When a plate of lichen becomes one of the top dishes that you’ve had all year, something you devour rather than flick off, you know that the chef who came up with that idea is doing something exceptional. New Nordic cuisine, with all of its foraged pine needles and flowers, is easy to admire from a distance but up close it might be a different story. Not so with Chef Fredrik Berselius’ take at his newly reopened restaurant Aska, which offers one of the most accessible interpretations I’ve come across. The lichen tasted like real food, resting on top of a luscious slab of heavy, caramelized cream with a savory flavor that was almost uni-like, something that a fat cat would lap up greedily. We’re talking about a fungal algae that brings as much pleasure as does a decadent piece of sushi. To pull that off is very impressive.
When I first walked into Aska, I was afraid that this might be one of those extremely serious minded New Nordic restaurants where the food would be more cerebral than delicious. The dining room was stark black, and I felt like I was on a set of some moody film noir movie like Drive, so at the start of dinner I was a little on edge. But unlike the decor, the staff is surprisingly warm. Upon arrival, our hostess gave us a tour of the outdoor garden and the downstairs bar, sharing a part of the restaurant that was more casual and approachable, before seating us with two glasses of rose champagne. Throughout the meal, various servers would genuinely ask us whether we were having a good time and which dishes were our favorites. Even Berselius stopped by and engaged in some small talk. The staff is with you, not against you, at Aska.
You can choose between the $215 19 course and the $145 10 course tasting options, prices that are all inclusive and must be paid when you make the reservation online. Whichever one you go with, you can be assured that your dinner will be a 2 hour adventure through the briney ocean and the wild forest. One of the highlights will be the blood sausage pancake, which sounds painful but ends up being one of the most delicious things in the tasting. Blood is an ingredient that Berselius likes to play up, like with the 120 day dry aged beef, which comes with a sauce that visually looks like blood splattered on a plate, and a chocolate truffle at the end that actually has blood as one of the ingredients. I personally am fine with blood being an underutilized ingredient in food, but if it’s being used at Aska, I will eat it without question.
Be sure to pay attention to the way creams are being used at Aska. We are so used to cream being this white fluffy Cool Whip thing, but here it comes in many different forms. Thick and reduced like a dulce de leche in the lichen dish, gelato-like in the strawberry sorbet dessert, and icy as the granita in the blueberry course. We expect innovations with new, exotic ingredients, but as Aska shows us, they are to be had with everyday ingredients as well.
Normally, a dinner at this price point and pace would be reserved for special occasions and it would be hard to make this a repeat any time soon. Fortunately, with the more casual garden and bar options available, Aska affords you many more opportunities to dine there beyond the birthday or the anniversary. So when Berselius asked if we might be back, we answered truthfully that we would.