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Vandaag Review

Stopped in on Saturday night this weekend to try this new restaurant out. We split a bunch of the smaller plates and the burger, and tasted two of the cocktails. The cocktail list is done by Katie formerly of Clover Club/Mayahuel. It's short but well edited with a few beer and non-alcoholic cocktails that sounded great as well.

The food:

Amuse of baby squid, seared with a sunchoke chip - Great little bite, served warm on a piece of slate

Seasonal Pickle Pot - interesting to see pickled plums, shell peas, in addition to the usual cucumber, the server said the chef buys produce from the Greenmarket and rotates pickles every few days. I really liked the pickled shell peas but the pickled plum wasn't really my thing.

Chilled Cucumber Soup, ginger, mint, gin, pickled cantaloupe, smoked eel - cold, intense, delicious. Maybe too intense for me, I had a few sips and let my husband have the rest, but the pickled canteloupe was lovely and refreshing.

Bitterballen, slow braised oxtail croquet, mustard relish - not creamy enough for me but the outside was perfectly crisp and there wasn't a lot of filler on the inside, it was pretty much all meat, but I found it monotonous after a while.

Hete Bliksem "Hot Lightning" crisp fingerlings, bacon, apple, stroop syrup - really nice use of apples with Benton's bacon, but very rich and heavy and definitely on the sugary side. It was a bit much when paired with the burger. My husband loved this and hogged all of the leftovers the next day, too.

Vandaag "Ham" Burger dutch blend patty, gouda, charred onion - I couldn't detect the gouda cheese but the "hammy" ness of the burger was really great: tender, juicy, flavorful. This kind of odd "funk" that grew on me. Charred onion was perfectly done. I really liked it but it's not a traditional burger. We split this and fought over the perfect potatoes that came with it. Imagine the best home fries ever -- fluffy and tender on the inside, crispy on the outside. I think they poach the potatoes and then deep fry them, so the texture is just right. Really well done.

The Manolin cocktail (akvavit, white rum, yellow chartreuse, lime, grapefruit syrup with essence of kaffir lime leaf) was a bit on the sweet side; however, I really was impressed by the Skookul Punch (applejack, rum, lime & orgeat with absinthe & bitters topped with peach lambic). I look forward to trying more of the beer cocktails in the future. The bartenders looked like they put a lot of care into the drinks -- I even witnessed some orange peel flaming going on while we dined.

Overall, the host and server were very friendly and welcoming, nearly Danny Meyer-esque. The room is handsome, clean, and modern, with huge windows. The window sills are decorated with sunflowers. The serving plates are also quirky and fun, like they raided a funky design store. Each table also got a carafe of water that looked like an opaque water bottle, a nice touch.

Seating is spacious and they gave us a nice corner of the banquette. But while the dining area only got about 60-70% full, the bar was pretty full the whole time, and the use of lots of tile made it rather loud. I'd love to come back when the sun was out, just to take advantage of the large windows. Perhaps Sunday brunch?

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Vandaag
103 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

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  1. nice review, i walk by this place all the time...will have to try

    1. Tried Vandaag, tonight. (Poorly shot pictures here: http://www.girleatscity.com/2011/01/v...) It is a very sexy restaurant. The food is served beautifully, in slight portions. One special was handpicked Maine sea urchin served attractively in its spiny shell with a thin, spicy sauce (soup?) and an odd side of what looked like kidney beans mixed with kelp. The bean/kelp combination was strange and not entirely harmonious -- maybe it was a riff off of nimame, simmered edamame with kelp? -- but the sea urchin was fresh and sweet. It probably would have been even better without the spicy sauce.

      Kale salad with pickled chestnuts, sweet onions and caraway was surprisingly not too tough, but it was slightly overdressed with a potent, vinegar-based dressing. The dish was undeniably beautiful, however, with kale in all different shades of purple and green. Chestnuts had a nice bite, in terms of both texture and flavor.

      Spanish mackerel with rutabaga, pomegranate and rye berries was almost too beautiful to eat. The mackerel was shiny, silver and looked like a bar of precious metal, especially topped as it was with gem-like ruby pomegranate seeds. The fish was pleasant to eat, though not quite as pristinely fresh as at some seafood-centric restaurants. I'm not sure that flavor-wise, the combination of mackerel with pomegranate really worked for me, but it was certainly visually stunning. The fish did taste lovely with the puree of rutabaga that lay underneath and with the rye berries.

