August 13, 2022

Only three restaurants have made me emotional from the experience: Disfrutar, e by Jose Andres and Manresa. AOC is the 4th. With two very notable exceptions (see below), this was a dinner and experience of the very highest order. This was actually a "swing" restaurant for me. Had I landed a reservation at Jordnaer, I would have bailed on this one. How insanely glad I am that the other reservation never arrived. This was one of the best meals of my life.

AOC is Nordic cuisine, once helmed by Ronny Emborg of Atera (one of my favorite restaurants in NYC). The opening snacks alone were enough to vault them to the top. 5 of the most fantastic bites I have ever had, including the most beautiful dish I have ever seen (the beet root). I literally gasped when it was set in front of me. 

Once to the table, each successive dish was so brilliantly conceived and executed at such a high level, one after another amazed. Many of the dishes seemed to lean in to an extremely difficult technique, as if a challenge to say "Can we really do...THIS?" And each time, it is pulled off with aplomb. How do they achieve such consistency? It is simply a kitchen you have to marvel at. (Many of the chefs came to introduce dishes and they were all so fun to interact with. It reminded me a bit of Christopher's.)

Aside from the beet root, the standout for me was the turbot served as a "rib". From technique to flavor, I could only shake my head. The onion soup served in an onion was also a true inspiration.

Desserts were really good, not great. But seemed appropriate given the meal you just had. It was as if the desserts (or the chef) was saying "Let the main dishes speak for themselves. We are not going to try to compete with those." It was a welcome rest at the end of a mind-boggling incredible experience.

There were two substantive service misses I feel I should point out. The first is that, as a solo diner, they left the 2nd chair at the table. This is a pet peeve of mine (at this level). The entire experience should cater itself to who is at the table. The 2nd chair sends a subtextual message that ought not be, both to the diner themselves but also from the restaurant. "We'll go this far, but not THAT far." It's as if to say they will make room for you as a solo diner, but clearly you are in a table intended for some(ones) else.

The 2nd issue was far more substantive. The head server/sommelier had a voice that carries. His demeanor at a table was perfection. Formal, in control, friendly, deferential. I enjoyed watching him interact even with the tables around me. Incredible talent at the job. 

But his directions to the staff were within earshot of the guests. I consistently heard "Have you cleared table 3?" and the like. The tables around me must have heard him as well. This type of interaction should never be noticeable to the guest.

At one point, his criticism of one of the servers was so offputting, I mentioned it to the server later in private. "I'm sorry you're being treated the way that you are. I hope you stick with it." They quickly replied it was an off night and they were treated wonderful by the restaurant. It wasn't a line - it seemed genuine and sincere. But that they were treated that way and within earshot of the guests is a true problem for this restaurant to resolve.

At the end of the meal, I sat for about 30 minutes without anyone saying anything. Was I done? Was there a next step? It got to the point of awkwardness until the excellent maitre d noticed me sitting there (I believe there was no one else in the restaurant), came over, chatted with me a bit and I was able to request the bill and leave. Again - an awkward oversight for what is otherwise a stellar experience.

Missteps aside, AOC is a must visit when in Copenhagen. I haven't yet been to my "big 3" (Noma, Geranium and Alchemist), but AOC will likely live right up there with these places. It is an incredible, generous, delicious and life-memorable experience with dishes you simply can't forget.

The experience begins in the lounge with champagne (a choice of 3) and snacks.
Crispy potato chip, egg roe, dehydrated egg yolk. So good!
The next bite...
(inside) Shrimp tartare mixed with tomato crust of panko. This may have been my favorite of all of the (incredible!) snacks. So good, and the technique to produce that rounded top/bottom cracker vessel is extraordinary.
Steamed bun, mussel powder, creme fraishe chive oil inside. Scallop brushed with tomato reduction, caviar, wasabi. It was as good as it looked.
The next dish was finished with drops of this 100 year balsamic from Modena, Italy...
Beet root tart with beet root and onion flowers. This may be the most beautiful dish I have ever seen. I gasped as they set it down. And it was delicious to boot.
This dish is mind-blowing to conceive. "Milk and cheese". Pine bark cheese cracker on bottom (the cheese is soft like brie), gamingnas(?) cheese cream (a harder cheese like parmesan), hay honey with truffle, and the top cracker is milk skin. So stupidly creative and it all worked together for a terrific bite.
From there, you move to the table. I love their setup, with the menus propped up for viewing during the meal.
Ossetra caviar gold label, north Denmark green peas which are double peeled, thyme, mint, green pea puree. Certainly reminded me of Eleven Madison Park's vegan version of the same dish. This was just fantastic.
Oyster, Cucumber and swiss chard dumpling, herbal emulsion, coriander spray. If there was a miss, it was this one. There was just heavy cucumber flavor. I wanted more oyster and a bit more salt. It was also messy to handle - the cucumber layers separated as you picked it up. Had it not been served on a napkin, I would have presumed they forgot the silverware.
Mackerel, kohlrabi marinated in pear juice, gazpacho of butternut squash, dill oil. A subtle and gorgeous dish. The knife work on those kohlrabi rounds is a marvel.
Turbot (fish), prepared with both "filets" but with the bone in the middle. "We were inspired by ribs, so pick it up and eat it with your hands"...
The turbot was glazed with turbot stock and emulsified with juniper. The technique!! The fish itself was incredible, and it was seasoned incredibly strong and just perfectly. There was a lip-smacking quality to it (a la ribs) that made you wish it never ended. This hits my favorite dishes list.
Langoustine claw steamed with seaweed, paired with...
The tail, pan fried with beurre blanc. Like the Turbot, this was seasoned much stronger and bolder than I would have expected. Perfectly counterbalanced by the creamy, acidic beurre blanc. A great pairing with a carrot/gooseberry/rose hip juice. Outstanding.
Corn, white wine, lardo, black truffle, tarragon oil, cheese foam, more black truffle...
A look inside. The truffle married with cheese (think deep, funky parmesan) and brightened by the corn. Not nearly what the corn soup was at Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, but an excellent dish for sure.
The next dish? Onion soup. Served in an onion!...
You were encouraged to use open the "clotch" and drink the soup from the bottom of the onion. Who does that?? The sourcing and preparation of the onion vessels themselves fills me with awe. The soup was sweet, clearly made with VERY carmelized onions.
Quail, from the southwest of France, grilled on the plancha, glazed with quail jus and served with pickled chanterelles and chanterelle jus...
They provide your own herbs to cut and garnish to taste. The quail was just insanely delicious.
Green strawberry sorbet, white chocolate mousse, pine oil, elderflower granite, chamomile snow
Blueberries from Sweden, foam of lavender and black currant, lime, black current
Dehydrated salsify, to imitate a vanilla bean
Meringue, caramel
The final dessert...
A cone of artichoke and chocolate mousse. Pretty inventive and totally worked.

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