Aska | Brooklyn, NY | Dec ’13 | “Nordic stateside”

12 Dec
  • Address: 90 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249
  • Phone: (718) 388-2969
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $140
  • Courses: (10 main/17 total) 4 amuse / 1 bread / 7 savory / 1 snack / 3 dessert / 1 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $14
  • Rating: 16/20
  • Value: 4/5
  • Dining Time: 195 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 11.5 minutes
  • Chef: Fredrik Berselius
  • Style: New Nordic
  • Michelin Stars: 1
  • Notable: Aska 1.0 has closed. At the time of writing (14th March 2014) it will be looking for a bigger space.
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I had never tried New Nordic Food before I set foot in Aska.

The style of cooking is most closely associated with FoodCamp’s host chef, René Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen. It is sometimes called “new Nordic,” although he and some other chefs from the region prefer the broader label “authentic cuisine.” It is earthy and refined, ancient and modern, both playful and deeply serious. Instead of the new (techniques, stabilizers, ingredients), it emphasizes the old (drying, smoking, pickling, curing, smoking) with a larger goal of returning balance to the earth itself.

Using rutabagas and whey; pine and juniper; and shells, hay, and twigs as its kitchen tools, it seeks to turn the culinary dial back toward the natural world. “The huge wave of technical cooking has passed,” said Rosio Sanchez, a pastry chef at Noma, who grew up in Chicago and has worked in some of America’s most technologically advanced kitchens, like Alinea and WD-50. “I came here because I wanted to get more into the product.”

[…]

The movement can be traced to 2004, when a dozen prominent chefs from around the region signed a Kitchen Manifesto agreeing to rededicate themselves to “purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics” in cooking.

– NYTimes

New Nordic is the rage, and it has come stateside. Aska is located in a grungy industrial sector of Williamsburg, part of Kinfolk Studios, which is a bike shop, a daytime cafe, a late night bar complete with DJs, and a creative agency. Previously, it functioned as a pop-up called Frej.
Mr. Berselius, who last year ran a kind of beta version of Aska called Frej in this same space, knows the latest kitchen technology from his time at Corton and Seäsonal. At Aska, he mostly confines himself to older methods. He cooks cream for hours until it is as thick as toothpaste and the color of butterscotch, then stirs in sour milk. It tastes like dulce de leche without the sugar and makes a dizzyingly rich sauce for pork belly or a tender strip of short rib. – Pete Wells
I was excited to try something fundamentally new. Cutting-edge food is a vocabulary unto itself, and Aska would teach me a few words, to follow a new tune.
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The vibe of the place was young, with dried foliage bringing a memento mori of winter outside, indoors. Hunched yuppies bent over their candlelit tables. No one was wearing a suit, which meant that people here were dining for pleasure.
The plating was be austere. A parade of snacks was be solemnly highlighted on wood of similar grain and color to my table. Most of the mains were one or two bites, tops. The food was more meditative than purely delicious, though the sunchoke dish and pigs’ blood croquette were very delicious. Some dishes whispered “education”, such as vinegar marinated skate-wing, my first main, and oatmeal in a sweet onion broth. The line between education and pretension is fine. Take the oatmeal dish, for example. I could have made a similar sweet onion broth with oatmeal myself – the key there was the imagination of the chef, pairing the two ingredients together in a not immediately delicious way, as if to say that “these are the pairings of New Nordic food, take it or leave it”. Does one acquire a taste for such things? With many novel dishes, I found some favorites (a milk sorbet with spruce sauce) and some that left me cold – which is natural.
Aska seems to be a paradox if we think of New Nordic Food as a involving Nordic ingredients only. What are Rhode Island squid and oyster doing on the menu? But New Nordic Food isn’t just about these things:


To focus only on the ingredients of that region, chefs say, is missing the point.Ryan Miller, the chef at Momofuku Ssam Bar in the East Village, who worked in the Nordic region last year, explained. “It’s not like I learned about some new Danish cheese and came back and put it on my menu,” he said. “I learned to respect organization and education and making food in the most natural way possible.”The movement can be traced to 2004, when a dozen prominent chefs from around the region signed a Kitchen Manifesto agreeing to rededicate themselves to “purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics” in cooking. – NYTimes.

(Claus Meyer of noma also has a ten-point manifesto for New Nordic food.)



The question to me, is what really separates Aska from Blue Hill at Stone Barns, say? Blue Hill is pure, fresh, simple, and highly ethical in creating its food. No, the difference really seems to be:

  1. Austere Plating (A. as much wood as possible, the deader the better. B. make sure the food takes up less than 20% of the plate)
  2. Vinegar
  3. Anything to do with Pines, because winter.
  4. Survivalist Whole Ingredient Philosophy – take the squid’s ink and make a sauce, use burnt leaves for a consomme. (“Get your piping hot tripe!“)



That Nordic austereness is what really comes through with the food at Aska. I’ve been thinking that how food is plated is a major part of a restaurant’s philosophy. Chinese restaurants pile on the food, to simulate plenty and banquet feasts. Japanese sushi is served simply and without ornament at a sushi bar, to highlight the single-minded focus on fish. French restaurants ornament their plate to simulate sophistication. And Nordic food seems to be plated austerely to simulate Immanuel Kant.


