May 7, 2022

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.

 

Bladderwrack seaweed chip with blue mussel emulsion...
A closer look. This was a phenomenal bite.
Kohlrabi compressed with linden leaf oil and linden flower vinegar. Server super cold - almost frozen - on a pedestal of ice...
Take a closer look at the knife work and how this is put together. Super refreshing bite.
Vendace and sweet shrimp roe tart. The roe is marinated in horseradish oil and lilac vinegar. Super balanced with the horseradish. Lovely bite.
King fish from Denmark, smoked eel gelatin. The chef then added...
Ossetra caviar and a vinaigrette of fermented gooseberry and juniper oil. This had a heavy sour/pickle/salt flavor. Beautiful and clean but overwhelmed the fish a bit.
Live sea scallop from cape cod...
Adding a broth of baby white turnip and black currant leaf, broth caramelized scallop...
The resulting dish.
Siberian sturgeon caviar, Maine lobster, white asparagus finished with...
A sauce with wild carrot flowers aged in vinegar since last summer. Subtle sweetness. Amazing. Perfect pairing with a dry chenin blanc.
Hake with onion...
Finished with an oil made from dill flowers preserved from last season and a dark Swedish beer sauce...
The resulting dish. This was absolutely fabulous. Subtle sweetness from the fish, lifted by the herbacious dill and grounded with a beautiful and subtle stout sauce.
Norway langostine tail, pearls from fermented red gooseberries...
Added a sauce from caramelized shells and gooseberries. Incredible unctuous and perfectly cooked langostine and sauce cut through by bright and acidic gooseberry (think cranberries)
Trout from Pennsylvania (delivered daily), lichen (grows on the banks next to where the trout is), sauce from salted white currents and birch. Brilliant dish. The broth deep/earthy like a chicken stock, lichen great crunch textural, sweet pearls (of something) to cut through.
Trout belly (same trout) gently smoked and whipped, truffle, placed stop a Danish savory pancake. The pancake overwhelmed the truffle and fish on top. I wish it was half as big for a better balance.
Venison, fermented black sunchoke, morel... (Take note of the plate and the little spill...)
Added venison jus with toasted hay butter. Great piece of meat, really well prepared. I prefer stronger flavors to enhance the meat, but nice dish. Served with...
Glazed asparagus with shaved, cured venison (this was outstanding) and...
Glazed swedish sweet buns.
The plating here was wrong. Sauce got trapped in the small cups around the edges. This not only prevented you from getting ALL of the sauce (which I wanted to do!) but resulted in a very messy appearance in the end.
Tartlet preserved in candied strawberries, black currant and woodruff. Terrific sweet strawberry gelatin contrasting with the deep acidic currant and the super crispy tartlet providing textural contrast.
Milk sorbet with grass-fed sweet cream...
Added a meadowsweet cordial. This was insanely yummy!
Salted licorice marshmallow. Ate savory not sweet. Delicious.
Madeline and sea buckthorn
Beet and black currant

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