Brilliant Aska Serves Oatmeal Marrow, Sea Snails: Review
When we sat down for a 7 p.m. dinner at Aska, the sommelier mentioned that a DJ would be coming on around 10:30. No problem, since there’s absolutely no way our meal would last that long, right?
Our check was dropped at 10:43, a few minutes after the DJ started spinning lively (and subdued) dance beats. It was a curious coda to a delicious and always surprising, if protracted, tour of modern Scandinavian fare.
Cost: $464 for two after wine pairings, tax and tip.
A tip of the hat to the bar for sending a prophylactic energy shot to ward off drowsiness. It wasn’t Red Bull, but a house-made caffeine-spiked elixir.
This is what happens when an ambitious prix-fixe restaurant shares space with Kinfolk Studios, a renowned Williamsburg nightlife haunt. It’s not the type of space where you’d expect to find monkfish and pheasant livers or a hit of anchovy juice crowned with dill foam.
The industrial facade has all the feel of a converted garage. Young diners who Instagram their food before eating it fill the 18-seat dining room in back, as well as the 12-seat counter and a few tables up front.
I spotted a well-regarded wine writer at the dimly-lit bar on two separate visits. No one wears suits, no one appears to be on a client dinner. Everyone seems focused on one thing: to eat, and eat well.
Aska isn’t for the ADD crowd. As one enamored of 20-course offerings at Brooklyn Fare and Blanca, I’ve found that the long waits here between courses can test patience.
The good news is that the superlative whelks reward your effort. The sea snails taste cleanly of the butter they’re roasted in, while a scattering of scallop chips amplify the ocean flavor. To cleanse the palate, add an icy shot of Aquavit.
Prices -- $65 for seven courses, or $115 for the 10-course weekend menu -- are reasonable for such oddball extravagance. Chef Fredrik Berselius, a veteran of fancy, fussy, DJ-bereft Corton and Per Se, deserves credit for bringing his culinary vision to the Brooklyn waterfront and a room that boasts a mural of an angry eagle swooping down upon a flock of fowl.
Contemplate the impending carnage while biting into a fried shrimp head paired with its raw body, a genius chaud-froid preparation uniting cool sweet flesh with warm, musky shell.
That single-bite dish begins most meals, as does a small malt cracker topped with smoked cheese and trout roe, a Nordic take on a bagel with a schmear and lox. Lucky diners might also encounter a meaty bite of brined, braised and crisped veal shank. The flesh is cut into a single strip so that it looks like a Durkee’s French fried onion.
A stripped-down operation, Berselius and the other cooks assume many of the serving duties themselves. The chef bends at the waist and spoons hay-cooked milk over fermented yellow carrots, pickled onions, yarrow, bronze fennel and too many more ingredients to list. Which is fine because it all tastes like a Michelin-starred version of a salad doused in Hidden Valley Ranch dressing.
Berselius knows vegetables taste better with fat, so he roasts a parsnip until it’s sweet and pulpy, then adds a mound of brown butter foam and more brown butter -- a savory banana split, topped with Seikyo Omachi Namazake, a clean, floral spring sake.
Any contemporary restaurant worth its salt these days is slapping bone marrow on something seemingly inappropriate. Aska gets the job done with oatmeal. The creamy grains are fortified with the meaty gelatins of beef marrow which is further amped up with egg yolk and salty shad roe. It is the best and richest cereal known to humankind.
Be prepared for powerful flavors. Pork blood pudding is served with sour sea buckthorn and fatback. Pheasant breast and thigh are innocent enough until you sample a few grams of the bird’s potent liver; sunchoke juice (tastes like apple juice) helps tame the game.
Sometimes Aska’s meat is outgunned and outnumbered by vegetables. Intense Mangalitsa swine belly is virtually a side dish to crushed beets, roasted beets and, for your eyebrow-raising wine pairing, fermented-beet juice.
House-aged rib-eye sports a clean minerality. Even better are the sticky, beefy pan juices. Sop up with caraway bread from a basket that remains on your table throughout the meal. That’s a nice touch since too many tasting-menu restaurants torture diners with bread as a separate course two hours in.
A normal dessert wouldn’t seem right, so Berselius obliges with a sugar-cured egg yolk coated in sugar. My reticence proves unwarranted. The savory sweet is totally delicious.
The Bloomberg Questions:
Price: $65 for weekday menu, $115 for weekend menu.
Sound Level: Tolerably bustling, 75 decibels.
Date Place: Bring conversation cards. Or Scrabble.
Inside Tip: A la carte Swedish meatballs at the bar.
Special Feature: After the yolk dessert? Plain ice cream.
Back on my own dime? For the shorter menu.
Aska is at 90 Wythe Ave., Brooklyn. Information: +1-718-388-2969 or http://askanyc.com.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor
Sound-Level (in decibels): 51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse. 56 to 60: Speak up. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: You’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Tumblr at www.thepricehike.com or www.thebaddeal.com.)
Muse highlights include Rich Jaroslovsky on tech and Patrick Cole on philanthropy.