May 19, 2008
Aquavit always seems to get mixed reviews although the cuisine sounds interesting. So we tried it on May 18, 2008, with David and Frédérique. It was terrific.
The décor is very Scandinavian modern. The lower priced café is by the entrance; there is a corridor with a bar and a large private dining room at the end. The general dining room where we were is off to the left. We asked for a quiet area and so were taken to one of two tables for four in the very back. (This back section can also be turned into a semi-private room for ten diners.)
We ordered a bottle of 2006 Saracina Vineyards (Mendicino) Sauvignon Blanc. It was okay for aperitif, but had a bit too much grapefruity flavor. We followed this with a bottle of 2005 Babcock (Santa Rita Hills) Chardonnay, which was much more substantial.
A little plate arrived with a small cup of lightly curried carrot soup and a small spoon of tuna sashimi. They were delicious and a fine start to the evening.
The menu offers three courses from a wide selection for $84. There are also a Chef’s Tasting Menu at $115 ($195 with wine pairings,) a Vegetarian Tasting Menu at $90 ($170 with wine pairings) and a Pre-theater Menu at $55.
A very tiny, very good sashimi amuse-gueule with caviar on top and a custard dollop arrived.
Frédérique’s starter was
LOBSTER ROLL, pickled green apple, trout roe, bacon, egg dressing. It was light and succulent.
Linda’s first course was
FOIE GRAS GANACHE, duck confit, apple compote, arugula sorbet. She has eaten a lot of foie gras around the world and has never had such a dish. The ball seemed to be braised duck with foie gras formed and cooked like a Maryland crabcake. Anyway, she liked it and enjoyed the accoutrements.
David started with
YELLOWTAIL tuna, sweet shrimp, radish.
My first course was
SEARED OCTOPUS, smoked avocado, hearts of palm.
The generous serving of octopus was charred on the outside, but tender and almost raw on the inside.
Frédérique went on to
HOT-SMOKED TROUT, sunchoke puree, chive-mushroom salad, apple-horseradish broth. The freshly smoked trout had a lovely delicate flavor. The mushrooms and the broth were also light and went perfectly.
Linda’s main course was
VENISON LOIN, cured ham, white asparagus, lingonberry sauce, dumplings. She thought it was superb. The venison was flavorful and perfectly cooked medium-rare. The light, tubular dumplings balanced well with the meat. The lingonberries and the cured venison ham strips added the right counterpoint.
David’s second course was
CHILI-DUSTED HALIBUT, cauliflower, ramp pureé, artichokes.
My second course was
RARE TUNA AND SCALLOP, fresh pea brûlée, morels, ramps. I really liked this. The ingredients were top quality and allowed to show off. The pea flavor came through nicely in the custard.
A small glass of tropical juices with whipped cream on top prepared us for the desserts.
David‘s dessert was
The Arctic Circle. I think it was a lingonberry sorbet on top of a goat cheese bavarois, but I’m not sure. Unfortunately the desserts are not on the website and, thinking they would be, I didn’t take notes.
Sorbets of banana, mango and something else exotic.
Mango tart with mango sorbet and chopped mango.
COCONUT-LEMONGRASS PANNA COTTA, coconut sorbet, citrus mint salad. I enjoyed it.
Fresh chocolate truffles, little almond cakes, fruit jelly fish and biscuits.
The meal was excellent with no disappointments. While some dishes were quite complicated, the ingredients were all pulling in the same direction. There is a general Scandinavian theme to some, but the Asian and tropical fusion elements are well integrated. The chef is obviously not afraid to invent and take risks and we appreciated his success.