So something interesting opened in Queens, it's a restaurant within a restaurant concept. Mr. Nilsson is a new-nordic restaurant that opened inside Sage General Store. I'm not a huge fan of Sage General Store, it's fine and has been around forever but I always found it a bit pricey for what you get.
They renovated the decor, it's a little bit more spare, more open, fewer rustic tchotchkes, it's still casual rustic though.
Similar to Casa Del Chef in Woodside (with Blue Hill alum Alfonso Zhicay), Mr. Nilsson's chefs have pedigrees, Greg Proechel is of Eleven Madison Park and Blanca and Michael Kollarik is of Momofuku and the Dutch. Unlike pedigreed Il Falco (with chefs from Il Mulino) the food at Mr. Nilsson is excellent.
They've only been open for two days and only offer tasting menus. They have a 4 and 7 course tasting. The four course is $48 and the 7 course is $84. I opted for the 4 course to experience the restaurant (plus I had had a HUGE multi-course lunch at L'ecole).
They started with a complimentary amuse that was far and above your standard restaurant offerings, it was a seared (I believe torch seared) scallop on fermented sunchoke puree. The scallop was succulent, plump, very lightly cooked with almost a natural/crudo texture, briny. The sunchoke puree had an earthiness that I thought was soy but there is none in the dish. It's dusted with cocoa and hazelnut (that I couldn't taste).
First course was a cruciferous salad with gorgeous romanesco, pickled cauliflower, crispy brussel sprout leaves, red/purple? watercress with toasted amaranth, on labneh. This salad was stunning, colors and plating was like nothing I've seen in Queens. The flavors progress from bitter, sour, creamy, savory and earthy. I found it interesting they didn't opt for a sweet component, something I appreciated. Lovely textures, crunchy and smooth.
Next was another amuse or entremet, confit fingerling potato dusted with fennel, served with anchovy aioli. The fingerling is crisp, creamy and although I generally do not like fennel, it really made the dish taste lighter and brighter, the anchovy gave a savoriness that was excellent.
Second course was a cured mackerel dish with pickled beets, hawthorne, trout roe, buttermilk, dehydrated rye crisps and dill. Thinly sliced mackerel is cured in aquavit, I don't drink alcohol so I'm a bit sensitive to the taste. That being said, the alcohol astringency is not excessive. The quality of the fish was evident, fresh, nicely textured and the acid of the beets and brightness of the herbs helps to balance the assertive flavor of an oily fish like mackerel. The crisps are really lovely, crisp then melting in mouth and the pop of fresh trout roe both tie the dish together. The only issue I had was slivers of mackerel skin that were very tough, I'm guessing from the curing. It was like a small string I couldn't quite chew through.
Next was another amuse/entremet chicharron with a dab of chicken liver and sprinkled with chives. The puffed pork skin is really delicious, and the chicken liver is textbook, it's bright with sherry flavor, chives, balancing the metallic notes and funk of chicken liver.
Third course is an Icelandic cod but they allowed me to substitute for duck (I'm a duck person). They let you know at the beginning of the meal they will accommodate food allergies and reasonable substitutions.
The duck dish is exceptional, like something out of EMP. I'm really surprised to be eating this kind of food in a homey restaurant in Queens. The duck is precisely cut, perfectly seared, crisp skin, fat is well rendered. The skin is dusted with cardamom, cumin and coriander, it actually tasted Chinese to me, if you try it, I think you'll understand what I mean. Really bright flavors, the duck was incredibly juicy, not gamey at all. If I'm going to be brutally picky (why not? the meal is fantastic), there was one thin thread of sinew running through the meat, due to the thickness of the meat not unexpected. The sinew wasn't inedible, (unobtrusive, unlike the mackerel skin) and he dish was incredibly well executed. The duck comes with micro nasturtium, rutabaga and charred eggplant puree. The rutabaga has a subtle sweetness and the nasturtium a subtle spiciness, eggplant bringing a rich creamy texture and smokey bitterness.
Next was yet another amuse/entremet, funnel cake fritters dusted with freshly grated parmesan, aleppo peppers and fried sage leaves. The funnel cake is a perfect crispy vehicle for savory parmesan and if you've never had cheese with sage leaves, the flavors pair remarkably well. Greaseless, it's simple, comforting food executed with skill.
Fourth course was a brown butter cake with crisp purple and orange carrots, honey semifreddo, over a bed of green ice granite. The granite is made from carrot tops and parsley. The butter cake has a lovely texture, moist, good crumb, very lightly sweet, the carrots are very crisp, very light and pair well with the honey semifreddo. The sweetness level of this dish is extremely well-received by me, BUT may not be to the taste of those who like very sweet desserts. This is the type of dessert with rich, cake textures, creamy textures with herbaceous notes and hints of sweetness. It's almost like a Chinese dessert in that you need to really look for the sweetness and along the way you will discover other flavors, vegetal, savory, tart.
Lastly they give you a small satchel of housemade granola to take home (which is less like granola, than a moist and sweet chunk of granola cake), the granola is actually sweeter than the dessert so those who like sweetness, you can eat it right away.
The flavor profiles tend toward the bitter, sour/astringent, savory. I appreciate the food because it's light and does not veer toward the stereotypical and crowd-pleasing sweet/salty tropes.
Service was attentive and patient with my constant questions. Mr. Nilsson/Sage General Store is close to the 7 train and is really easy to get to (for me at least).
To put this meal into context, it's probably the most aspirational restaurant in Queens, superceding M. Wells Steakhouse and with a more varied menu than Mu Ramen. The presentation, thoughtfulness and quality exceeds anything I've had in Queens with the exception of Mu Ramen. Compared to Michelin'd Danny Brown, there's no comparison Mr. Nilsson is head and shoulders above. Casa Enrique is a joke and totally undeserving. M. Wells is brilliantly and superb(ly inconsistent). Salt and Fat is a step down. Casa Del Chef doesn't have the same level of technical skill. Trattoria L'incontro and MP Taverna are a step down. Mu Ramen is exceptional in its genre and the only player in the same ballpark (i.e. aspiring to be a destination restaurant). There is nothing in Queens like this restaurant. I need to eat at Mr. Nilsson a couple more times, they've just opened and this is my first meal, but the potential is there. On their second day, they're cooking some of the best food I've had all year, comparing well to and better than Michelin starred, acclaimed restaurants in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens et al.