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Nordic Cooking In Season

You could say 2012 is the year of Nordic cuisine.  Americans have been culinary adventurers for decades now.  We’ll eat anything we can get our hands on, but lingonberry sauce, smoked herring, hay-smoked meats, and cloudberries have never really made it into our dining repertoire until now.  Enter what many have dubbed the New Nordic Cuisine.

Let’s be honest it: Ikea’s food court, with its Swedish meatballs, lingonberry sodas, cinammon-cardamon buns and seven kinds of herring had a lot to do with it.   But when a Cajun restaurant in NoHo gets transformed into a chic, Nordic restaurant, you know it’s officially having its moment.  This is a new brand of Nordic food with fresh, clean flavors, wild herbs, wild berries, wild game, edible weeds and plenty of farm to table ingredients. We’ve sampled the city and picked a few of our favorite old and new school Nordic spots…

Acme – New School
Address: 9 Great Jones St., near Lafayette St.
Phone: (212) 203-2121

What looks like a weathered Cajun joint, at least from the outside, is home to one of the most original restaurants of the season. Noma’s cofounder, Mads Refslund, has transported his Nordic cooking philosophy to this side of the pond and designed a menu around local ingredients. The result is hay-roasted sunchokes, shrimp and bison tartare, and fallen fruits with wheatgrass granite  Start with one of the house cocktails, like the Graffiti Green, a fresh-from-the-garden blend of gin, green bell pepper, lime, basil and agave. He turns Nordic cooking on its head, using traditional methods, like smoking, curing and pickling, in unexpected ways to produce dishes, like turbot with pickled green tomatoes, cardamom and vanilla, or local cured and dried hams with mushroom creme fraiche.

Nordic Delicacies – Old School
Address: 6909 Third Ave., Brooklyn
Phone: (718) 748-1874

This Brooklyn shop is the go-to source for all sorts of old school Scandinavian delights. Fishballs or reindeer meatballs anyone? Nordic Delicacies has both in stock, including herring in wine, cream or sherry.  From cured fish to smoked meats, cheeses and chocolates from across the region, you’ll find just about everything here. The homemade foods are even better because they’re all prepared in house by the owners themselves.  There’s traditional dishes, like kjottkaker (Norwegian meatballs), komper (potato dumplings stuffed with salted pork) and kransekaker (an almond ring cake decorated with candy). So you probably won’t make it to Scandinavia this year, but we think a ride to Bay Ridge on the R train will get you pretty damn close.

Aquavit – New School
Address: 65 East 55th St., near Park Ave.
Phone: (212) 307-7311

Aquavit is no newcomer to the New York dining scene. It’s actually been around for over 20 years, and of course, Marcus Samuelsson first broke out on this Nordic stage.  Now, chef Marcus Jernmark has stepped into the kitchen, putting his own spin on classics, like his pickled and spiced herring with brown butter and cheese or the “Gravlax 37°C” – cured Scottish salmon rolled with dill and poached at 37°C (98.6°F).  The final product literally melts in your mouth and is accompanied by blood oranges, baked potato chips, spinach  and Hovmastar sauce. Diners can order a la carte in the bar or lounge or you can settle into a more formal, four-course   dinner menu to sample the spectrum of Nordic flavors, with pork, potato cream, onions and rosehip jus or lardo-baked halibut with beets, leeks and an anchovy nage.  Then, there’s the aquavit – a dozen different varieties to be exact. We suggest a flight of three – the anise, caraway & fennel, fig & cardamom and cucumber are a few of our favorites.

Fika – Old School
Address: 41 West 58th St.,btwn. 5th & 6th Aves. (multiple locations)
Phone: (212) 832-0022

The Swedes not only excel at moist meatballs, but they also have a knack for coffee, too. They should.  They typically take three coffee breaks a day.  Even better are their Swedish cinnamon buns, chocolate ginger cookies and chocolate truffles all  hand-crafted in house daily.  Fika’s not a bad place to stop on your lunch break for an espresso and a salmon platter or one of their sandwiches, stuffed with gravlax, juniper berries and honey mustard, or Swedish meatballs with creamy red beet salad.   Fika even makes its own Swedish burger topped with beets, capers and a side of creamy potato salad.

Vandaag – New School
Address: 103 2nd Ave., near East 7th St.
Phone: (212) 253-0470

Northern European food doesn’t exactly evoke up images of hip, downtown dining, but Vandaag and its owners have successfully and coolly changed that. The restaurant itself is modern and minimal with vaulted ceilings and floor to ceiling windows looking out on the streets, but the innovative food is the real draw.  Part gin bar, part restaurant, this East Village eatery marries Northern European-inspired cooking with Hudson Valley produce. Start with the smoked oysters tinged with juniper pickling juice and candied Satsuma mignonette, and the Russian red kale with pickled kumquat, sweet onions and caraway. Then, things get more serious with bitterballen, crispy croquettes of braised oxtail served with a mustard relish, a perfect partner for one of Vandaag’s Akvavit or Genever (a Dutch gin) cocktails. Try the Salt-N-Pepa, with Fresno chile pepper-infused Akvavit, blanco tequila, lime, agave nectar, and fennel pollen salt rim, or a Vandaag gin cocktail, with Bols Genever, saison ale syrup, and bitters with kirschwasser and absinthe.

Smorgas Chef – Old School
Address: 283 West 12th St., btwn. 7th & 8th Aves. (multiple locations)
Phone: (212) 243-7073

There’s certainly no shortage of restaurants promoting local, seasonal ingredients these days, but Smorgas Chef ups the ante with its very own, 150 acre farm in the Catskills. The Nordic menu is studded with their own, homegrown produce, including lettuces, tomatoes, herbs, lingonberries, beef, and chicken. One of the best dishes are the 72 hour house-cured aquavit gravlaks with a dill-cucumber salad and the gravlaks croquettes with horseradish creme fraiche.  There’s plenty more  worth trying, including  pan-roasted baby chicken with oyster mushrooms, fava beans, lingonberries and a spiced blini. For brunch, Smorgas Chef serves skillet baked eggs with ham, Jarlsberg cheese and knackebrod (a Swedish crisp bread). Not a bad way to start off a lazy Sunday.

RG Writer: Donata Calefato

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