Nowadays, chefs are quick to advertise any and all associations with Noma on their resumes, from legitimate staff members, such as Daniel Burns of Luksus, to mere stages (internships), or anyone who worked the burners for a month or two. But no one has greater bragging rights to an influential involvement with the eatery than Mads Refslund, who co-founded the famed, forage-centric Danish restaurant with René Redzepi in 2003, thus ushering in the age of New Nordic cuisine.
And while Redzepi continues to accumulate accolades in Copenhagen, Refslund elected to carry the torch in New York, opening ACME on Great Jones Street in NoHo in 2012. He undersold his fare somewhat, as seasonal and local New American (a sorely overused phrase, which had already begun to induce eye-rolling), but also introduced certain characteristically Scandinavian elements, that became a model for like-minded establishments in years to come. Think eccentric menu headers, like “Raw,” “Cooked,” “Soil,” “Sea & Land,” an emphasis on tubers, roots and weeds, and foodstuffs smoked in hay. And even though many of Refslund’s dishes hinge on a combo of unusual meats and seafood — like Lamb and Oysters with elderberry, Foie Gras and Langoustine with white walnuts, and Cod Collars and Beef Tendons with hickory — his respect for and interest in produce has always been paramount. Which is why it’s sort of a surprise that it took him this long to introduce an all-vegetarian tasting menu, now available for an utterly reasonable price of only $65 for nine courses.
You’ll need to talk your entire table into going veggie (at least for the night), but the absence of meat isn’t such a hardship, in the face of intriguing starters such as Turnips with smoked cheese, Chilled Carrot Soup with goose berries and summer flowers, and Fermented Corn Flat Bread with brown butter and sea salt. Subsequent dishes include tender, wrinkled Roasted Padron Peppers (similar to shishitos) laked with yogurt and strewn with rose petals, a Warm Summer Bean Salad crowned with a duck egg and flavored with whey (the liquid remaining during the cheesemaking process, after the milk has been curdled and strained), and nubby little Gnudi, interspersed with sweet green peas counterbalanced with sour grapes. And that’s not all — melted Onions are improbably combined with syrupy black currants and spicy nasturtium leaves, and Johnny Cakes (corn cakes) are layered with strips of grilled Long Island cactus (we weren’t aware they were native to the area) and earthy wild mushrooms. The inventive meal concludes with a comparatively sedate dessert; fresh Strawberries and Currents, ladled on a cloud of frozen crème fraiche.
Few can afford a trip to Copenhagen (or manage to score a dinner reservation once they’re there), but for a true, meat-free taste of Noma, you don’t have to look much further than the tasting menu at Mads Refslund’s ACME.