      A main of Mangalitsa pork with rye, roots, stems, sunflower and rosemary was quite intriguing. The pork (from wooly, Mangalitsa pigs, I think originally a Hungarian breed) was unbelievably tender and delicious, probably some of the most delicious pork I've ever eaten. It was served with an odd side of something tough that I could neither identify nor entirely swallow because it was so fibrous. The flavor of this something was actually pretty nice, but the tough, dry texture made it difficult to eat.

      As Kathryn and others have noted, the cocktail list at Vandaag is pretty phenomenal. It's unique and interesting, including a number of genever (Dutch gin) cocktails, akvavit cocktails, beer and wine cocktails, meads, and hot drinks. I had the Gumtree Toddy, a mix of pear infused aquavit, blended Scotch, mead, benedictine, Peychaud's bitters & eucalyptus. Sounds a little busy and maybe off-putting because eucalyptus and and pear don't often go well, together -- but it was really a lovely thing to drink, especially given that I had a sore throat. It was attractively presented with a twig of eucalyptus immersed in the drink.

      I have to confess that I am a bit of a sucker for interesting, inventive food, even when it doesn't always work perfectly. Not everything we tried worked well, but I very much appreciate the spirit of experimentation at Vandaag and I can't wait to return. For one thing, I intend to try a great deal more of the cocktail list once I kick my danged cold.

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      Vandaag
      103 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

      3 Replies
      1. re: michelleats

        Definitely try the Hete Bliksem "Hot Lightning" next time!

        1. re: kathryn

          Yes, I was eyeing those! I don't know how I feel about sugary potatoes, but the words "crispy fingerlings" set off all the salivatory glands.

        2. re: michelleats

          Ok, I'm going to give Mangalitsa pork some free advertising, since I'm kind of excited about my discovery.

          If anyone's curious, Glenn Collins of the New York Times has a recent article about how Mangalitsa pigs are on the up and up: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/29/din...

          (My favorite quote: "Dr. Erno Hollo, 52, of the Basking Ridge Animal Hospital in New Jersey, has raised Mangalitsas on five acres at his home for three years and says they have few veterinary needs. Dr. Hollo, who emigrated from Hungary 26 years ago, grew up with hogs. 'They like the freedom to roam around,' he said. 'They have the Hungarian spirit.'"

          )

          According to the article, other NYC-area restaurants that serve it include Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Eleven Madison Park, Insieme and Corton. If you have a chance, do try it. It really might be some of the most delicious pork I've ever eaten. (The closest competitor I can think of is Ame's kurobuta pork in San Francisco, which is also very tender, though less red meaty in flavor.)

        3. gotta say i was underwhelmed. would definitely go back and sit at the bar for drinks but probably not again for the food. although closer to 2 1/2 stars, the value was very weak. for the prices charged and the quality delivered, the portions were quite meager. started with the seasonal pickle pot: this was nice, but somewhat sweet for my liking. the pickled bok choy was great but the pickled pear didn't quite work. also, not really a big deal, but charging $5 for bread is just annoying. i'd even rather all the other apps/entrees be a $1 more, just let me have my complimentary bread! for mains we had the north atlantic shellfish which was really excellent (shrimp, clams, and scallops poached to perfection in a "scallop noodle" with a nice broth and a savory carrot cake that while extremely tasty, didn't seem like it belonged with the dish) but quite small and the swordfish special which was really not good: think funky tasting (in a bad way) cous cous with a fatty undercooked piece of swordfish. for drinks we had the "west of second", the "radler", and the "turf war". all were excellent.

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          Vandaag
          103 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

          1 Reply
          1. re: cubicles

            i agree with your visit completely. i had brunch here a few months back and enjoyed it. went back for dinner a few weeks ago and had a very poor meal.

            we had the bitterballen for the table...those were probably the highlight food wise. my beers were a bit on the pricey side averaging $10/bottle.

            what bothered me was that my friend and i ordered the mangalsita pork as an entree. i received mine with everyone else's entrees and it was cooked medium rare as i requested. my friend's was horribly raw and cold in places...it was embarrassing that they sent this out to the same table.

            it took forever to get our server to rectify the situation. i gave half of my portion to my friend as everyone else decided to go ahead and eat. the pork came back reheated after 15 minutes while everyone else was nearly done with their meal.

            i wouldnt have made a big stink but the waiter did not comp anything or really apologize for messing up our dinner. he seemed overwhelmed by his server duties.

            i saw the head chef talk to an investor sitting next to us when this happened. i was very insulted by the quality of service here.

            i thought id return to vandaag for drinks or brunch but this incident really rubbed me the wrong way. the mangalsita pork was very mediocre by the way. a rather underseasoned and flavorless pork chop. doesnt hold a candle to the red wattle pork chop at vinegar hill house.

