well with the other ingredients.

MIGNARDISES
grapefruit macaroons, raspberry marshmallows, lingonberry jellies

Nice.

Although there were some nice dishes, particularly the desserts, I was quite disappointed by the whole experience. The cuisine was only partially Scandinavian at a time when Scandinavia has replaced Spain as the hotspot of European cooking. The quality of some of the ingredients was not what it should be.  This was the last Sunday in August and the restaurant was only half full, but that should not be an excuse. After the inexcusable delay for the tomato course, the pace was okay, but the waiters were somewhat overbearing in their delivery and presentation. One bright spot was the low noise level; we could all hear each other, which is so rare in New York restaurants nowadays.

To see our last meal at Aquavit click here.

The restaurant’s website:
http://www.aquavit.org/restaurant/newyork/index.asp

 

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