After Marcus Samuelsson, the longtime face of Aquavit, got a brand-new bag uptown, it fell to young Marcus Jernmark to follow in the footsteps of the superstar chef. sgordon, who found Aquavit "a little off" earlier this year, wasn't convinced Jernmark was up to the challenge. But he's come around after a recent revisit, prompted by a menu revamp that added a fourth course to the $89 prix fixe dinner. Eschewing Samuelsson's signature global borrowings, Jernmark has steered the food back to Scandinavia, not so much in the celebrated New Nordic style but with more traditional, seasonal leanings. "It's about presenting Scandinavian flavors and techniques—many unfamiliar to us here in the States—in as refined a way as he can, and it works beautifully," sgordon says.
The amuse-bouche served notice of the kitchen's strong suit and its grounding in what Jernmark has called the "fisherman culture" of his native Sweden: It was a lovely seafood salad with apple shavings and a shmear of Skyr. A second course of hay-smoked cod was stunningly good: moist, meaty fish presented with a streak of black truffle vinaigrette, crunchy pickled celeriac, and an impossibly soft scrambled egg. Subtler but also satisfying was an entrée of arctic char in light, clear tomato broth, served with pickled vegetables and a shrimp mousse.
Flavors and textures were smartly balanced from start to finish. A chanterelle velouté was garnished with pickled mushrooms whose tartness countered the richness of the soup. The "Nordic Choucroute"—prawn, pork belly, scallop—came with beurre blanc that got a welcome bright note from sauerkraut. Smoked veal sweetbreads, paired with veal tenderloin, offered the unexpected counterpoint of a crunchy outer shell and an uncommonly meaty interior. Served with roasted chanterelles, broccoli, and green-apple mustard, this was a "really solid dish that kept growing on me the more I ate," sgordon says.
Overall, he suggests, this marvelous dinner signaled an increasingly surefooted kitchen and a restaurant that presents "a nice change of pace from the usual French high-end offerings. Equally refined, but brighter and lighter, not relying so much on heavy reductions and butter sauces and such to bring the flavor. ... If I had any doubts about Aquavit deserving a Michelin star before, those doubts are gone. Chef Jernmark has found his groove, and it's a good one."
65 E. 55th Street (between Park and Madison avenues), Manhattan