April 3, 2006 2:40 AM | By Adam Roberts | 15 Comments

Life is Sveet at Aquavit

Great artists reveal their art gradually, never slamming their audience with multiple restaurant posts all at once--they ease them into it, carefully gliding them into the cool waters of the shared dining experience. I, the superior blogger that I am, will now share with you a meal that happened over a week ago with my parents. This is the last meal from that weekend that I will be sharing so if you regard these posts sentimentally, you may want to grab a tissue. And the soundtrack to Ms. Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were."

Look, what's that in the distance? Is it a kebob stand? Is it a fire truck? No, it's a Scandinavian restaurant in midtown Manhattan!


Welcome to Aquavit, the much lauded restaurant home of chef Marcus Samuelsson.


Do you know who Marcus Samuelsson is? You don't? What kind of sick freak ARE you?

Wikipedia tells us that Marcus was born in 1970 in Ethiopia, his parents both died of TB when he was three, after which he was adopted by a Swedish couple. "He studied at the Culinary Institute in Gothenburg, where he grew up, apprenticed in Switzerland and Austria, and came to the United States in 1991 as an apprentice at Aquavit. At twenty-four, Marcus became executive chef of Aquavit, and soon after that also the youngest ever to receive a three-star restaurant review from The New York Times. In 2003 he was named 'Best Chef: New York City' by the James Beard Foundation."

Obviously, Chef Samuelsson is a force to be reckoned with. But how did his force reckon with the force of my fussy forceful family at lunch? I will force you to click below to learn the answer.

We liked it!


Here are pictures:

Oooh, look at the funky salt and pepper shakers:


Look at this man serving bread to my dad:


Look at this beautiful herring appetizer that I enjoyed:


[I wish I could remember more about each individual herring bowl: the one on the upper right is curry, on the upper left is pickled with cream, on the lower left is just pickled and on the lower right I don't remember. My favorite was the one with the cream.]

Mom and dad both had their version of the lobster roll:


Michael had butternut squash soup:


I think that's bacon in there, but I could be wrong.

Maybe this is a good time to address a frequent reader question: "How do you take pictures of your food in fancy restaurants? Don't you feel funny?"

Answer: I don't feel funny! It's totally fine. I think people overestimate the nuisance of a flash. When people are taking pictures of other people the flash goes outward into the room; when the flash happens over a plate pointing downward, very rarely do people get bothered. Also, the few times a waiter has noticed me taking pictures of the food they just think I'm crazy, they don't think I have a food blog. They'll usually say: "Boy, you must really like the way that looks!" The only time I've ever been asked not to photograph my food was at Fresco, in midtown, it was that guy who's always on The Today Show and he was a real asshole about it. I hate Fresco anyway--they charge $40 a plate for mediocre food. However, Billy Joel eats there and he's the piano man.

For our entrees, mom and I both had "Hot Smoked Arctic Char with salsify puree, geoduck clam, porcini asparagus salad & apple horseradish broth."


Mom and I both found this to be very subtle; her subtle was worse than my subtle, I liked the subtlety but mom craved more flava flav.

Michael had "Rare Seared Tuna with bean ragout, white anchovy-spinach puree & black trumpets." [The black trumpets were presented by black trumpeters, most notably Wynton Marsalis.]


It occurs to me now that the descriptions of food I'm writing down don't match the food in the pictures which suggests that the menupages menu I'm reading isn't up to date. For example: Michael's plate has a scallop on it but there's no scallop in the description. There's no Wynton Marsalis in the description either.

Dad had salmon:


This has been a low-key review where I haven't really analyzed the food, I think the pictures really speak louder than words might. Obviously, the presentations were gorgeous, the flavors were exciting (ok, the pictures don't show that the flavors were exciting but now that I've told you, pretend that the pictures told you) and yet this dessert I'm about to show you requires description.

Meet Apple Sorbet with white chocolate & fennel cream:


Our waiter joyously recommended this dessert and when mom, dad and Michael didn't bite, I did. He told me to crack the crystal shell on top with the back of my spoon and then to eat all the layers at once. The result was a phenomenal, indescribable sensation in my mouth: as if we were in chemistry lab and the professor said, "I want you to swish vial A and beaker B around in your mouth to see what it feels like." (Incidentally, I did that once and grew a third nipple.) Here, though, the flavors were so outstanding: the fennel cream was like a rich, creamy peanut butter and the apple sorbet was bright and acidic and then the white chocolate layer was smooth and soft and comforting, like a warm blanket on a cold night in the middle of a violent hurricane movie. I loved this dessert. I nominate this Adam's Favorite Dessert, Winter 2006.

