Chef Gabriel Hedlund, an alum of Danish fine dining powerhouses like Noma and Kokkeriet, wants his new East Village restaurant N’eat to be a casual neighborhood spot — a departure from the upscale experiences of most new Nordic dining establishments in New York City. The restaurant opening Thursday at 58 Second Ave., near 3rd Street, is co-owned with restaurateur Mathias Kaer, who owns several restaurants in Copenhagen. When Kaer asked Hedlund to come to New York, he knew he wanted Hedlund to ditch the vibe of fine dining restaurants.
"The market is so much more competitive [here than in Scandinavia]," says Kaer. "When we looked at what everyone else is doing, everyone is doing fine dining. For people to experience another side of new Nordic cuisine, it’s interesting."
This year, fellow big name Nordic chefs Claus Meyer and Fredrik Berselius have both opened new restaurants, Agern and Aska, and both skew toward the higher end of dining. Meyer also opened a huge Nordic food hall at Grand Central, and the two chefs have an all-day Nordic cafe in the works as part of a project with car company BMW Mini. But the food hall’s a food hall and not a full-service restaurant, and the cafe’s not yet open.
Hedlund and Kaer wanted to open N’eat — which is short for "Nordic eatery" — as a way to bring the seasonal, ingredient-driven stylings of new Nordic cuisine in a more low-key atmosphere. The menu will only be a la carte. Dinner menu will have just 15 dishes, each of which will cost no more than $16. They won’t be full entree-sized, but they won’t be super small either. People should expect to order between three and five of them, depending on how hungry they are. "It doesn’t have to be an event to come here," Hedlund says. "It’s more of a ‘come down, get a couple dishes, have some good wine’ place, instead of making it into a big deal."
The core philosophy of new Nordic — local ingredients, lots of fish, light and acidic food — will be present at N’eat, Hedlund says. He’s already experimenting with East Coast fish, oysters, and scallops for menu items. On the dinner menu, five items will be vegetarian, five will feature meat, and five will be seafood-based, including a Nordic ramen that looks Japanese but uses cut squid. Desserts will be using ingredients not typically found in dessert, like one using Icelandic Skyr yogurt, cucumber, and dill.
Still, while the food matters, the idea that people can stop in on any day matters more, the owners say. "We just want a casual feeling, where we focus on the vibe more than anything else," Hedlund says. "We just want people to have a good time, and sharing great Nordic food and great wine." N'eat opens on Thursday for dinner.