A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Jan. 26.

Lunch -

Aquavit - 65 E. 55th St., Midtown East
Herring Sampler; Hot Smoked Salmon with salsify puree, asparagus, and apple and horseradish broth; Chocolate Ganache with pineapple, black pepper cheesecake and lime sorbet; Roasted Pumpkin and Espresso aquavit; Raspberry, Lime and Ginger Aquavit
$45

I have wanted to go to Aquavit for years and years. Upscale Swedish fusion struck me as bizarrely wonderful back then, and even now, it remains a very exciting prospect. Knowing that the restaurant was relocating, I wasn't sure if this would be the best time to check it out. But with the allure of Restaurant Week and the notion of seeing the new location in its first month, I couldn't resist.

The front of the very long space is the lounge area, where diners can have a reduced bar menu or have drinks. The cafe, which was formerly upstairs, is now a room on the side. In the back is the more formal dining room, with the more ambitious (and expensive) menu, where Perry and I would be dining. Decorwise, the new Aquavit easily has the most austere atmosphere I've seen at such a high-end place. The walls are white, the design is ultraminimalist, and the furniture is sleek and Scandinavian. I vacillated between being impressed and feeling underwhelmed.

This soon ended when the food began arriving. Again, I had chosen what I felt were the more adventurous and Swedish-influenced dishes, beginning with the wonderful Herring Sampler. There were four servings of herring, each one incorporating a novel influence. There was curry herring, herring in herb sauce, spicy herring and herring topped with creme fraiche and a swirl of red onion. Trying them in succession was both interesting and revealing, showing how distinctive and prominent herring can be while still fitting and flattering the various preparations. While I liked them all, my favorite was the curry, which was a dish I would have never expected and a perfect embodiment of Marcus Samuelsson's unique vision.

The entree was another demonstration of creativity and presentation. The waiter brought a large, attractive hulk of smoked salmon on top of a salsify puree flanked by thick stalks of asparagus. He then poured hot apple and horseradish broth into the dish, the broth's bright lime hue bringing it all together simply but impressively. The entree would have been perfect if the fish hadn't been so salty. I love the saltiness of smoked salmon, but the level here was excessive, overwhelming the tastes of the wonderful broth and the refreshing puree.

The dessert I chose, Chocolate Ganache and pineapple with black pepper cheesecake and lime sorbet. It was perhaps both the weirdest and most inventive dessert I’ve had this year so far, with so many prominent flavors and textures. Like the herring sampler, it proudly called attention to itself in a way completely antithetical to the décor. Yet as brash as the room is subtle, the dessert was delicious. It didn’t hurt that I’d chosen to have another round of Aquavit’s eponymous drink to go along with it.

After waiting so long to come to Aquavit, I was quite eager to taste some of their famous Swedish liquor. With my lunch, I’d had the sienna-colored roasted pumpkin and espresso aquavit and with dessert, I tried the mauve-colored raspberry, lime and ginger. Both came from a list of about ten housemade flavored aquavits, each one quite distinct and unique. Their drink list also included unflavored imported aquavit from Sweden for diners seeking more authenticity.

While I would’ve loved to see the old Aquavit with its famous waterfall, I was relieved that this relocated, Restaurant Week-limited experience lived up to my high expectations. Even after eating at so many restaurants, I was impressed by how Aquavit distinguished itself naturally, paying respect to its Scandinavian roots and then reaching for the sky. 8/10

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