Michael had some kind of cheesecake:


And then the waiter surprised my parents with a dessert for their anniversary:


That was actually a really nice touch because nobody ever directly told anyone on staff it was their anniversary, they just overheard me talking to my brother about it when we checked our coats. That's classy for ya.

So the food at Aquavit rocks, the service is great, my only small complaint is that the room itself is like Stanley Kubrick's 2001 meets the United Nations by way of your high school library. It's very serious in there and super stuffy. So stuffy, in fact, that I'm now a Republican. Go Bush!

Just kidding. Apparently, the front room (and this place is like a megaplex, by the way, it's huge!) where there's a cafe is much less stuffy. Here's a picture I snapped walking from the fancy dining room to the front room on our way out:


I don't know if that tells you anything, but it tells me that they keep the diet coke behind the giant vase.

I hope you've enjoyed this final recollection from a weekend of massive eating. As always, much thanks to my parents for treating my brother and I to such extravagance and many apologizes to the lady I blinded with my supersonic strobe flash camera klieg light. Vision is so overrated!


If you don't retract that Bush urge, I will disown you forever and never read your blog again, despite it being my vicarious NY life! Even in jest, the idea is repugnant. Go Bartlett!!! We are only in the Fourth series.

That picture of Marcus scares me. It's the "I'm really nice but in two seconds I'm going to clobber you over the head with this pot".

I first became aware of Marcus when he did that PBS mini series "The Meaning of Food" and then I saw him on "Simply Ming". He's got a unique and refreshing style and attitude.

ahhh very funny!

Amazing! Scandinavian food is underexposed and underappreciated here in the US.. and, haha! Diet coke. What an odd place to put it. By the way, what are the black things on top of the salmon?

Perfect! I am always looking for new places to hide my Diet Coke stash. Now, where can I find a giant vase with gigantic spiny, pokey, flowery things?

Last time I at Aquavit, i made the mistake of having a nice Aquavit Martini before dinner and a nice bottle of wine to share with dinner. The plates are beautiful but from what I remember, small. Apps were the same size as Entree's and no bread was served just some weird farina type crackers that did nothing to absorb the booze. We were trashed by the end of the meal and stumbled down to china town for some quick noodles. What did you think of the portions?

Aquavit was one of the first "FANCY-PANTS" restaurants I visited on my own as an adult. I was in Minneapolis on a business trip and dined at the now-closed location there.

I had a rare seared tuna which was my first experience with undercooked fish, so I both enjoyed it and learned the appreciation of soft pink tuna. Yum, sashimi...

Eating lightly I finished out my meal by having a pumpkin cheesecake dessert (as my "2nd course") after moving from my small table to a counter seat to watch the action. I don't remember the dessert in detail, but after paying nearly $45 for that simple and fantastic meal I realized that I had entered a new phase of my eating career. Viva Marcus Samuelsson!

Went there last week with my dad (the front room) and he nailed it reg. the design - looks exactly like the typical Swedish restaurant in the 70ies/80ies. The food we had was unimaginative and except for the herring mediocre.

Are you rich? Do you ever just go out and have a hot dog?

I ate at Aquavit about 6 years ago and I remember the room we ate in was really cool with a waterfall. Did I drink too much Aquavit? Is my memory correct? Did they re-do the location since I went?

I had the opportunity to eat a Marcus Samuelssohn meal when he was a guest chef at the Raffles Grill in Singapore. It was a fabulous meal and he came round to chat, he seems like a great guy. The only odd thing on the menu was lamb tongue, which our server insisted was "very crispy" and "just a little little tongue"... It was exactly like a scene from The Meaning of Life! Needless to say we passed...

Your white chocolate-fennel dessert looks wonderful btw! Care to try recreating it at home for us mere mortals? :)

Winter? It's spring!

Raffles chefs are featured guests at Aquavit this week.

The black stuff on the salmon are trumpet mushrooms.

The space behind the vase is actually a server's station. The cafe staff picks up drinks and refill the soda's at that particular spot.

Very fun article to read. Thanks for sharing.

Oh man, I thought the lobster roll + ginger aquavit was the highlight of my meal @ Aquavit. Did your server bring your parents the little crushed-ice-ginger drink? Aquavit is my only fancypants dining experience, any tips on places to make my parents take me in DC? :)

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