By now, you’re probably aware of the popular Scandinavian concept of “hygge” or coziness. That’s the word I’d use to describe my experience at Aquavit, the two Michelin star Scandinavian restaurant in Midtown run by chef Emma Bengtsson. High end lunches at restaurants of this caliber tend to feel pretty formal and efficient–order the prix fixe, then get in and out in less than an hour for your next business meeting–but at Aquavit, our meal felt relaxed and pleasant. With peaceful jazz music playing in the background and tasteful throws placed on the backs of chairs, the main dining room at Aquavit feels like a refined lounge that calls on you to put your feet up and enjoy yourself for awhile.
As for the food, the menu offers elevated versions of familiar Scandinavian favorites like meatballs and gravlax. The presentation of these dishes is very beautiful, and initially you might think that all the rich, fatty edges have been completely buffed away, but Bengtsson manages to preserve the comforting, homey flavors in the food. The Swedish meatballs here, for instance, have a lot of heft to them, and your belly will definitely feel like a fancy bowl full of jelly after eating them. There’s also a nourishing warmth to the Scandinavian bouillabaisse, but the creamier base of a fennel and dill aioli broth was undercut by the tart acidity of the pickled tomatoes, adding more depth to the dish. Equally impressive were the seafood bits in the bouillabaisse. The shrimp were small but sweet and fresh, and the cod, which I believe were of Basque origin, blew me away.
The starters are actually a lot lighter than the entrees, probably done intentionally so that you won’t fill up too quickly before the main course. And that’s easy to do with the unlimited servings of danish rye and sourdough bread that gets passed around. The gravlax reminded me of a sashimi dressed up in a little dill and mustard, and the accents of apple and onion were a nice touch. Skagen, which I’ve never tried before, was described to us as a traditional seafood salad, and the style of Aquavit’s ensured that the flavors of the ocean would feature prominently, muted through the veil of a pleasant and fatty egg yolk dressing.
We completed our meal with a dessert simply titled apple, which featured the fruit in many different forms and textures. There were pieces of soft, deeply baked apple, crispy and sweet apple crisps and an apple rye cake. It especially shone bright when we paired it with a sparkling riesling from Germany. Once we completed our meal, we were the last ones in the restaurant, but no one rushed us out. Hygge is a state of being the Scandinavians take seriously, and thus the staff let us enjoy our cozy contentment for as long as we liked.
65 E 55th St (between Madison and Park Ave)
New York, NY 10022