I went with a couple friends to Aquavit for brunch this Sunday. In short, I found it tasty, very informal (which I found a plus), and a bit more expensive than it was worth.
We started eating about 1:30, and were seated in the mostly empty dining room at the rear left. The decor of the room, as others have often described, is pretty antiseptic and cheerless. The waitstaff was friendly and efficient, though far from chatty. The brunch comes with a complimentary drink: a small Carlsburg beer, a "Danish Mary" (bloody Mary made with aquavit), or fruit juice. Between us we ordered two Danish Mary's and one beer, and eventually concluded that the beer fit the meal much better.
Apart from the drinks, it's a self-serve buffet. There were a couple buffet tables set up in front of the bar, and one got up and choose what one wanted as often as one wanted. Following the suggestion on the menu, we started with the herring and potatoes. There were about 10 different kinds of pickled herring, all pretty good, and some tremendous. As it was self-serve, I didn't figure out the names of the different versions, but our table found the green sauced version to be the best, followed closely by the red. I also really liked the white, more so than my companions. So when choosing herring, I'd suggest thinking of the colors of the Mexican flag :).
Moving down the buffet (next plate) we had some little dishes of potato salad with anchovies (not great, IMO), a little shrimp salad (tasty), some gravlax (great), some cooked salmon (OK), and some salmon with what I presume was a squid ink sauce (not great). We accompanied these with little rye bread crisps and rolls.
For the next plate (along with some more herring), we had some of the hot dishes. These were decidedly mediocre to poor. The Swedish meatballs and sauce were oversalted and bland, in fact dangerously close to standard high school cafeteria fare. The small pieces of beef tournedos were good with lingonberry sauce, but too salty. The larger pieces of beef were OK but very salty. The potato casserole type dish was very peppery, tasty, but simply too salty to eat.
I'm not sure what to make of the salt content. I've eaten in a few European restaurants that had dishes this salty, but never across the board. The joking guess at our table was that like the nibbles offered by bars, the goal was sell more drinks. But the effect was that none of us ate much of the hot dishes (which, in retrospect, was maybe the real goal). Or maybe it was just an unfortunate accident in the kitchen.
After nibbling a bit more herring (and finally having enough of the herring), we hit the dessert table. They were quite good, and it was nice to be able to sample so many of them. The cake (spongecake with berries and a green marzipan top layer above the topping) was particulary good.
It seemed like they stopped refilling the buffet about 3:00, and that by 3:15 almost everything except for the desserts had been put away. This would make me concerned about making a 2:30 reservation, which is the latest they allow, as it would seem you'd have to rush to try everything. We finished about 3:30 (2 hours after we started) but were very much taking our time and talking instead of just eating the whole time.
There was some confusion when the bill came, as it seemed that they had just that day raised the price of the buffet from $39 to $45. After mentioning that both the website and the menu we were given when seated still showed $39, they politely but unapologetically charged us the menu price. And for the reference of the penny pinchers like me, you might note that the after dinner tea or coffee is not included in the price of the buffet.
Overall (apart from the salt levels) it was a fine meal. I'd call it a bargain at $20, fairly priced at $30, and overpriced at $39/$45. Perhaps unfortunately, as I really like the Aquavit cookbook, based on the hot dishes we were served I don't have much of an urge to try out their usual menu. I do however, need to find somewhere to supply my new addiction to pickled herring. :)
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