A couple of days ago, I met a few friends to eat at Aquavit Cafe before going to see The Reader (so good!) at the Paris Theatre in midtown. This meal was highly anticipated; I've heard and read so much about the food and its executive chef and co-ower, Marcus Samuelsson.
I listened to the menu and ordered the "Chef's Recommendation:" the SMÖRGÅSBORD, an assortment of Swedish bites.
In the 2nd (darker) picture, from the bottom row left to right, 2nd row left to right, and 3rd row left to right: Herring with curry, apple, and chives; Herring with vodka, lime, salmon roe, and dill; Pickled herring with horseradish and black pepper, Salmon tartar, Smoked salmon, Gravlax, Swedish meatball, Pâté, and Shrimp salad. To the left of that plate I had a beautiful tiny oyster on the half shell, some Västerbotten cheese, and a boiled fingerling potato.
Visually arresting for sure. I'm biting my lip now, trying to describe how I felt about this meal. Please note that this was my very first sampling of herring. I must start by saying that this was exotic to me so that made me happy. I truly enjoy trying new foods. Truth be told, however, I didn't enjoy the herring. I tried at least 2 small bites of each type, but none pleased my palate. I don't know if it was more the taste or the texture, or both. That said, I think herring may be an acquired taste, or something one grows up eating and then craves (as my friends tell me). I am determined to try it again.
The row of salmon bites were tasty, just a bit much for my stomach that night -- it was a frigid evening and I'd just come from a heavenly massage at Metamorphosis Spa (ask for Shea; she's amaaaazing) so I think my tummy was prepped for warm, mushy comfort food and I shocked it with the SMÖRGÅSBORD. The third row was more than pleasurable: thank goodness for the satisfying meatball, unctuous pâté, and tasty shrimp salad with dill. As I mentioned earlier, this is not a valid review; I only dined at the restaurant once and tried just this plate. And I still vow to like herring someday.
Oh, I did try something else...
Jansson’s Temptation. Terrible photo, but I think you can grasp how creamy and melty this was. Now I do feel as though I can credibly review Jannson's Temptation since I have had it twice now. The first time was at Smörgås, where I had a remarkably tasty brunch a few blustery Sundays ago. This lovely side dish came alongside my baked eggs with chanterelle mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions. When I saw it on the menu there, I thought oh, that's a cute name for a dish the chef made up. I didn't realize until I saw it on the menu at Aquavit that it is an actual dish, which according to Wikipedia is a Swedish casserole made of potatoes, onion, pickled sprats (similar to anchovies), and cream. Wait, no cheese? This stuff has to have cheese in it; it's so gooey and melty...well, I looked up a few recipes -- no cheese! I'm shocked. I guess it just contains loads of cream. In any case, it's heavenly. Here's a recipe for those who can't make it out to Smörgås or Aquavit.
Jansson's Frestelse (Jansson's Temptation), adapted from a reader-submitted recipe on Epicurious
5 to 6 potatoes, thinly sliced using a mandolin or grater (you want thin matchstick-like strips)
2 medium onions, sliced
20 Swedish anchovy fillets (usually in tins, in oil)
2 or 3 Tbsp. butter
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
Let potato strips soak in water for a few hours to remove some of the starch. Dry well. Saute onions in half the butter. Butter an 8 x 11 1/2 baking dish. Layer 1/3 of potatoes in the dish, and top with 1/2 of the onions and 1/2 of the anchovies. Repeat layer, and cover with remaining 1/3 of potatoes. Dot with remaining butter, and about 2/3 the cream. Cover with foil and bake at 400°F for 30 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle with remaining cream, and bake another 20 or 30 minutes until potatoes are tender and golden brown. Sink in.