A first impression, anyway. 

Rating: 16/20 (BTW, service was great)
Memory: Brown Butter Flatbread, Sunchoke 5 ways, Pigs Blood Croquette, Milk sorbet with spruce sauce.
Book: Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s I am Zlatan.
____________
Weekend Tasting Menu
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SNACKS
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Scallop Chip
“Unmistakably seafood, like a prawn cracker. Delicious”
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Crispy Kale, Chamomile Emulsion
“Nice fatty middle, kale chip sandwich”
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Dehydrated Roast Beet with Beet Vinegar
Everything with the hand. A sweet delicious candy; I think dehydrated beets are the best expression of beets. One of my favorite dishes from birch in Providence is this dehydrated-rehydrated beet dish.
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Molasses Shortbread & Smoked Cheese.
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Brown Butter Flatbread
Fennel Loaf
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Salted Whipped Butter
Snacks Verdict: I loved the flatbread (5/5) easily, and the sweet beet especially.
____________
MAINS
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Cauliflower
vinegar, skate
(3.75/5)
A jolting start to the meal. Skate wing was cooked in dill pickle vinegar, and covered with cauliflower puree and crumble. The skate has a sweet taste, and unfolded like preserved sweet noodles. Not a taste memory I was very familiar with.
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Inners
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Sunchoke
hedgehog mushroom
(5/5)
The 2nd dish turned out brilliant. This is the best sunchoke dish I have yet tasted. It may be dubbed “sunchoke 5 ways”.
  1. Strips of roasted sunchoke skin
  2. Discs of fermented sunchoke
  3. Rehydrated sunchoke chunks
  4. Fermented sunchoke jus, calrified and cooked with elderflower and butter
  5. Sunchoke puree.

Coaxing a bewildering amount of different flavours and textures from one ingredient. Bravo, absolute mastery of the sunchoke. The only barbarians on the plate were the little hedgehog mushrooms.

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Squid
elderberry, herbs
(4.5/5)
The capers actually turned out to be capered (vinegared?) underripe elderberries. The squid was Rhode Island squid, the upper half cut (not fried), and lower tentacles fried. Sauce made of butter emulsified with squid stock and squid ink. Very good buttered/fried calamari.
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Lamb
cabbage
(3.25/5)
“Burnt leaf consomme. With charred cabbage. ugh.”
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Herring
quail egg, cream
(3.5/5)
Pickled herring, soft boiled quails egg, sour cream. Alien to my tastes
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Oyster
broccoli
(4.5/5)
Verdant taste of shaved fennel and broccoli, with Pt Judith RI Oyster. Blue mussel stock with broccoli oil. Oyster surprisingly sweet, without any trace of salt
Like tasting a fruit at the bottom of a clean river bed.
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Pig’s Blood Croquette
(5/5)
A sweet, chocolatey flavour. atera also brought out the chocolatey flavours of pigs blood. It’s a thing. A sprinkling of sea salt.
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Oats
onion, rapeseed
(4/5)
Pickled pearl onions cupping rape seed oil, set upon steel cut oats cooked with sweet onion soup.
Oatmeal for dinner is a first. Assertive sweetness.
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Beef
nasturtium
(4.25/5)
100 day beef. A basement level of funk. Bound by a sticky funky beef jus.
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Potato
(4.5/5)
Very creative. Baked potato, with sorbet of potato skin. Brown butter caramel.
A tribute to traditional baked potato, transported to the dessert section.
Pity the potato skin sorbet didn’t remain standing on the potato!
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Apple
cardamom
(3/5)
A “hot” apple broth was lukewarm, and had a spicy eggnog taste. A clean tasting, but weak and puzzling dish.
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Milk
blueberry, spruce
(5/5)
Favorite dessert. A menthol broth from spruce sauce. With a milk sorbet and blueberry compote, garnished with fresh yarrow.
Tasted like wintertime. A delicate herbal broth
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Last Bite: Chocolate Arrack Cookie
“Arrack = a Swedish liquor”
____________
Good write-ups:

2 Responses to “Aska | Brooklyn, NY | Dec ’13 | “Nordic stateside””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Blue Hill at Stone Barns | Pocantico Hills, NY | Dec ’13 | “a farm-to-table pilgrimage; 4 hour extraganza” | Kenneth Tiong eats - December 13, 2013

    […] artistry. birch, in Providence, is a great example of building on local food roots in Rhode Island. Aska seems to do the same in the Northeast. They are relentlessly local in a way a restaurant like per […]

  2. The 20 Best Dishes of 2013 | Kenneth Tiong eats - January 1, 2014

    […] 17. Sunchoke – Aska, New York City […]

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