          2. Totally agree with posters. Adored the aesthetic, and enjoyed the food. As a vegetarian, I went there for a late lunch and came away very satisfied. Very cohesive offerings, not thrown together as a token veggie option. I'm looking forward to going back to try a different beverage / brunch option.

            1. I was intrigued by my recent dinner at Vandaag, although I can't say I enjoyed it, exactly. I found the food weird. Not bad weird, but not exactly good weird, either. (The sliced conch with peppery flavor at Legend Sichuan is an example of what I think of as good weird.) I had the cool pea soup, which was nice enough, although the smoked scallops had the consistency of tapioca pearls and were thus a little icky, texture-wise. My snails-on-toast was very salty, and the dandelion garnish almost unspeakably bitter. I rather liked the bread, even if it was denser than I generally like my bread. And there really should be a warning on the menu that the pickles are sweet, not sour. Some of us (me) are prejudiced against sweet pickles, and do not like to be ambushed by them, even if they are pears and kale stems, which are interesting things to pickle.

              I was pretty crazy about my beer cocktails, though. I had the Popeye, which is a riff on the michelada (one of my favorite drinks). I couldn't detect any fennel pollen in the salt rim, but I don't really know what fennel pollen's supposed to taste like. Maybe it was extremely evident, and I just missed it. And there's no denying that Vandaag is hip and cool - last week, anyway - and I felt hip and cool being there. The service was sweet and accommodating if not especially quick or efficient, but we were a large party, so no harm, no foul, there.

              I'm not unfamiliar with Dutch food, although on my trips to Amsterdam I spend most of my entertainment money on things that are not food. So I was surprised by how unfamiliar I found the food at Vandaag.

              2 Replies
              1. re: small h

                Just went here for the first time last week. The bread is nothing short of excellent - some of the best I've had in this country, especially the smoked one - but the rest of the food was seriously ill conceived and not pleasant to eat. Those dishes that were not downright unpleasant were simply uninteresting. Add to that a waitress who was too busy pirouetting (seriously) and playing with her hair to bring us a check....I won't be back.

                1. re: gutsofsteel

                  Agree with gutsofsteel -- went there tonight. Split the kale salad (boring, small), the artichoke (served cold, the vinaigrette was more just oil) and the meatball. Meatball was good, but it was one small meatball for $11. We used the sauce, which was excellent, for the artichoke.

                  Had the hangar steak as well which was well cooked and flavorful, but again, a tiny portion. The fingerlings were sliced and overcooked, although I saw a side of the fingerlings on another table that looked better. Everything there seemed twee.

                  Cocktails were great actually, would return there for a drink.

                  Service was, as above, uninterested. Weird unannounced waiter switch midway through the meal, and no one came back to check on us once the entrees were dropped. Won't return.

              2. I live right by Vandaag and I've been meaning to try it, but every time we get to the window and peruse the menu, nothing catches my eye. And so we end up going to Zaab Elee again... not complaining.

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                Vandaag
                103 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                1 Reply
                1. re: InfoMofo

                  Same here, InfoMofo. Vandaag looks like the hippest restaurant in a mid-size city, a little self conscious with what appears to be a slightly contrived menu. I had a weird experience just trying to buy a loaf of bread. But others whose taste I trust enjoy the place. I guess we're lucky enough to have too many choices in this neighborhood to go somewhere that doesn't look inviting. And I can't resist Zabb Elee.

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                  Vandaag
                  103 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                  Zabb Elee
                  75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                2. I tried Vandaag this weekend and absolutely loved it!
                  Gravlax was beautifully presented and it was truly tasty.
                  Waterzooi was nice as well, with enough portion of prawns (5 to 6 pieces), although mussels and cray fish were a bit skimpy.
                  Taking kathryn's advice, I tried Hete Bliksem 'Hot Lightning', and it was sweet and rich, which I really enjoyed.

                  The only thing that left something to be desired though, was their dessert.
                  I ordered Skyr Custard, and the strawberries were unripe and sour, in which case perhaps they would taste better when marinated in syrup or liqueur? The granola bar was hard as rock.
                  May be they do not have a pastry chef?

                  All in all, I really enjoyed everything and I will definitely go back! :)
                  And I thank kathryn for that!

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                  Vandaag
                  103 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                  1. R.I.P.

                    East Village's Vandaag Shutters Before Second Birthday
                    http://ny.eater.com/archives/2012/05/...

                    1 Reply