Aquavit: a review
I ate here a little while ago and I keep meaning to write about it, because I thought it was such a unique and classy spot....
I thought the layout was beautiful - a long hallway, high ceilings, and various designs in multiple rooms: white banquets and bright lights in the (semi) formal main dining room; a deep blue waterfall-covered wall in the café; a dimly-lit bar/lounge area, which is where we ate. I started with the lychee-orange blossom aquavit, which was very lovely.
At this point we got a nice surprise - due to a television special on chef Marcus Samuelsson being taped in the restaurant, he kept coming in and out of the various rooms in Aquavit. He said hello to us, and seemed very friendly.
The food is modern Scandanavian, best paired with flights of three aquavits in varying flavors. We tried dill, mango-chili pepper (fantastic), cucumber, and horseradish (my favorite). It was really fun to try these varying flavors with the different foods we ate. Like wine pairings, but more creative.
For food, we started with herring. To be fair, I am not a huge fan, particularly when it is pickled. The menu lists a variety of ways in which this fish can be served, but due to my herring ignorance, I let my companion take the reigns on this part of the evening. We had the sampler of three, which comes with potatoes and cheese -- an excellent deal at $12. I tried curried herring with apples, which was too sweet and pasty for my taste, a simple version with sour cream and red onion, which was nice when paired with pieces of potato, and a refreshing lime-jalapeno kind. I didn’t love any of them, but I appreciated each and did like the cheese that came with it, although I can’t remember the name. It was a goat’s milk cheese, sharp, and made for a surprisingly great accompaniment to the fish.
I would definitely recommend the cauliflower soup, which we had after the herring. It was delicious, creamy and full of buttery croutons and plump capers.
The real winner of the night was the salmon sampler. It consisted of a pile of chopped, fresh raw salmon topped with a generous amount of chilled black caviar, a gravlax served with an espresso mustard sauce and dill, and a spice-smoked salmon with light-as-air goat cheese on the side. Very good, and very reasonably priced.
For dessert, we had a warm, gooey chocolate peanut butter cake, served with coconut sorbet and blood orange sauce. Not sure how Scandanavian that was, but it sure was delicious.
We ordered off the café menu, but I’d like to return (perhaps on an expense account) for dinner in Samuelsson’s main dining room. Offerings on that menu include a brioche-crusted salmon with beef cheeks and a port wine sauce, as well as a fois gras ganache with squab and pistacho. I have a feeling that is where Samuelsson really shines, although I was pleased with and impressed by (almost) everything we ate.