Well, we capped off my parents’ 5-day visit last night with a Mother’s Day dinner at Aquavit. As soon as we walked in, I was struck by the calm atmosphere and cool décor – beautiful and modern, a big contrast to the bustle and opulence of Daniel. Since we’d been to Jean Georges, Daniel, Epices, Arthur Ave., Olana and Ocean Jewels in the 4 days preceding, we were beginning to suffer from a bit of palate fatigue (or at least I was), so none of us wanted to do the chef’s tasting menu. The waiter (who was great throughout the meal) walked us through the menu and made a few helpful suggestions, and off we went!
We began with a few of the house-made aquavits, which were all excellent – fig-cardamom (my favorite), mango-lime-chile, lychee-berry and blood orange-clove. I would have loved to try the whole list, but these really packed a punch! I primed myself with some of their excellent potato and dill breads, but even so I could tell those aquavits would have me on the floor if I wasn’t careful. We were treated to an amuse of sweet potato soup and a slice of raw tuna atop a chunky, limey guacamole. Absolutely delicious – I love tuna and avocado in any case, and each element of this amuse was top quality. The sweetness of the soup offset the richness of the fish and the salty tang of the guacamole. Spot on.
For our appetizer course, we chose the foie gras ganache, short ribs, beet salad and lobster roll. I didn’t bother tasting my mother’s beets, but she said they were excellent and far better than the beet salad she had at Olana. BF’s short ribs were fabulous – they had mixed bitter orange into the meat and seared it on the outside, lending it a great texture (I still liked the short rib at JG better, but this was much better than Daniel’s version). The accompanying spicy fennel was also delicious. My father’s lobster roll was a playful fusion of a classic Maine lobster roll and sushi – it came with mayo for dipping, but was topped with roe and included a shot of iced ginger aquavit on the side, which was AMAZING. Really great dish. My foie ganache, however, was the BEST thing I tasted the entire evening and maybe one of the best things I’ve ever had. A little cake of foie custard filled with molten foie, alongside a deep fried ball of duck confit mixed with sweet onion and coated in sesame business (not unlike the coating on the signature asparagus at Degustation). There was also a quenelle of arugula ice cream, topped with sea salt. The waiter instructed me to assemble each bite with a bit of each element, which I dutifully did. OMG. It was SPECTACULAR. Even my mother and BF, neither of whom care for foie gras, were totally wowed by this dish. The foie flavor was muted, but the liquidy center of the custard lent a fatty richness to each bite of the duck (as if it needed more fatty richness!). The coldness of the ice cream made for a fascinating contrast of temperatures along with the different textures, etc. AWESOME.
We received a little salmon mousse amuse between courses, which was quite tasty, then moved onto mains. BF stuck with beef, which was my favorite main of the night, I think. You really can’t go wrong when you take meat and wrap it around more meat. The oxtail coated ribeye was just plain delectable – cooked perfectly, fork-tender. My mother’s lamb was also excellent – I didn’t taste the chop, but the shredded shoulder was really tender with great earthy flavor. She’s actually not a lamb lover but she ended up being very happy she ordered it! I had the signature venison, which I very much enjoyed – tender and flavorful venison, simply grilled, alongside a salad of lingonberries, micro greens and tiny slivers of what I think was air-dried venison. It was served on a bed of wilted romaine that I could have done without, though. There were tiny potato dumplings mixed into the romaine that were VERY tasty, but there were only two of them – bummer! IMHO, they should dump the lettuce and just serve the meat on a bed of the dumplings! The quality of my venison (all the meats, really) was just impeccable, and I felt that, in general, Aquavit had the highest quality ingredients of any of the places we visited this week (with the possible exception of Jean Georges – a tie, maybe). Dad’s “seafood stew” was delicious and a beautiful presentation – really more of a seafood platter with saffron broth poured over.
Before dessert arrived, the waiter brought us a little palate cleanser of rhubarb soup with lime foam – a perfect little taste of spring. I adore rhubarb and this was a terrific rendition. BF ordered, as always, carrot cake (with cream cheese ice cream) for dessert, which was quite good – moist with plenty of carrot flavor. Cream cheese ice cream seems to be a trendy way to get cream cheese onto carrot cake without using icing, though, and quite honestly I am OVER it. I want a nice thick layer of cream cheese frosting on my carrot cake, damn it! My father’s panna cotta with lemongrass sorbet was the one loser of the night, unfortunately. The sorbet was good, but the panna cotta itself was bland and the texture was thick, gluey and a bit grainy. Luckily, my mother and I both ordered a chocolate dessert so rich that we couldn’t finish it (well, SHE couldn’t, LOL), so my father got to help her - chocolate caramel tart with salted caramel ice cream. Sweet Jesus in heaven, this was AMAZING. The tart was simply a thin layer of cake topped with a thin layer of caramel and a THICK layer of ganache (I mean, it had to have been ½” thick). The accompanying ice cream was rich and salty, so much so that it almost tasted peanut-buttery (in a VERY good way). There was nothing subtle about this, it was just fabulous, high-quality chocolate. Our waiter helped me pair this with a glass of sweet sherry, which complemented the rich flavors perfectly. Bliss.
We rounded out the meal with a few mignardises, which were good, although my mother thought the Swedish fish tasted strange (I didn’t sample). They were certainly cute. We walked away satisfied, but not overstuffed – portions were really perfect. Overall, everyone LOVED Aquavit. I think it was the biggest hit of the trip! For me, it tied with Jean Georges, but I think my parents and BF liked it more, and it left Daniel in the dust for all of us. Also worth noting, the bill was less than half what it was at Daniel. With one exception (that awful panna cotta), every dish we tried was excellent or better than excellent, with memorable flavors that really popped. Even the amuses and such were more than just cute little bites – they were delicious and obviously prepared with the same care and high quality ingredients that went into the apps and mains. I can’t wait to come back – I really want to try the café now, as well, and of course the Sunday brunch! Special thanks to MMRuth (I think she's the first person who suggested Aquavit) and to all you other hounds who nudged me in this direction!