Where to eat healthy in New York City: Smörgås Chef
Smörgås Chef – A Taste of Scandinavia in the Big Apple
by Julie Ryland
In New York City, I’m as far away from my mother’s kitchen as I can possibly be, and still so close to home. Everything in the Smörgås Chef restaurant on Wall Street is organic, no preservatives have ever made it into the kitchen.
The food represents the healthy and balanced diet of Norwegians, Danes and Swedes. The only paradox is you have to go to New York to fall in love with the taste of Scandinavia.
Six years ago, owner Morten Sohlberg was standing in the kitchen of his first Smörgås Chef, armed with nothing but an impressive resumé of fine dining experience and a Norwegian upbringing that included way too much steamed salmon and boiled potatoes. Now he runs four restaurants in Manhattan together with his wife and partner, Min Ye.
One of the four is located in West Village.
The intimate, dimly-lit, small dining room with its yellow-painted walls and empty, blue bottles of Ramlösa (Swedish sparkling water)lining shelf walls has the colour combination of the culinary destination, but the wooden chairs, fresh flower and low ceiling does not at all make you confuse the Manhattan hot spot with a Swedish tourist site. And, the birch tree in the back of the room does not make you feel as if you’re trapped in the Norwegian woods.
For a Norwegian it makes you realize how liberating it is to finally get to enjoy Scandinavian food in a place with more ambiance than your grandmother’s kitchen, and for everybody else it offers a tasteful and adventurous encounter with authentic Scandinavian food.
Scandinavians don’t know how to play with food, and that's a shame. A Norwegian myself, I have suffered through endless tasteless suppers where the closest I would get to “jus” or “extract” was the remains of an empty bottle of ketchup.
I know how unsexy the Scandinavian kitchen can be. But Sohlberg has added spices, herbs and a foreign flair to the Scandinavian culinary basis of crab, monkfish, salmon and gravlaks, and found the balance between American excess and the dried up pieces of white fish and potatoes Norwegians like to refer to as “simplicity.”
I start off with a selection of appetizers, all representing certain traditional Scandinavian dishes and produce, such as Scandinavian meatballs, Norwegian salmon and shrimp. While adding more flavour than the average Norwegian or Swedish chef would, the food presents itself as more innovative and daring, but the chef still avoids ruining the purity and modest presentation the Scandinavian kitchen is known for.
This is also well portrayed in the main course, a potato-crusted catfish with shallots, oyster mushrooms, green beans and a chardonnay sauce. The fish still stars as the plate’s main character, and none of the other flavours become too overwhelming.
The rest of the menu includes traditional Scandinavian meats such as lamb, but is dominated by seafood. Like the use of supporting actors or subtle props, Sohlberg’s use of herbs, juniper berries, dill and other typical Scandinavian flavours bring out even more of the freshness and taste in the produce and their character.
Entrées range from $16 to $26. Their kitchen is open daily for lunch, and for brunch Saturday and Sunday.
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Julie Ryland is an editorial assistant with Travel to Wellness.
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