Very Northern Cuisine in the Very Low, Very East Side.
So, it was that time of year again! The time of year for the Tabelog US’s NYC Restaurant Awards Panel dinner. What a happy little group this has become. It was great too see all of the same faces again, and some new ones as well. Last time, it was at a phenomenal Japanese restaurant in the Lower East Side complete with sake tasting. This year, it was at Skál, where Toronto Chef Ben Spiegel–originally of the Noma, Copenhagen variety. As in, the best restaurant in the world, actually–is bringing you the cuisine of Iceland.
Allow me to just stop that sentence right there for a minute. Cuisine from Iceland. If I, Corinne Cuozzo, am well-versed in any two things: it’s food and the world map. Somehow, I’ve never had food from Iceland, nor did I know what to expect. Instantly, I was so intrigued that I found myself feverishly searching the menu and the internet for some insight on what was to come. This was strange, because I’m a staunch believer in the ‘no plan plan,’ in seeing what comes your way and rolling with the punches. One for surprise, and for spontaneity. But alas, I really had no idea what Icelandic cuisine was, and so I suppose I was just a little bit curious, so just… had to check.
There is some serious pickling going on there. A lot of charring and smoking, and a fair amount of land and sea combinations. I figured, ‘how exciting could this food be?’ The north is known for many things, but flavorful and varietal cuisine is not really one of them, at least not compared to brighter places along the Mediterranean, or any number of warm-weather countries.
So let’s back it up, from the second you walk in. How warm, yet refreshingly cool it was in there. Like a very clean, very modern cottage, with pale blue walls, flowers, colorful cocktails infused with berries and basil, delicate decor and…. one big, black stuffed raven that I had to take pictures of in equal quantities to the food itself, because as any devoted Game of Thrones fan would have it, how could you notice anything else in there?
Really, what a great place to take a date, to brunch or catch up with a friend, or even meet your parents on a Sunday afternoon. I sat down at the bar, had a few cocktails, caught up with some fellow foodies, and then decided it was time to pick Mr. Spiegel’s brain a bit, as to what exactly was happening here at Skál. As he explained, a lot of the food was based around the fact that there are only 4 months of the year in which food can be harvested properly. That being said, a ton of food is pickled, which was the reason for the beautifully pickled vegetable salad. Another favorite dish was the smoked carrots that tasted like you were chewing a marshmallow and a campfire and a carrot all at once. They were sticky as hell, but so so good. The reason for the blend of land and sea, which I found totally awesome and yet very unconventional, was that it is common to utilize seafood as a means of seasoning land food, given that herbs and spices can be sparse. Oysters with dill were a fresh option, but there was also the raw beef seasoned with clams, and the duck wings seasoned with squid ink. I would have loved to catch a photo of them but they were literally just black, and thusly too hard to capture.
It was a great event, and was so nice to see the always beautiful Sachiko and extra awesome Kenta Hirai. And the restaurant was so incredible, I will certainly go back! I recommend this restaurant whole-heartedly to everyone, the management and staff there were great, food and drink lovely, atmosphere just delightful, and Chef Ben Spiegel really takes it to the next level, while keeping things so comforting and simple. It’s a fine balance that they strike, and I think the restaurant will really flourish. And, I’m totally a fan of Icelandic cuisine now. PS – Icelandic doughnuts in milk foam with chocolate flakes… that is all…
Where: 37 Canal Street, Lower East Side. Just look for the crazy man yelling not to get too close because he’s been spitting professionally for 45 years. Canal Street…