Thursday, May 30, 2013


Squid, radishes, onions, and oyster sauce, Aska

Dinner at Aska was a treat, and an adventure, and a pleasure. We interacted with pretty much everyone on the clock there that night, not because we were shuttled about or poorly dealt with, but because this Brooklyn restaurant's MO dictates that someone different comes to the table each time to explain the dish being served, in chef's whites or not. And with eleven dishes, we met a lot of people.

Molasses shortbread with smoked cheese, Aska

Our meal began with three snacks, including melt-in-your-mouth molasses shortbread topped with smoked cheese. Slaves to sucrose like ourselves won't be sorry to start sweet, but others might wish things kicked off on a more savory note. Either way, it was just one bite before the dried scallop with dots of dill arrived. This was a perfect take on 'chip with dip.'

Dried scallop with dill, Aska

Pig's blood chip and sea buckthorn, Aska

The third snack was the infamous pig's blood cracker with sea-buckthorn jam. We had a nice little chat with one of the cooks about sea-buckthorn, which we had in Mongolia, but which grows near the sea in Scandinavia. Here, the dollop offers a little spark of acid, almost like the way the morning's first sip of orange juice preps you for the day. 

OK, OK . . . so we're burying the lede a bit. This snack has been called a "scabby" "gimmick" that "tastes like rust" by several critics. We have to admire any restaurant so willing to keep a dish that's been so reviled. You know what, though? We thought it tasted pretty good, like a high-protein crispbread.

Caraway rolls and crispy flatbread, Aska

Speaking of bread, the bread bowl included warm caraway rolls and a crispy flatbread, with a huge plop of fresh butter. We got seconds, and almost went in for thirds.

Pickled herring, egg yolk, and dill, Aska

Our first course was pickled herring with egg yolk, onion, and dill. The folks at Aska hand-pick most of their herbs and greens --- the amount of dill we ate at this meal speaks to the season, obviously, as well as the restaurant's Scandinavian inflection. The location might be Brooklyn, the greens' terroir upstate, but the meal's heart and soul came from way, way across the proverbial pond. The pickled herring served as a reminder, just in case you forgot Chef Fredrik Berselius's background. 

The second course was a study in the humble leek: burned leeks curled at the bottom of the bowl, while leek root was fried and curled. The broth a light vegetable, the butter browned. While good, the dish proved awkward to eat: there wasn't enough broth to really slurp, and the leek root came up in one big mass. If this meal were on Sesame Street and everyone broke into a chorus of "One of These Things," then this dish would be the correct answer. 

Leeks, leek roots, and brown butter, Aska

Sweetbreads with nettles and fiddlehead ferns, Aska

Behold the best sweetbreads we've ever had. Thanks to loosely coiled fiddlehead ferns and a creamy sauce made from nettles, bitterness offset this fatty, umami-esque morsel.

Thinking back on this meal (and, uh, looking at the photos), we remember a lot of green --- dill, leeks, fiddleheads, the above sauce made from nettles, the sauce below made from ramps. The green makes sense: as mentioned, Aska is big into foraging. Yet more than once during dinner we found ourselves talking about Halloween, burning leaves, various autumnal things. While our plates constantly and consistently evidenced the bounty of spring, the flavors sometimes cast us into another time. Take, for example, hay-smoked milk, the white blob in the photo below. We've never been tempted to call a cream sauce beautiful --- until now. 
Pike cheeks, ramp puree, garlic mustard, and hay-smoked milk, Aska

Underneath the garlic mustard fronds (again with the bitterness) were slightly salted pike cheeks. Our other fish course, shown in the very top photo, consisted of squid, radishes, and onions in an oyster sauce. Both fish dishes epitomized deftness and balance. Everything was utterly controlled. 

Pork neck, blood cream, beet, and spinach, Aska

It wasn't until our final savory course that we made the connection: tradition dictates iron for a couple's sixth wedding anniversary, and here we were, celebrating that very milestone, with pork neck in blood cream. Emily Post would have been proud. Depending on her proclivities, she may also have enjoyed the meat itself, a juicy slab, as well as the carmelized hunk of beet and delicate spinach leaves.

As for the blood cream, it was most decidedly blood cream, and the sauce's lightness couldn't mask its coppery aftertaste. Also, there's somewhat of a psychological hurdle that must be endured or ignored: tell someone they're about to eat blood, and blood is what they'll taste.   

Rhubarb and oatmeal, Aska

Our transition dessert was a return to the snacks, an oatmeal cracker topped with a bit of rhubarb. The main dessert was buttermilk ice cream with whipped herb and dill ice cream. It harked back to the beginning, in the sense that the meal began sweet and ended savory.

Buttermilk ice cream, dill and herb whipped cream, Aska

We really loved Aska. It's terrific, challenging food, on the level of wd-50 in terms of creativity and originality, on the level of Torrisi Italian Specialties in terms of its delicious-to-cost ratio.


Anonymous said...

Well, when the first server brought our first course he announced; "It has something in it you probably never heard of before called yarrow." I said; "Well I think I know yarrow. In fact, you often see it growing in abandoned parking lots like a weed." To which he responded; "Everything is a weed if you think about."

And so I wondered for the rest of the evening ..... yeah, but would Gatsby still be great if I caught him foraging in vacant parking lots?

TF Cornerstone said...


Great post. Love the pics. They're making me hungry, and wanting to go back! I made sure to include a link to your review in our article.


Jess + Garrett said...

Thanks so much --- Aska deserves much love and fanfare!

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