Ever since I read the first post about Aquavit's closing late Monday night, I have wanted to chime in, but I was not sure exactly what to say. I loved Aquavit. And while this may be a little overly dramatic, I feel like I have lost a friend.
Why did I love Aquavit? To me Aquavit was more than just a restaurant. I thought of it as a museum of contemporary food and design. When you had a meal at Aquavit, it made you think. Aquavit took challenges. They were well-thought out challenges, and while they did not always succeed, they did a lot right. When Aquavit was on, it was truly world class. I was dazzled at the best meals at Aquavit, unlike at any other restaurant in the city. On off nights it was merely good, but they always swung for the fences.
I truly believe that Marcus Samuelsson is a genius. I once took a cooking class from him at Cooks of Crocus Hill. Aside from being very articulate, he had an amazing knowledge about food. He knew what combinations should and should not be put together and the science behind why. His understanding of the science, coupled with his artistry created some pure magic. From the tandoori smoked salmon to the horseradish aquavit to the chocolate ganache with curried foam and Szechuan peppercorn ice cream, they created some amazing taste sensations.
Since it is now "Monday morning" for Aquavit, I will join the other Monday morning quarterbacks on the site and give my reasons for why I think Aquavit did not make it. Above all else, I think it might have been too challenging for a lot of Minnesota diners. When people go out to dinner and spend $25-30 per entree, I think they like to know what they are going to expect and they want consistency. I thought Aquavit was great because you did not know what you were going to get each night, but there was a chance you might see pure greatness. In Minnesota, too many people would rather take their gambles at a casino and with big dinner purchases they would rather put their money on a "safe bet" like Manny's or one of the chain steakhouses like Capital Grille.
Also, in a state where "that's different" is considered a polite way of saying something sucks, being different hurt Aquavit. Nouvelle Scandanavian was a novelty. I always felt lucky that not only did we have one of the top 50 restaurants in the country (according to several magazines) but that it was also something very unique that you could not find in every city. On top of that, what better place to have a cutting edge Scandanavian restaurant than in Minneapolis. However, I am not sure how well "different" plays here. If you scan down the list of top restaurants in the Twin Cities, most are either American, Italian, or French. Ten years after the nouvelle Asian food boom began, and we still do not have a really good nouvelle Asian restaurant.
With the closing of Aquavit, the Minneapolis restaurant scene has taken a further tumble. There was an excellent series of articles a few weeks ago about the restaurant scene in the Star Tribune that rated the Twin Cities as a 2-star restaurant city. I would argue that without Aquavit we are now maybe a 1 3/4-star city. And I really do not believe that the wave of second generation Chino Latinos (Babalu, Solera, Tiburon, Fhima's, Mojito - all places that add some diversity to the dining scene, but seem more like show/scence than substance) are really going to make up for the loss of Aquavit.
My wife, several friends, and I all said we at least wished we had known the closing was coming so that we could have had one last meal to savor it. Unfortunately, we did not get that chance. I guess I will have to wait for a future trip to New York City to savor the excellence of Aquavit again.