Tuesday, January 10, 2017

aska, NYC

Aska, NYC, 1/6/2017 (19-Course, $215 excl. taxes)

Aska is located in a restored warehouse building at the edge of Williamsburg Bridge. Chef Fredrik Berselius had it decorated with themed black color outside and inside along with old-aged looking bricks like what you will see in Copenhagen and Stockholm. Inside of dining room, it gives a stark, poetic aesthetic Scandinavian (Nordic) flavor. Staffs serving customers all wear black and kitchen staffs all wear white. The open kitchen at the corner of dining room was pretty efficiently run.

It offered one set of tasting menu of 19 courses.

1. Bladderwrack

Bladderwrack seaweed is often used as padding for mussels and lobsters during the shipping process. In this dish, bladderwrack seaweed was cleaned and fried into crispy condition. There were many beige colored dots on top of twisted bladderwrack seaweed. These dots were made of emulsion of blue mussel’s juice, grinded mussel meat, and white vinegar. Then, all ingredients were processed like making mayonnaise. The taste of shellfish emulsion balanced with Bladderwrack seaweed’s strong flavor (stronger than kelp which is often used in sushi). The whole dish was presented on rocks to demonstrate the theme of seaweeds, rocks and ocean.

2. Langoustine – cooked in aromatic herbs, nasturtium, sauce made from the head

Cured Scottish Langoustine (with salt and sugar) tail was wrapped in different types of chamomiles twigs, spruce twigs and juniper twigs to enhance flavor. Sauce was flavored by langoustine shell broth seasoned with pickled chamomiles. A few years ago, I also had raw langoustine once at Frantzen & Lindeberg in Stockholm. Chef Frantzen told me he preferred langoustine from oceans by Ireland or Scotland because shellfish from the frigid cold water always have better quality. I could taste the langoustine tail was ultra fresh and full of flavor. There was one drop of chamomiles jell, juniper berry and Nasturtium leaves on the side for extra kick of flavor and decoration. This is a very Nordic style dish, good taste, a lot of natural and fresh ingredients, but nothing spicy. This was my 3rd favorite in this meal.

3. Pommes Soufflé – roe from langoustine smoked in dried carrot tops

A mini potato soufflé covered with smoked langoustine roe, then topped with emulsion made of spruce smoked oil and shell juice. At the tip, there were two tiny green leaves from the carrot stem top. It looked like Chef Berselius made full utilization of the langoustine by creating two langoustine related dishes.

4. Oyster – Glidden Point, ME – green gooseberry, juniper and sedum

Chef Berselius likes the texture and quality of Glidden Point oysters from Damariscotta River in Maine. Each oyster was cut into half-piece. People have been feasting on oysters from the Damariscotta River for thousands of years, and at Glidden Point, there are the ancient shell middens to prove. Both shell and meat of Glidden Point oysters have a density that comes only from slow growth in the frigid cold water. They are perhaps the deepest and coldest-grown oyster in the East Cost of US. They are four years old when they reach market size, unusually rich, springy, crispy and sweet. Sauce is made by blending juniper branches flavored oil (soaked in oil for at least 6 months) with green gooseberry juice. Oysters were topped by winter greens for decoration. Glidden Point oysters definitely are one of the best oysters that I have ever had. Their taste was so fresh, springy and succulent. This was my most favorite dish in this meal.

5. Milk Skin – sourdough, smoked hake, sorrel and toasted milk skin

At the bottom, there was a piece of fried sourdough bread which was topped with a piece of smoke hake and a fresh piece of sorrel. At the very top, it was milk skin made of caramelized milk, dehydrated, broken into pieces and torched to have the brownish looking. It took hours to make milk skin according to the server. It also requires a lot of attention, otherwise it got burned. Smoked hake was cold-smoked. Since Chef Berselius is a Swedish, as all Nordic people know that cold-smoked food yield more pleasant and intense smoked-flavor.

