I’ve always been a fan of Scandinavian/New Nordic cuisine for the freshness of ingredients and the clean flavor. New York City has some outstanding places like Aquavit but suffice to say the cuisine is still somewhat underrepresented with all the worldwide accolade bestowed upon the cuisine and the famed Noma in Denmark (I’m still very sad I won’t get to visit that place before it closes at the end of this year) being at the forefront of culinary innovation and excellence. I guess at least one person noticed this trend and decided to fix it, none other than Noma’s co-founder Claus Meyer. His decision to invade the Big Apple with a brand-new food hall and restaurant in Grand Central Terminal was something I was very excited about, despite the weird choice of the location (why not some trendy place in downtown Manhattan or even Brooklyn, where Aska, which will re-open soon, and Luksus have drawn universal praise)? Anyways, the location challenged Agern had long been on my radar ever since its opening, and a recent dinner gave me an opportunity to re-explore the delightfulness of food from the region.
The way to truly enjoy food at Agern is to go with tasting menu ($145 per person for land and sea option and $125 per person for vegetarian option). The entrees in a la carte options are sufficiently pricey so it makes so much more sense to opt for the tasting menu for more bangs for the buck. The meal started with a series of snacks in typical Scandinavian fashion, such as the aromatic ocean broth to the fresh oyster and pine to delightful bites of asparagus and coppa (cold cut of pork). All the ingredients were fresh and the flavor of each bite had very nice balance that made me such a huge fan of Scandinavian food. Next came delicious sunflower seeds with scallops, maitake and daikon where all the ingredients worked beautifully together for a very satisfying start to the meal.
I don’t normally comment on bread served by a restaurant, but the one at Agern is top-notch; if it weren’t for all the foods coming later, my dining companions and I might’ve just stuffed ourselves with bread alone. Some dishes looked better than they tasted. Beef heart with green garlic, asparagus and green strawberry, with the mix of seemingly incompatible ingredients, showed a lot of promise, but it didn’t quite deliver as much as I hoped, not did salt and ash baked beet root (which the server opens up from a bread “container” to spectacular effect) that came with horseradish and huckleberries. On the other hand, I was floored by potato salad with green rhubarb, cured egg yolk and ramps that delivered so much satisfaction (the beautiful plating certainly helped too) that I think I could have this for lunch every day.
Roasted guinea hen with peaches, rye berries and angelica was another winner, with the way the meat worked so harmoniously with the rye berries to create wonderful texture. The desserts were just as great in plating and taste. Rapeseed with honey and mustard flowers was a delightful bite, and the English peas with goat’s milk, peanuts and mint were also quite memorable with the way these ingredients combined for elegant sweetness without overpowering my palate. The greatness of Scandinavian cuisine lies in how the chefs think about the combination of different ingredients from nature, whether from mother Earth or the sea, and I can tell that the kitchen has spent a lot of time thinking about what works best together for a truly unique gastronomic experience.
As noted above, perhaps due to the location, getting a reservation at the restaurant wasn’t as challenging as I had thought, and the dining space wasn’t nearly full despite the profile of the owner. Another proof that in New York dining scene, location matters greatly. Will Mr. Meyer reassess the need to move the restaurant to a more visible location? I can definitely envision that possibility. We had a full beverage pairing option (at $55 per person), and there were some funky beer and white wine pairings, and I wished there were at least one red wine in the selection. The space has trendy, minimalistic vibe fit for a modern Scandinavian restaurant. I’m very pleased that Agern is now in New York City to provide another viable option for New Nordic style dining, and would love to see how the kitchen evolves over time.
- Creativity: 9.0/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 9.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
Address: 89 East 42nd Street, New York, NY 10017
Telephone: (646) 568-4018