I have been looking forward to crossing this 2-star Scandinavian restaurant off my list. Not only is Scandinavian food the "in" food right now (because of Noma), but I wanted to compare it to the other Scandinavian 2-star in New York - Aquavit. This restaurant also flys well under the radar, which tend to be places I like.
Aska (which means "Ashes") is a professional, very well run restaurant. Service was pretty much impeccable, starting from some emails exchanged before arrival, to entry, service and heading out. Professional but approachable. Buttoned up without any snoot. I had a large suitcase with me. I had emailed them beforehand to see if they would be able to store it while I dined. They would be happy to. When I left, it reappeared effortlessly. Start to finish, the focus was on the guest and taking care of their needs. When I found the bathroom occupied, a waiter noticed and said "I'll be glad to let you know when it becomes free." (I mean, he didn't end up doing so. But it was the proper thought. :) )
I would describe the food here as "shy". That's not a bad thing. The beauty is inside. It doesn't announce itself. Nothing jumps out or overwhelms. The flavors are subtle, delicious and extremely refined. A few dishes were truly special. The lobster and langoustine were standouts and will be remembered a very long time.
I had one primary issue - the menu arc. Or lack thereof.
Every dish followed a similar pattern: a gently cooked protein presented on the plate, sauce or foam added by the server. Every single main followed this pattern. Even the venison. Portion sizes were all identical as well - smaller, 4 or 5 bites. The resulted in the meal lacked a denouement, or even a feeling of progression.
A number of reviews talked about the quantity of food being low. They aren't wrong. If the food wasn't so delicious throughout, I would have greater concern. But the similarity of presentation, size and even ingredients (I felt like gooseberries were in every dish) did lend a "flat"ness to the meal as a whole. They are yearning for a 3rd star this fall when the new ratings come out. I don't think they'll receive it, and I think this is why.
Plating choices were off too. It was often difficult to get at the food, or at least ALL of the food. You can see my note about the venison in the photos to learn more about what I mean here. Wines were very well paired, but none really stood out as special on their own.
I would return, without question. It's special and unique food. It's also quiet and unassuming food. I would love to see the venison dish strengthened with a little more punch and preceded by a most substantive fish course (substantive both in flavor and quantity). The meal would feel more complete. This may go against the Chef's vision, or even Scandinavian cooking as a whole. (I'm no expert.) Every dish gently rubbed your back. I kept yearning for a little punch.
That said, the food is freaking delicious and at a high level. Service was impeccable and the space and atmosphere are beautiful and beckon you to immerse yourself in the space, the food and the experience. It does feel expensive for the quantity of food, but the dinner as a whole is substantive and fulfilling.
Replying to Steven Smith