Aquavit — 3 Stars

A couple of months ago, I went to Aquavit, the restaurant started by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson.  Marcus isn’t at Aquavit anymore, but the restaurant is still quite well-regarded; it got one star in Michelin’s 2013 ratings, and Sam Sifton gave it two stars for the New York Times.  Overall, I like Aquavit.  It’s a different experience — Nordic food isn’t all that common in New York — and, though it’s generally seafood- and meat-heavy, I haven’t had much trouble getting vegetarian food on my visits there.I started with the heirloom tomato salad, pictured above.  It was a little different from what I was expecting.  In short, I was looking for more… tomato.  As you can see from the picture, there were tomatoes in the salad, but lots of other stuff as well.  The mish-mash of other ingredients detracted from the tomato; if you’re going to call it a “tomato salad”, I feel like the tomato should be the star.  The salad wasn’t bad, but I just wasn’t sure what it was trying to be.

My friend’s first course, pictured just above, was a soup.  I have to be honest, I don’t remember what it was — I just took a picture of it because it was vegetarian.  Maybe some enterprising reader can figure out what Aquavit had on their menu this summer, or maybe it jogs someone’s memory.
My main course was the “sweet corn and truffle barley”.  As you can probably tell, there’s a bed of barley at the bottom of this dish, and it’s topped with the sweet corn.  The green that you see is an “arugula vinaigrette”, and the dish is topped with aged cheddar (and truffle).  I thought this was an interesting dish.  I’ve seen barley make an appearance on menus here and there, and in interesting ways (not just, for example, a mushroom-and-barley soup).  This dish gets points for creativity, but it just missed the mark.  I liked the cheddar, but it overpowered the rest of the dish.  I would have liked to get more of the play between the vinaigrette and the corn, but instead virtually every bit was a blast of cheddar.  Maybe less cheese?  I’m not quite sure how to adjust the dish, but I do know that the proportions were off this time.

Dessert was the vanilla panna cotta with berries.  I don’t have too much to say about this dessert — it was good, nothing particularly spectacular, but a nice dessert to bring the meal to a close.

If you’ve read the press on Aquavit over the last few years, you’ll know that the restaurant is returning to its Scandinavian roots, and moving away from the more hybrid/exotic fare that had characterized Marcus Samuelsson’s tenure.  (For his part, Marcus has taken that style, wrapped it in southern cooking, and taken it uptown to his restaurant Red Rooster in Harlem.)  I don’t know if what I had at Aquavit was “more authentic” — I actually went there with a Scandinavian friend, and though he was impressed with the menu overall, he didn’t specifically comment on what I had — but it was interesting enough.  I think the glitches with this meal (the overpowering cheese, the slightly schizophrenic salad) were one-off problems, and I’m sure I’ll be back.  Three stars.

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