One of New York City’s most esteemed Scandinavian restaurants has reopened after a redesign that debuts a more casual bar area with its own menu.
Aquavit, at 65 East 55th Street, between Park and Madison avenues, now has a 40-seat bar and lounge area with a menu that includes more than just snacks. There’s a fried cod sandwich with fries, pork schnitzel, and a New York strip, in addition to smaller items such as pretzel sticks with beer cheese and crab fritters with Espelette pepper mayonnaise. The food has an even deeper focus on sustainability and local now, with things like new in-state purveyors and freshly milled flour for bread.
It’s the work of chef Emma Bengtsson, who has taken the 32-year-old restaurant to two Michelin stars and three stars in Eater and the Times. Bengtsson says the revamp was a way to “push the restaurant forward into a new generation.”
“You come to that point sooner or later where you want to not really catch up, but polish off that shine a little bit extra and push the restaurant forward into a new generation,” she says. “We see a lot of change happening in the restaurant industry. People are looking for not always specifically that one-time moment. Now we have the possibility to have the fine dining restaurant in the front still, but also be able to cater to the everyday life.”
The new bar area has gold sheen wallpaper and an oak ceiling fixture, while the main dining room has 52 seats with honey-colored Danish wood floors, dark blue half-moon banquettes, and glass doors allowing a view into the kitchen. Bengtsson also got to design an all-new kitchen, calling it “a dream come true.”
The main dining room will reopen in a few weeks with new prix fixe menus once the bar settles in a bit, but for now Bengtsson’s food will be alongside new cocktails from beverage director Chris Clark, such as one with gin, egg, lemon, and lingonberry. Bengtsson is also particularly excited for desserts like a cinnamon bread pudding. The full menu is below.
Aquavit has been an NYC dining fixture since 1987. It’s not the first time owner Hakan Swahn has switched things up, previously moving the main dining room to the front space.
Aquavit’s bar area reopens Wednesday and will be open Monday through Friday from 11:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Monday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.