Review - Smorgaschef (2nd & 49th , 212-486-1411)
My future in laws were visiting us over the weekend and given that they are Swedish/Norwegian , they wanted to try something from the old country. There are not a lot of Nordic/Scandinavian places around here, but we pass by Smorgaschef every day on the way to work and that was enough to finally get us to visit.
We were very pleased. I had assumed it was just a neighborhood diner, with perhaps a vague Swedish feel to it. However it really does have aspirations to making authentic, yet tuned for the American palate friendly Nordic food. It's at a good location (a corner near the UN with alfresco seating available) and has a small interior with a bar. They don't have tableclothes but the plates and glasses are a cut above what that might imply. Happily the venue also let us BYO for a $15 corkage fee, which is fair enough.
The first item we ordered was the gravlax ($8) which was wonderfully presented and tasted great. It avoided the excessive saltiness some versions have. Then we had a beet salad ($8) which had a good dollop of blue cheese mixed in with the frissee. This was also very tasty. The beets tasted fresh, not canned, unlike some other restaurants around here. The last appetizer we had was the pickled herring ($9?) which came with 4 kinds of pickled herring and Johannson potatoes in the middle. Those are a kind of au gratin potato, that are pretty good, but rich. The herring was good, but kind of sweet, and it might be safer to order that among a group rather than get it all to yourself, if you have any doubts about the idea of sweet/salty fish.
For the main course, we were rather predicatable and all ordered the Swedish meatballs ($17). They were delightfully random in shape (showing that they had been made by hand, not machine) and were well seasoned and cooked. The cream sauce that accompanies them is a little rich, but you probably could ask for it on the side. The lingonberry sauce was good too.
Afterwards, as we enjoyed the warmth of a good dinner, dessert ($6 apiece) started arriving. We ordered ice cream with cloudberry sauce (cloudberries are a rare swedish kind of berry) which was good, a creme brulee (which was pre-prepared and very creamy) and an excellent Swedish waffle with various jams on it. I had a pot of gourmet tea ($3) to unwind as well. The tea pots are unusually cool looking too.
I can see why TimeoutNY raved about this place for CheapEasts. It's really good and worth an out of neighborhood visit. The food is great and it's a lot less $$$ than Aquavit.