6. Caviar – grilled onion, sustainable Finnish caviar from Carlian, lemon verbena

Small onions were grilled on charcoal. The outer layers were peeled off; the inner layers were displayed in the bowl. The inner layers were in white color, but had smoked flavor because of the grilling process. On top of each onion piece, there was a small tip of lemon verbena and a ram seed. Sauce (in brown color) was made of lemon verbena, outer layers of charcoaled onion. Caviar was from Siberian sturgeon raised in Carlian, Finland. Ever since Caspian Sea got polluted because of oil production, Russian border has become the primary location for caviar farm. At the left-front corner, there was a small scoop of cultured cream shaped almost like the onion piece. This brand of caviar is with medium saltiness, fresh but not very fishy.

7. Lamb Heart – cured lamb heart burned in bedstraw and pickled sunchoke

Lamb heart was roasted and burned with alfalfa hey. The roasted lamb heart was then pulsed to powder-condition. It looked like black powder, but it did not taste with any burned-flavor. Underneath the roasted lamb heart, there were some diced picked sun choke. Under the pickled sun choke, there was a layer of sun choke purée. Under the sun choke purée, there was one small piece of lamb fat. The roasted and burnt lamb heart actually did not taste like lamb at all. The overall effect was more like lightly cured ham with pickled sunchoke..

8. Scallop – elderberry and elderflower

Scallop was half-raw, but very tender and crispy. It was served with scallop roe (not very common). It was flanked by elderberry twig on the left and yarrow flower piece on the right. Sauce was made of half ripe elderberry with scallop sauce.

9. Blood Pancake – blood pancake, rose and rosehip

Pancake was made of rye flour, pig blood, honey, sugar, egg yolk and butter. It was served with rose hip jam, picked roses peddles with vinegar. Since rye flour dominated the taste, you can’t taste the flavor of pig blood. I assumed it was used because of the coloring effect and the texture.

10. King Crab – roasted king crab and potato burnt in leaves

Mini size potatoes were burned first to give them the dark color before broiled with leaves covered. King crab meat was shelled and displayed on the plate with pickled marigold flowers. In addition, a tiny smoked quail egg was poked in smoked oil. Sauce was made of king crab shell, maple leaves, and powder of burned cucumber. Up to this point, Chef has used a few burnt ingredients in some of the dishes; it was a pleasant experience to me.

11. Kohlrabi – compressed with linden leaf oil and linden flower vinegar, salad burnet

Kohlrabi is a root vegetable; its texture is somewhat in between raw potato and raw daikon. Its color is more close to daikon, although a bit paler than bright white. It was marinated in linden vinaigrette with emulsion of linden flowers and linden leaves. It was quite tasty and refreshing. I like the Nordic way of displaying it in an ice-filled bowl and topped with green salad burnet. 

12. Skate – cured skate wing, celery root purée with its leaves and roasted celery root

Skate wing was marinated with salt and sugar then poached in low heat. Sauce was made with skate bones and vinegar and dill. In the far middle part of the part, it was roasted celery root. On the left, it was celery root purée (in green color) with its leaves, topped with sorrel and dill tips. On the right, it was cured tender skate wing topped with sorrel and dill. Chef Berselius has always focused on bringing the “nature” into his cooking. He has had regular suppliers down on the block or farms in upstate to supply fresh produce to aska.  The nature of fresh and quality produces do indeed reflected in the dishes served.

13. Lichen – chanterelle, cream that has been heavily reduced and caramelized in the pan, preserved pine shoots, broth from mushroom seasoned with chanterelle vinegar

Lichen’s another name is reindeer moss, in green color. Cleaning moss is a practice of patience. Chefs have to use a tweezers to pull out debris in moss. Then, these cleaned mosses were rinsed 4 times before they were blanched for 6 minutes. Once they were dried, they will be fried at 350 degree for 30 seconds before being served in the plate. The whole process is labor intensive and time consuming. In these dish, there are varieties of mushroom, all from the Catskill region. Fresh yellow foot mushroom were pickled before being served. In addition, there were chopped mushroom, preserved and fermented young pine shoot (tiny green tip on top of moss), and pickled onion blossom caper. Cream was cooked for 4 ½ hours, with texture similar to dulce de leche before being blended in sauce. Sauce was made from stew mushroom broth reduced and then seasoned with spruce flavored vinegar. This is a very sophisticated and complicate dish to prepare. It is also my 2nd favorite dish in this meal.

