My wife and I went to Aquavit last night with another foodie couple we know. We found dinner to be hit and miss, with the hits really hitting the misses therefore a bit surprising.
We arrived about 30 minutes early and had drinks in the bar area, which is spacious and very nice. The nuts on the bar had this rosemary salt on them and were terrific.
When our friends arrived, we were sat right on time. The dining room was very pretty and nicely lit. The flowers, in particular, were very well done. I found the bar area to be a little 70s stark, but still warm and inviting.
Our first amuse was a leek soup with salmon. Very nice starter, with good flavor, but not overwhelmingly good. The bread arrived with the most delicious chive butter I've ever tasted. The second amuse was a tiny cracker with a pate and caviar, to be dunked in savory. Ooh, what yummy savory that was.
Kumomoto Oysters and Smoked Scallops, Marinated Salmon Roe, Smoked Potato Cream
We started with an appetizer from the bar (we ordered it there and ate it at the table). The kumomotos were terrific - very fresh with a nice balance of textures to offset the oyster. The Scallops were equally as good, with delicious roe on top. There was a healthy dose of mustard with the scallops, which was surprising since the description didn't mention mustard. (I don't like mustard, so this troubled me a little.) The only other issue I had with the dish was the price - for $30 I was expecting more (quantity).
After we ordered our dinners, the somalier came over. She was very helpful and directed us to two bottles of wine that were fantastic. We started with a white burgundy and then went to a red which was lighter than the white, but a perfect complement for our entrees. A+ for the wine.
Salmon Plate, With Gravlax, Spiced Smoked Salmon, Espresso Mustard Sauce and Goat Cheese Ice Cream
Wow. The salmon was so delicate and perfect on this plate, it was - to borrow an overused phrase - "like butter". Truly. This was a terrific plate, Though I personally found the goat cheese to overpower the gravlax a little. The spiced smoked salmon - a very large piece! - was out of this world.
Yellow Tail Tartar, With Duck Tongue, Sunchoke Pancakes, Sea Urchin Sauce and Lime Jelly
This was one of those plates that we all wanted to like more than we actually did. There was nothing wrong with the dish, and the flavor was lovely. But for some reason that we couldn't name, it didn't rise to the level we were expecting. The duck tongues were delicious, but a little off-putting for the semi-squeamish among us. (They come looking like, well, little duck tongues.)
Lobster Roll With Apples, Trout Roe, Bacon, and Egg Dressing
Wow. Wow wow wow. The roll had that uber-freshness about it that I'm always unable to recreate at home. The lobster was perfect and the little accents of bacon were incredible. This was a huge winner. Even the Egg Dressing was interesting, and perfectly accented the roll. The dish came with a small glass of Aquavit that was iced and flavored with, I think, lavender. We all wanted to spend 12 hours on a summer day drinking just this drink. This dish hit the mark.
Wagyu Carpaccio With Truffle Taro Root Puree, Green Papaya Salad and Shrimp Mushroom Broth
This dish arrived with high expectations. The beef was beautifully wrapped around the puree, with the salad on top. They poured the broth out of an iron teapot, and it smelled incredible. We enjoyed the dish very much, except that the flavors, particularly the puree, overwhelmed the beef. In fact, there was little if any discernable beef flavor in each bite. So while the dish was delicious - the broth was incredible, and even included the tiniest accent of fresh mint - it didn't meet expectations since the beef was seen but not heard.
Then the entrees. Two had the trout, two had the salmon:
Hot Smoked Trout With Salsify Puree, Geoduck Clam, Morel-Asparagus Salad and Apple Horseradish Broth
This got mixed reviews at the table. My wife found the trout to be a little fishy, and our friends though the broth was too much apple not enough horseradish. I found the dish incredible. The trout tasted more like salmon, but that's right up my alley. The fish was perfectly warmed and I didn't find the sauce to be as sweet as the others did. I give this an A+. Others probably more like a B.
I can't detail the salmon entree, since it's not listed on their website (which I'm looking at as I write this). The entree was a very substantial, very long piece of salmon, with a butter sauce that was poured at the table. They left a carafe of the sauce for you to add more if you wanted, which was a nice touch. The salmon was cooked perfectly - gently warmed and so delicate that you barely had to chew. The butter sauce was delicious and a nice accent to the fish. There was a square potato "pancake" on the plate as well, which was also surprisingly good. I loved this dish, but thought the trout was even better.
Then on to dessert:
Arctic Circle, Goat Cheese Parfait with Blueberry Sorbet and Passion Fruit Curd
This is my dream dessert and was perfect. The goat cheese was icy and sweet - it didn't taste like goat cheese at all - with the passionfruit buried within. The sorbet was almost chocolaty it was so dense. It would be worth going back just for this dessert.
Apple Sorbet with Fennel Cream and Basil Jelly
This was a beautiful dessert, with the basil jelly taking away much of the sweetness from the dish. That made for a very interesting flavor, but not the right choice for someone looking to satisfy a sweet tooth.
The service was spotty throughout. Sometimes it was exactly what you would expect, but other times it faltered. The plates were often set in front of the wrong people. Some plates were described for us and others weren't, with no real pattern to it. They never returned to offer more bread. At one point, while the sommalier was pouring the wine, a waiter stood back with our next amuse waiting for her to finish, but his manner was very awkward - he shifted back and forth on his feet, and kept looking around as if he had a date somewhere. Hardly a catastrophe, but worthy of notice at a restaurant of this level. Also surprising to me was the bathroom, which was clean, but had a garbage can overflowing with paper towels, as well as paper towels strewn about the floor. When did someone last check in and clean them?
In the end, with the prix fixe, plus three additional first courses and two bottles of wine, the total was about $500 per couple, including tip. [If you're counting courses, sometimes people got the same thing.]
All in all, the meal was terrific. But for the money, I think I'd return to Le Bernedin, where I know every dish will be perfect and I know the service will be top notch. This was a worthy diversion, but just barely missed the mark in my book to be an annual visit.