2013 Bott Hatan Harslevalu
Cultured Butter with Preserved Artichoke, Whipped Pork Fat with Herbs, Manitoba Loaf, Seed Bread, Barley Mash Herb Roll. Brown Butter and Rye Flat Bread
Bladderwrack – Blue Mussel
Langoustine – Cooked in aromatic Herbs, Nasturtium, Sauce made from the Head
Pommes Souffle – Roe from Winter Flounder smoked in dried Carrot tops
Oyster – Glidden Point, green Gooseberries, Juniper
Milk Skin – Sourdough, smoked Hake, Sorrel and toasted Milk Skin
Caviar – grilled Onion, sustainable Finnish Caviar from Carelian, Lemon Verbena
Lamb Heart – cured and burnt in Begstraw and pickled Sunchoke
Scallop –Elderberry and Elderflower
Blood Pancake – Rose and Rosehip
King Crab – with burnt Potatoes cooked in Leaves and Yolk from Quail Egg
Kohlrabi – Compressed with Linden Leaf Oil and Linden Flower Vinegar, Winter Purslane
Skate – cured Wing, Celery Root puree with its Leaves, roasted Celery, unfiltered Rapeseed Oil and flowering Dill
Lichen – preserved Pine Shoots, Broth from Chanterelle Mushroom seasoned with Spruce Vinegar
Squid Tart – Tart made of Seaweed, charred Squid and Dulse puree
Beef – 120-day dry aged Rib Eye, preserved red and black Currants from last year, cured Beef Fat
Lilac – Unpasturized Cow’s Milk Sorbet, Cordial made from Lilac and Tree Flowers
Birchwood – Ice Cream made from Birchwood with Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Chanterelles and Woodruff
Mignardises – Blood and Rosehip, caramelized White Chocolate, Kronan Swedish Punsch, Sourdough Malt powder
Born and trained in Sweden, his creativity previously on display at Frej and Aska at Kinfolk Studios before aska moved beneath the Williamsburg bridge and earned Two Michelin Stars, Fredrik Berselius has continued to defy New York’s fine dining conventions of luxury ingredients and jackets-required dining rooms, the come-as-you are feel and willingness to take chances certainly not for the timid, but quite impressive for those willing to place their trust in the kitchen.
Unmarked at its location on South 5th Street, the outside grey with black doors while the interior is an austere combination of brick, wood and spotlights, entrance to aska is followed by a smiling welcome from a hostess followed by the restaurant’s GM, the use of Tock for pre-payment ensuring the room to be filled each day for a 19-course menu with the diner’s proclivities dictating the meal’s pace.
High ceilinged and hard, unseen speakers floating a mellow soundtrack above the room, it was just past six o’clock that Chef Berselius greeted the first wave of patrons, he and his team clearly having done their research as he inquired about where people were from, what they liked and why they had decided to visit his restaurant.
Offering a list of Wines by the Glass and Cocktails from the downstairs Bar, a 2013 Harslevalu going very well with approximately 3/4 of the menu, dinner began with a crisp Leaf of Bladderwrack with Blue Mussel Cream followed by a sizable Bread board and two spreads, the Sourdough Loaf and Barley Mash Roll both excellent, as was the Lardo-reminiscent whipped Pork Fat.
Going strong from the start and rarely letting up, an ebb and flow of finger foods and one-to-two bite morsels, the second course placed a plump Langoustine at the center of a bundle of Chamomile kissed by a blowtorch and snipped open diners, the smoky sweetness countered by Nasturtium, while the follow-ups featured a Potato puff topped in smoked Fish Roe and trimmed Oysters next to sour Gooseberries with a gentle hint of Pine.
Presenting the next plate as a single bite described as ‘Sourdough and Hake,’ the flavor rich and smoky with the crispy Milk Skin adding a textual element, the next two courses continued the charred theme by way of un-cured Sturgeon Roe straight from a Finnish Farm bathed in roasted Onions followed by a dollop of Lamb fat and pureed Sunchoke covered in Ash, the fact that those ashes came from a Lamb Heart completely imperceptible as the flavor was almost exclusively bitter save for a mild acidic note.
Bringing in live Scallops and merely kissing them with flame before opening the shell at course eight, the light florals of Elderflower building toward Berselius’ famous Blood Pancake topped in Roses and Rosehips to follow, dinner crossed the mid-point with a quenelle of Norwegian King Crab served in an aromatic broth ready to be fortified with Egg Yolk, the ‘burnt’ Potatoes a little tough but a pleasant contrast to the Crustacean’s briny sweetness.
Doing an admirable job of linking and transitioning flavors throughout the meal, but quickly pressing the ‘reset’ button by way of a crisp slice of Kohlrabi on ice before progressing to the evening’s final four savories, aska’s Skate was unfortunately compromised by several small bones despite the small portion, the “Lichen” a far better dish that was light in weight but rich in umami with a bright finish thanks to the Spruce Vinegar.
Serving a slimy Squid Tart as the penultimate savory, the combination of salt, smoke and fresh Horseradish not particularly delicious on its own but tying in nicely to the dry-aged Beef and intensely acidic sauce to follow, desserts took the predictable route of two Ice Creams followed by Mignardises, the “Lilac” properly described by the presenting Chef as a “mouthful of Flowers” while the follow-up was as delicious as it was bizarre, the Ice Cream essentially just a satin canvas for the candied and raw mushrooms plus sweet Woodruff.