14. Squid Tart – tart made with seaweed, charred squid and a purée made from dulse

Shell was made with flour, butter, egg and grinded kelp (also on the background of the 1st dish). Filling was made of squid purée, charcoaled and marinated squid, fresh horse radish (with a pungent flavor), dulse seaweed and dry corn flowers. It was a dish with heavy accent of seaweed taste. The unsung hero is the fresh horse radish which helped to provide a fine balance.

15. Rutabaga – roe from winter flounder. Sauce made from unfiltered rapeseed oil and marigold flower 

Rutabaga is a root vegetable. Chef Berselius liked winter flounder and its roe more then what in summer season. Flounder roe was salted, then with emulsion of unfiltered rapeseed oil and pickled marigold flowers pedals. The unfiltered rapeseed oil is much tastier than processed rapeseed oil. This unfiltered rapeseed oil is extracted by manually pressed rapeseed into oil.

16. Beef – 120 day dry aged rib eye, preserved black currant and salted plum from last year, cured beef fat

This 120 day dry aged rib eye was very tasty, better than some of the steakhouse’s steak. Both steak and fat cat (fat around the steak) were cured and roasted. A few tiny transparent cubes were the cured and roasted fat cat. Both black currant and plum were preserved for close to a year. In addition, garlic mustard and foraged mustard green were on the side. Sauce was made from black current. Cured fat similar to bacon fat is tastier than plain fat. 

17. Blueberry – fermented blueberries, milk sorbet and spruce

It was sorbet made from unpasteurized milk, topped with fermented blueberries and young yarrow leaves, and dried pink header blossom. It was served in spruce syrup. This was not the 1st time that I had unpasteurized dairy products, but I still felt it took time to like the unpasteurized product. Spruce flavored sauce had a strong green flavor.

18. Birchwood – ice cream made from birch wood with pine mushrooms and woodruff

It was real ice cream made from birchwood flavored milk. Birchwood was steeped in hot milk, and infused with maple syrup. The process of steeping could take quite some time in order to get enough flavors. Three types of dried and candied mushroom (black trumpet, pine and hedgehog or sweet tooth) were used as topping. Hedgehog mushrooms are close relatives of the chanterelle and their flavor, smell and aroma is strikingly similar, but thicker and larger in size. Hedgehog mushroom, in whitish to light brown tooth-like structures, usually are found near birchwood or beechwood between August and November. They have a crunchy but not chewy texture. In addition to these three types of dried mushrooms, there were broken pieces of white meringues made from pine mushrooms. I barely remembered the 1st time that I had mushroom for desert at Chateaubriand in Paris. This mushroom ice cream in aska is better than candied mushroom that I had in Chateaubriand. But, it is an acquired taste to like mushroom as a desert.

19. Mignardise – blood, rosehip and lavender – caramelized white chocolate, kronan Swedish Punch, sourdough malt powder

These two candy balls were sitting among many beautiful autumn types of foliage. Think of them as a white chocolate and a dark chocolate. They both taste less sweet than the conventional chocolate and both have a bit of salty taste.

Aska means “ashes” in Swedish. At Aska, chef Berslius bridges the Nordic culinary traditions of his upbringing in Scandinavia with the immediate environ in Brooklyn. With an emphasis on local and foraged ingredients from nature, he offered sophisticated dishes with a touch of whimsy. There is another wonderful Michelin 2-Star restaurant serving Nordic cuisine in Tribeca name “Atera”. Although both serve Nordic cuisine and practice molecular gastronomy, Chef Emborg of Atera has emphasized a bit more of visual appeal while chef Berselius of Aska has emphasized more of bringing as much nature sophisticatedly into the plate.

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