Aquavit’s round ground meat is the balls.

Last week I promised coverage of Aquavit Café’s Swedish meatballs – despite being totally off-budget, I’d still like to ramble about them and the restaurant’s other offerings a bit.  Unlike Steak Frites, this restaurant is definitely WORTH breaking budget for, and, if you’re judicious about certain things, you may not even have to break it that badly – more on that at the end.

I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for meatballs of practically any non-frozen kind.  The most amazing I’ve ever had were made by an ex-girlfriend from her Sicilian grandmother’s home recipe – mini-baseballs of amazing flavor, cooked all day in homemade red sauce (calling it “gravy” doesn’t seem inappropriate here).  I’ll never get to have those again, though, and, until I get back to Sicily and invade some nonna’s kitchen, I satisfy my cravings by ordering meatballs in any restaurant I think makes them fresh.  My recent favorites were served at Philoxenia (shaped like a rugby ball) and Bellavitae (tiny and deep fried, though – hard to discern freshness).

During my youth, I must admit, I wasn’t so discerning – the frozen/unfrozen dichotomy bothered me significantly less.  Indeed, before last weekend, the last time I had eaten Swedish meatballs was from a Stouffer’s container, and it probably had egg noodles in the package, too.  (Before you ask – no, I haven’t had IKEA’s.)

On Saturday, at Aquavit Café, I had a chance to both atone for the sins of my childhood and indulge my latent meatball craving.  Pleasantly, I wasn’t just impressed by the meatballs – nearly everything we ate was on the same (excellent) level, and the very modern décor and service were also appealing.

But, natch, the meatballs were the priority, and I was not disappointed.  Befitting the restaurant’s lineage and its well-regarded chefs, Aquavit’s meatballs were beyond reproach.  Served with a thin beige gravy that bubbles as it emerges from the kitchen, the dense, irregular morsels are delicious and very filling.  Served with a side of mashed potatoes and a dollop of bittersweet, radiant lingonberries, the platter (like the restaurant) was as visually appealing as it was minimalist.

Of course, I would be remiss in not mentioning the other courses – the meatballs were available a la carte at $18, but, I was happy to find, also as part of the prix fixe.  For the first course, I ordered the herring sampler, which really isn’t a sampler as much as it is a huge platter of pickled herring – four piles consisting of about five slices each.  There’s a lot of fish here – don’t fill up on bread (they make it hard by refilling your bread plate every time you knock back a roll).

My roommate and I both thought the curried herring was useless, but I quite enjoyed the vodka lime preparation, with salmon roe and dill, as well as the ‘naked’ presentation with horseradish and pepper.  The included cheese (the website proclaims it to be called Västerbotten) and perfectly-cooked (and I do mean PERFECT) potato were a nice touch.

My roommate’s date enjoyed her tiny-shrimp salad on toast; ironically, like the herring sampler, it was a rather large appetizer.  The two seafood entrees (her cod and my girlfriend’s seafood stew) were also reported as excellent, though I only tasted the latter of the two (the salmon and scallops were particular standouts).

I almost forgot to mention the complimentary amuse-bouche: slices of bread smeared with goat cheese, accompanied by a thick mushroom puree (which bubbles, fondue-like, sitting on a candle).  No wonder I was so full by the time I ate half my meatballs.

I must also give special praise to the desserts – the deservedly legendary “Arctic Circle” in particular.  A rule of mine applies here: if an expensive restaurant serves something that sounds bizarre, always order it.  Bizarre items (like the Arctic Circle’s goat cheese component) must inevitably be above average or great simply to counteract our natural phobias against ordering them.  (My girlfriend says this isn’t the kind of theory that will help you pick up girls at parties, by the way – just warning you.)

Topping the goat cheese parfait was a blueberry sorbet, accompanied by a thin cookie wafer, with drizzle of blueberry sauce on the plate.  Nearly declaring it a home run upon first seeing it, my reaction to the dessert was amplified at finding what the Aquavit website calls “passion fruit curd” inside the snow-white parfait tower – depending on proportion, it could overpower the goat cheese and blueberry, but with careful manipulation, the three flavors together were totally sublime.

The chocolate and peanut butter tart-cake that was the other dessert option was also good – quite rich, helped along by the dollop of coconut ice cream (or was it sorbet?) alongside.

The restaurant week prix fixe at Aquavit Café is now scheduled to last through July, which should give you ample time to save up the cash and get a reservation.  If you’re concerned about the financial implications of spending that much bread on a meal, here are some suggestions:

  • Avoid alcohol.  Most of the wines were over ten bucks a glass, and the bottles were correspondingly higher.
  • Share a prix fixe.  I’m not sure how the restaurant feels about plate-sharing, but there was more than enough food to share between the herring, the meatballs, and the dessert.
  • Get parents to take you (it might be a little bit of a stretch, depending on your parents, but the $35 prix fixe would be tempting for many).
  • Become a dinner whore.

I’m just saying…


Filed under NYC

4 responses to “Aquavit’s round ground meat is the balls.

  1. That sounds great, thanks for the detailed review! Desserrrts! Mmm. What’s the dress code like?

  2. Funmel

    snack taverna has the best meatballs I’ve had in a long time!

  3. I just found out that Philoxenia closed, so these are (for now) my fave meatballs in the city.Robyn, the Cafe is “business casual.”

  4. Damn, I’m not entirely sure what that means. I guess I’ll have to wait until I get a real job…

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