A sassy group of gays behind us broke the ice by hypothesizing what was keeping my precariously slouchy beanie on my head, to which I replied “My massive ego.” They were guessing bobby pins. The ringleader of the group introduced himself as Joey Bayer. He and Michael hit it off like teenage girls bonding over a mutual love of Christina Aguilera (we are and we were.) We got to talking and as it turns out Michael had shot a gay wedding (he’s also an incredibly talented wedding photographer) at the restaurant, Aquavit, of which Joey is the special events coordinator.
Michael asked, “Do you know so-and-so? I think he worked there.”
And Joey said, “I replaced him.”
Needless to say we got along swimmingly, and when I mentioned I co-hosted the Curious Cook he invited Athena, Michael and I in for a meal to celebrate good food and new friends. Sold.
Just for a little bit of context, Aquavit is older than me by 1 year, which makes it a ripe 26 years old. It has a rich history of creating Scandinavian dishes for New Yorkers and tourists and has received many awards and accolades over the course of its existence, but has only received it’s first Michelin star since Joey has been with the restaurant. I have always kind of assumed the success of a restaurant was more or less entirely dependent on the food but Joey talked to us about how since he had been there they transitioned from having a casual bistro and formal dining room to just the formal dining room and transformed the rest of the space into rooms for corporate events, of which there is generally 20+ a week. But enough of the pleasantries and background, let’s talk about the food.
When you walk into Aquavit’s rather nondescript doors at 65 E. 55thstreet you’re cordially greeted by a hostess and can relax at your leisure in their super swank lounge. Lining the walls are giant glass cubes filled with the restaurants namesake liquor in various states of infusion with things like cucumber, horseradish and cloudberries. Once all members of our party arrived we were escorted into Aquavit’s stately dining room, full of clean lines, warm light and awesome high backed rolling chairs. The menu was short, sweet and unintimidating and honestly very reasonably priced. With entrees hovering around the $24 mark I could actually afford to impress someone by treating them to a platter of in-house cured gravlax. For my first course I tried the live diver scallop with green apple granita, which came served in it’s own shell. It was sweet and clean tasting with just enough tart from the granita (which came to the table separately in a pot so cold it billowed water vapor. My second course was a bowl of roasted and raw radishes with slow cooked oxtail and bits of seared foie gras over which the server poured hot dashi and encouraged me to let the bowl sit for a minute to allow the flavors to meld. It was like a rustic, heartier version of miso soup. The oxtail and foie melted together into an earthy and velvety mish mash and were complemented perfectly by the crisp fresh radishes.
Joey suggested I try an infused aquavit to pair with the meal so I went for the horseradish variety to go with the earthy/meaty oxtail in the dashi. I’ve never been too much of an aquavit fan, mostly because of it’s typical overpowering caraway seed/rubbing alcohol flavor but this was an exceptionally delicious sipper. It was served ice cold in a cute little glass and rounded out the meal nicely. Before we could order dessert the kitchen sent out a plate of pickled herring with shallots, baby potatoes and this crazy delicious Swiss/cheddar cheese hybrid that looked much more like the Scandinavian food I’m accustomed to but was much more artfully prepared and balanced. My favorite dish of the day, however, was dessert. I ordered the smoked crème brulee with rosemary ice cream and crispy pumpkin and it was divine. It looked incredible on it’s slate black plate and tasted even better. The rosemary ice cream was floral and not too sweet and was the star of the dish in my opinion, I would return to Aquavit for a bowl of it on it’s own.
Michael, Athena and I were stuffed without feeling heavy, which is a culinary feat, and bid adieu to our wonderful host Joey Bayer, but I don’t think it is the last time the Curious Cook will visit Aquavit. So thank you Joey for having us, next time we’ll cook!