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What's the word on Aquavit?

My husband has made us reservations for our wedding anniversary. We ALWAYS stay in Bklyn for special dinners, but got a rec from a close friend. Suggested that we go there and get the tasting menu.
We live on a pretty tight budget, so this is a great splurge. Think we'll be happy?

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  1. I have only eaten at the Aquavit Cafe - the front room - rather than Aquavit proper (the back room) - since they moved. The food is uniformly very good - I love the herring sampler, the meatballs, and the various aquavits. The wine list is interesting, but a bit expensive - since the Cafe is a less expensive than the dining room, I wish they had a slightly more modest wine list for the Cafe. I find the ambiance (even though I've returned several times) a bit sterile - perhaps check out the website to see photos. If you give me a sense of your budget, would be happy to make some other recs - Wallse (a perenniel - sp? - of mine) comes to mind.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MMRuth

      MMRuth, thanks for the info. I think $300 is the upper limit. Some favorite spots in Bklyn include Al di la, Sorrel, Tempo, Applewood. It just seemed like a good reason to spread our wings and try out some great Manhattan food. A little fancier, really good.
      I have never heard of Wallse, but I will look it up.

    2. Aquavit is definitely a special occasion place. I do not like the new location nearly like I did the old one. MMRuth is right, the back room is sterile to the point you are afriad to laugh or let loose. Also scarily, you will have to really watch it there to stay within your 300 dollar budget. The food is wonderful and the service superb though.

      1. I've only been once and consider that one too many. Very rude. Food was fine, but the attitude was horrible. Go somehere where your business will be appreciated.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Le Den

          Out of curiosity - how did the rudeness and attitude manifest themselves?

          1. re: MMRuth

            At no time did I feel welcome. We were a couple, arrived early but were made to wait nearly 30 minutes to be seated with no apology even though other guests who arrived after us were seated immediately. We were rushed through our meal and the sommelier was openly miffed that we declined her first choice of wine (it was nearly twice the price of the wine I ended up chosing and nothing close to what I had asked for (either she doesn't know the list or underestimated my knowledge), which was finally served as our main courses arrived although ordered before the meal). We skipped dessert rather than suffer any further and salvaged the evening by going for drinks elsewhere. Everytime I inquired about the various waits, I was given a haughty reply that things were on their way and that I should be patient. I've never had these problems when dining at other restaurants of equal stature and certainly not at higher tier.

            1. re: Le Den

              Sounds unpleasant - totally agree!

        2. Absolutely love this restaurant; spectacular and innovative and delicious food and perfect service. The seafood preparations are superlative, especially the lobster roll appetizer, hot smoked trout entree, or the seafood stew entree. The wagyu carpaccio appetizer is also sublime, especially the truffled root veggie puree. The apple sorbet dessert is simply amazing as well.

          My only gripe is that their bread sucks; all dry and cold and hard (pumpernickel rolls, caraway mini baguettes, or hard scandinavian flatbread triangles along with tasteless dill butter). Would it kill them to warm the bread and/or offer some more exciting varieties?

          My husband and I go to this restaurant around once a month; we've never had a less then stellar meal and great service. Always a very pleasant evening out for us. It can get a bit pricey though as the wine markup is significant, staying under $300 for two with a nice wine might be a bit challenging unfortunately.

          1. I had one of the greatest culinary experiences in my life at Aquavit - had the tasting menu. They did such a great job of mixing different flavors...awesome.

            That's the thing about Aquavit - it's the type of place that, if you get a server you like, a good table, and nice company (and preferably an expense account), it can be as good as any restaurant in the world. But obviously some have had negative experiences so it happens. Personally mine was great.

            1. My wife an I have been a number of times. Just a tip - we find that we like the upstairs cafe much better than the (more) formal restaurant - the cafe is just too much of a great value for food from the same kitchen - the formal restaurant doesn't offer that much more to make it worthwhile. I haven't experienced any rudeness described above (Sorry, Le Den - I really value the service as much as the food in any establishment - there are many places we won't go back to because of bad service despite great food).

              1 Reply
              1. re: tpapa2

                Have you tried Aquavit since they moved? Because now the restaurant is on one level only, I believe.

              2. I've eaten there once , and had a great , albeit expensive dinner. The service we had was extraordinary.

                If the winelist is too expensive, they offer corkage, but that too is $35, so save it for a special bottle.

                1. I also had a mediocre experience at Aquavit. I went for restaurant week but even so, I don't find it acceptable to be seated nearly an hour late for a confirmed reservation. My girlfriend and I actually laughed at one point as the woman serving the lounge area made eye contact with us for the fourth time before asking us if we wanted anything. In fact, the women next to us remarked that it's not usually that hard to get someone's attention.

                  Onto the food. It's good. The herring sampler is amazing and even the worst dishes are at least interesting. We did the wine pairing and had four very average wines put in front of us without one word of explanation. When we asked for some info on the pinot for example, our waitress replied, "it's pinot from California I think."

                  Oh well, it wasn't the worst meal and we actually had some fun. But for the money and occasion you're talking about, I think you can do much better.

                  I think for $300 you can eat an amazing meal at many many places in NYC. PLEASE look at Wallse. I find that place very comfortable and romantic. I also find good food romantic though even if it's not a traditionally romantic(quiet, dimly lit, etc.) place. Honestly, if you're focused on the food above all else, go to Lupa and eat for several hours. It's loud and a little frantic but the food will be great and festive.

                  Please report back!


                  1. Now I'm intrigued. We have to go and try it out. We'll hope for a pleasant server and try to have a forgiving attitude if we don't.
                    I'll report back immediately!

