Pete Wells pays a visit to the 27-year-old upper crust Scandinavian food temple Aquavit and falls hard for Emma Bengtsson's cooking. Bengtsson, who replaced Marcus Jernmark as the executive chef last spring (she was formerly the restaurant's pastry chef), "is cooking modern Scandinavian cuisine as delicious as any I've ever had in this restaurant," says Wells. "Her ideas are fresh without aping fashionable Nordic tropes...She is her own chef." Case-in-point:
Almost every dish is denoted by a pair of ingredients, but there is always more to the story. For "scallop and radish," slices of raw scallops are given extra depth by white soy and fish sauce, and shaved breakfast radishes are tucked around them. Unannounced, but pivotal, is a brightly flavored froth of ramps. This green fluff has been sprinkled with puffed buckwheat kernels, whose slightly earthy crunch completes the picture.
The critic's major complaint is with the setup of the restaurant. "Aquavit still seems to be struggling to find the right tone in its dining room, which still isn't as comfortable as it could be," he says. "My preliminary diagnosis is Michelinitis, an excessive stiffness caused by a desire to get or keep Michelin stars. Aquavit has two now, and I worry that if it ever gets to three, the servers will have been replaced with wax figures." Still, that doesn't impact Wells' ranking too much. He gives the restaurant three stars, just as Ryan Sutton did last fall. That's one up from from Sam Sifton's 2010 review.