To become the second female in the country to get a second Michelin Star, after Dominique Crenn of SF (Suzette Gresham, also from SF joined the list since). Quite the feat for Stockholm native Emma Bengtsson. In a city where Michelin stars are randomly distributed like candy (my mom has one. Found it on Craigslist), the action, the crème de la crème usually starts with the ultra coveted #2. Although, more often than not, when the time comes you are more concerned about losing a star, as opposed to hoping to gain one. Aquavit, a name that’s been hanging around like that balloon your kid brings home, hovering all over the house for days until it loses its luster and scares you in the bathroom in the middle of the night with its new wrinkled dog look which normally means its time to get rid of it. Where was I? oh yes.. Aquavit is a rejuvenated gem, rejoining the city elite.
Pete Wells who awarded Aquavit with a three star review last month, mentioned an overall stiffness, with servers suffering from “Michelinitis”. In comparison to that, our dinner was a Swedish House Mafia post concert party. The staff was extremely professional, but friendly, loose and engaging. We felt comfortable, and you get a sense that the patrons around you are as well. Maybe its Wells, whose bust is Googleable, making everyone nervous. Though I do agree with him about the chairs, which weren’t the most comfortable
There are 3 different menus as you can see on their site. While all offer a nice glimpse of Emma’s greatness, to take full advantage one should look left, at the Chef’s Tasting. Eight dishes are listed, but with all sorts of fun surprises in between, its more like 15. I cant recall all the details (the meal is now a week old) but I do recall much. The other night I had trouble sleeping because both of us couldnt remember Daniel Craig’s name with no electronic devices next to us. She wanted me to go downstairs and look it up (which would also mean bringing yogurt), but I refused. At 1 am I finally figured the first name is Craig, at 3 I realized its the last name, and in the morning I saw the hard truth: Turns out Daniel Craig’s name is Daniel Craig, and we are pathetic. But thats for another post. Here’s the long rundown of the meal at Aquavit.
The bread – A great meal must start, and end (and some in the middle) with great bread, and this one did not disappoint. In fact Emma herself was also in charge of bread service before the big promotion. The Danish rye and the brown butter in particular was simply… wait for it… Divine!
Gravlax Asparagus – Starting with a bang. Like a full plump egg ravioli, with layers of salmon coating more salmon bits, with essentially an asparagus ménage à trois. Asparagus panna cotta, apsaragus tips (let me know when I start sounding like Bubba gump), asparagus ribbons, and asparagus espuma. Ok, so there was no espuma. But there was something exceptionally delicious in this dish that I havent found in any gravlax/lux before.
King Crab and Rhubarb – With nutmeg butter, you can see the ingredients clearly below. The least favorite dish came in early. Not much wrong with it, but lacking the brilliance of the others. You are supposed to eat all three together, and you quickly realize that you include too much of the tarty rhubarb. And on your second bite you realize that you have too much butter. By the time you find the right balance you are left with a quarter of the king crab
Calf’s Liver and Cucumber – I dont know what Pete Wells was eating, or perhaps they adjusted this dish after the review but I thought this was one of the strongest dishes. A hockey puck of creamy calf’s liver wrapped inside this cucumber gelatin, with a surprise inside in the form of braised oxtail, and sliced cucumbers adding a nice crunch. Spectacular looking, and tasting dish
Beef Tongue and Nasturtium – While I truly enjoyed this one, the name of the dish should really be”Potatoes”. Marbles potatoes baked in ash, some of the smokiest, tastiest potatoes I ever had. Yes there were tender strips of beef tongue and Noma-esque Nasturtium (flowers and sugar are two common Aquavit elements) among other things, but it was the potatoes that took center stage.
Mackerel and Pistachio – Perfection! Mackerel’s strong personality was well contained, and the result was quite flavorful. Simply put, perfectly cooked. Candied pistachios, more flowers, foam contributed to the fun. This is the dish that showcases Emma’s style the most
Lamb and Spring Onion. Essentially this one is lamb and spring onions! Onions posing in every way shape or form, Kardashian/Jenner style. Lamb, slowly cooked for three days had a nice crispy top layer and a fatty middle layer. Nice flavor overall, but a bit more fat than we like
Havgus and Walnut – One of the havgus cheese strips was still alive when it showed up, and eventually unrolled itself. There were more candied nuts, along with thinly sliced fresh peaches and birch syrup, though the Havgus midway proved a bit heavy and tiresome. And tiresome is the last feeling you want to have before the next dish
Arctic Bird’s Nest (top) – This is the star, the main event. the Thrilla in Manila of the tasting menu. You anticipate it, you know its coming, and at some point you think maybe its not a good idea to have that third Danish rye with brown butter, because we are not here for Danish rye and brown butter. I cant think of another such place in NYC whose menu’s star is a dessert. I’m sure it exist, but I cant think of any. The Bird’s Nest was as selfie worthy and spectacular as we imagined. There was a “cookie” nest, Goat cheese parfait eggs, snow dusting of frozen yogurt, blueberry and raspberries sorbet, a hint of gold and more than a hint of brilliance. Well done!
Park Avenue Tower, 65 E 55th St
Recommeded Dishes: Get the Chef’s tasting menu