                    1. We're back! We had an amazing experience. At 7:30 the place was mostly empty. We were treated so well. Loveliest staff. No snobby attitude, no trying to sell us more expensive wine.
                      We started with a flight of flavored aquavit- loved the mango, lime and chili pepper. Didn't love rasberry/ginger or coconut/avocado, but we drank it all.
                      I had the tasting menu, and my husband had the veggie tasting menu. Each had one glass of wine, with another shot of aquavit at the end.
                      I can't possibly list all the food, but it included the hot smoked trout with apple/horseradish broth; yellowtail tartar with duck's tongue; foie gras and pastrami with cherry chutney; venison with star anise broth; apple sorbet with fennel cream, and my favorite----- concord grape juice with chocolate crumbles and coconut sorbet!
                      And we had at least a half dozen amuse bouche. Maybe my favorite of the savory dishes.

                      Let me say this about the food- everything was impeccable and very creatively done.
                      I think I learned, though, that the strength of the flavors really overwhelmed me. I'm not a huge anise fan, and there was anise and fennel in almost every dish. I knew this, but forged ahead. But I this has to do with my taste, not the quality of the food. My husband loved the veggie tasting menu and was quite full afterwards (a MAJOR feat!)
                      And, with everything (two tasting menus, two glasses of wine, a flight and a glass of aquavit), we made it at $320 all included. Not bad.
                      It was a learning experience for me. I'll skip the star anise broth and citrus foam, in favor of the simplest preparations with high quality ingredients. But for an adventure, this was marvelous.

                      THANK YOU!!

                      1. Thanks for the report and happy anniversary! Glad you had a great time; this restaurant really is a gem. If you get a chance, could you describe the veggie tasting menu that your husband had? I've never tried it and have never known anyone who's gotten it, so I'm curious to know how the preparations were.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: sumfrequency

                          He had the Boston lettuce salad with Asian pear and cheese; roasted salsify with broccoli puree; mushroom ganache, roasted mushrooms with cherry chutney; and a spaghetti squash/brussel sprout dish with watercress. It came with different amuse bouche, and some of the preparations were similar to the chef's menu (like the ganache and cherry chutney).

                        2. Had NYE dinner last night, the $80 first seating, not the $250 2nd seating that included a paper top hat. The salmon plate was great, especially the spiced smoked salmon with goat cheese ice cream. The lobster roll was unimpressive, except for the ginger granita shot than came with it, and then as a replacement for a course of short ribs (since i don't eat meat) was given an identical roll filled with pumpkin instead of lobster which tasted of nothing more than mayonaise. Really little thought put into that one. The hot smoked salmon (not trout) dish with an apple broth was tiring after a few bites; the broth was overpowered by the smokiness of the salmon and there was no other element (a grain or vegetable, perhaps?) to provide contrasting texture or flavor to break the monotony. Tried 3 aquavits: horseradish, melon-dill, and pear vanilla pepper. I thought these were more memorable than the food, and were more pleasant than homemade flavored vodkas I've tried (perhaps they're lower in alcohol?)
                          While service was attentive and very professional, it was impersonal and rushed. There was no effort to tailor it to our needs or to make the evening feel special. Probably because it was the first of 2 new years seatings, service was also hurried, one of the dishes (a sorbet, no less) arriving while my friend was in the bathroom. Overall, it felt like an experience out of a Brett Easton Ellis novel: elegantly presented food, with expensive ingredients, in a sterile environment, that seemed more an exercise in spending money than enjoying unique flavors and a celebratory experience.

                          1. I'll tell you the key to Aquavit and that's to be as friendly to the staff as you know how. Not saying anyone here has been a bit haughty, but if they sense you have an attitude then you will have a lousy time. Aquavit is an unpretentious place for all its Scandinavian sterility (agree with others that the new digs aren't remotely as nice as the old Rockefeller house) and menu prices. Some better restaurants expect their clientele to be as aloof as they are. Not Aquavit. You don't have to kiss their nether regions, but just be pleasant. I've been going for years and years and don't drop huge bills. Usually it's just me in the cafe having the prix fixe and I can tell who will get the better service and food just by their attitude and I'm always vindicated. While what I'm saying may be true for any restaurant, it's more true at Aquavit than other temples of gastronomy I like to patronize.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: jason_els

                              ive been in the proper dining room for about 5 business lunches and while the prix fixe 5 course is a reasonable splurge for lunch once in awhile or with a client, the food does not excite me enough to lavish heaps of praise.

                              its a beautiful space and i think the service is good. they are professional and a bit cold but as the above poster said, be nice and theyll return the favor.

                            2. aquavit is one of the midtown restaurants that's much, much better for dinner than for lunch. i've also done many a business lunch, there, and have never been all that excited by the food. dinners, on the other hand, can be amazing. and i love their sunday brunch.

                              re: service. it also varies a lot and not always on the basis of your niceness level. the lunch crew tends to be less attentive to prix fixe diners, i've noticed. i have seen far fewer service issues at dinner time.

                              i've eaten here a few times both before and after samuelsson's active involvement. it has slipped a little bit, but not too much, in its delivery.

                              p.s. i just noticed how old this thread is... and how little the menu has changed since 2006!!

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: cimui

                                We finally went to Aquavit for the first time a few months ago. It was lunch, and we did the signature tasting menu. In a word: WOW!

                                Re: service. The young woman who took care of us couldn't have been more attentive and pleasant. So, if what you say about the patron's level of pleasantness having something to do with the level of service, then I guess our usual cordial demeanor paid off handsomely.

                                1. re: RGR

                                  I saw another posting of yours about your first Aquavit visit, RGR. I'm glad you liked it!

                                  [I was actually saying that niceness level doesn't always correlate to level of service, actually. It more just depends on the server's personality, I think.]