White Roll, Sunflower Rye, Salted Butter
Gravlax – Hovmastar, Apple, Trout Roe
Smoked Trout – Cucumber, Yogurt, Fennel
Herring Sampler – Lingonberry, Curry, Horseradish, Aquavit, Cream, Priest Cheese, Onions, Potatoes
7x Beef Tartare – Smoked Mayonnaise, Capers, Beets
Swedish Meatballs – Lingonberry, Cucumbers, Cream Sauce
Kroppkakor – Pork, Potatoes, Mushrooms, Lingonberries
Isterband – Sausage, Sauerkraut, Mustard, Potato
Apple – Whiskey Toffee, Rye Cake, Hay Ice Cream
Coffee – Caramel, Barley, Raspberries
Arctic Bird’s Nest – Chocolate, White Chocolate, Blueberries
Mignardises – Pistachio, Sugar, Orange Anise, Chocolate Chip
Long known as one of Manhattan’s best Scandinavian Restaurants, Chef Marcus Samuelsson making a name for himself and the space near MoMA during the late-1990s and early 2000s, it was not until former Pastry Chef Emma Bengtsson took over the kitchen in 2014 that Aquavit captured its second Michelin Star and although some may say the Food has never been quite the same since Samuelsson departed for stardom a lunch on Thursday indicated that there is still a lot to like about the place.
Officially located at 65 East 55th Street for nearly three decades, a lounge up front and muted dining room to the side given splashes of color by wall art and flowers, it was just minutes prior to a 12:45pm reservation that coats were checked and diners led to a linen-clad four-top, the collection of leather banquets and sleek chairs providing comfortable seating over the course of nearly two hours.
Presenting a truncated lunch menu in comparison to dinner, a three-course prix fixe and seasonal tasting menu offered in addition to a la carte plates including Aquavit’s famous Swedish Meatballs and Salmon Burger that are not offered in the evening save for at the Bar, it was after settling in with greetings from a youthful captain that decisions were made, a total of ten plates divided into three courses tallying just $65 per person exclusive of Beverages.
In many ways a unique Restaurant despite its traditional underpinnings, Samuelsson’s childhood as an Ethiopian raised in Sweden and Chef Bengtsson’s Stockholm roots befitting a classic sort of cuisine that stands in stark contrast to the global obsession with “New Nordic” ideas, it was after a brief delay that two types of Bread including dense Rye stuffed with Sunflower Seeds were joined by four Appetizers, the trio of Fishes all cured or smoked in-house and highlighted by Salmon Tartare beneath Dill, diced Apples and Trout Roe while the “7x Beef Tartare” placed hand-cut Prime Filet lacquered in smoky Mayonnaise beneath crispy Potatoes along with briny Capers.
Deferring much of the order to two friends who’d dined at Aquavit prior, their choice of a Herring Sampler proving far better than anticipated save for the slices overwhelmed by Horseradish, it was after a prolonged wait that Water and Bread were refreshed along with share plates in anticipation of entrees, the $28 Swedish Meatballs tender and rich alongside traditional condiments while Sausage with Sauerkraut and Mustard Seed Potatoes was a bit too pungent bite-for-bite, a far better balance of flavor saved for Dumplings called Kroppkakor featuring mashed Potatoes stuffed with Allspice, Onions and Pork.
Dining slowly and enjoying the serenity of the room, something less and less common these days that makes Aquavit an ideal place for catching up or talking business, it was once again with fresh plates that a trio of Desserts was presented, the prix-fixe “Apple” an elongated strip not dissimilar to Sticky Toffee Pudding in texture while “Coffee” and the specially requested Dinner-only Arctic Bird’s Nest were both textbook examples of how to balance sweetness with bitterness while adding intrigue by way of crispy Grains and fresh Berries.