Last night, a friend and I went to try Plaj, a new Scandinavian restaurant in the Inn at the Opera which opened on June 29. Their website is not fully up, but the Chron had the menu on its blog:
We were very impressed with the meal, with only one hiccup across six dishes. The food here was different than I've had at any restaurant in the Bay Area, as far as I can recall. We split everything, and let the kitchen course the meal as it thought best. Pacing was excellent, with a new dish arriving shortly after we finished the prior one. I am unfamiliar with Scandinavian food, so each dish's flavors were surprising and interesting. It was all very different than anything I'd had before, but in a good way.
Table bread comes in a little wax paper bag on a little bamboo cutting board, which I thought was pretty silly. The butter was nicely soft, and sprinkled with sea salt and pepper. We had the burata salad, the taste of herring, the gravlax, the halibut, the charcuteri, and the chocolate torte. I really liked the first three, and would return to Plaj to order each of them. Flavors were light, bright, and balanced, or perhaps a touch on the acidic side. The burata salad, for example, did not taste like the usual burata salad offered at so many restaurants in SF. The halibut was also excellent, though not as surprising and interesting as the first three dishes. The charcuteri was not a success for us... the pork belly one in particular was not to our tastes, but we didn't much care for the lamb either. The chocolate torte was surprisingly light and airy, with a really delicious and not sweet sorbet, with bits of meringue scattered about for crunch. A really lovely dessert. Aside from the charcuteri, each dish had bright, fresh, interesting flavors, including the frequent appearance of not-sweet berries. We also had two Icelandic beers. I liked the white ale, and my friend the monk's brew.
Service was pretty good. The only hitch was that we asked for a sharp knife to better divide each plate - the waitress graciously brought us a sharp knife in its blade case, but when I took the case off the blade, the blade was filthy. I imagine she had no idea, but needless to say, we didn't use it. Once we requested a change of plates after the first course, our waitress changed plates after each subsequent course without having to be asked. She was friendly and engaged.
The decor doesn't match the food at all. Maybe I'm too influenced by Ikea, HGTV, and movies, but I think of Scandinavia as more slick and modern, with glass and metal. The food was fresh, bright, and, to me, inventive. Yet the room is windowless (at the back of the hotel) and old fashioned, covered in wood with a fireplace and a big wooden bar.
My friend and I both plan to return. It's not often for me to come across a totally new cuisine, so it was a real pleasure to be introduced to Scandinavian food at Plaj. I hope Plaj gains in popularity and sticks around.
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