Aska (47 S 5th St, Brooklyn, NY 11249)
Aska is a Scandinavian restaurant owned by Michelin-starred chef Frederik Berselius. It was re-located to its new location, with a garden and a wine cellar basement lounge area, on South 5th St in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, not far from the Williamsburg Bridge. The outside is quite minimalist in design, with just a black brick wall and no flashy street sign.
The main dining space is lined with exposed brick walls and wooden columns, which gives it a rustic feel. When there is sunlight, spaciously placed tables in front of large windows allow the light to open the entire dining room. The ceiling and tables are black, so after sunset, the area becomes a bit cozier, lit by spotlights from above that is less harsh. For an even cozier and more laid-back atmosphere, go downstairs to the basement lounge, in which reservations are not needed and you can get a few drinks at the bar. Non-reserved seating is also available outdoors, in which stringed lights are hung across to light up the area. For both the garden and the basement lounge, an inexpensive a la carte menu is available.
The menu is prix-fixe and no customizations are allowed. The tasting course is $250 per person for the 19-course option and $175 for the 10-course option, each with an optional $115 beverage combination. The tasting course was more about the experience itself, as traditional Scandinavian food does not rely on heavy salt or cream for taste, but the natural taste of the food itself complimented by cooking style and herbs. Each course was plated meticulously, with careful attention to detail. Here were some of my favorites:
Caviar with grilled onions, lemon verbena, and ramp seeds
Skate wings on a celery root puree with flowered dill and rape seed oil
Dessert - Fermented strawberry juice drizzed on strawberries compressed with fenneland milkweed buds on a milk sorbet
The service here was impeccable and extremely personalized. The head chef and owner, Frederik Berselius, can be seen from the dining hall, cooking diligently alongside other chefs in the open kitchen. When he is not cooking, he is seen making rounds around the room, introducing himself to guests. The transition between each course was seamless, with the wait staff clearing out the plates and setting up the next course and cutlery like a well-choreographed dance, while your chef introduces you to the next course and gives you a brief description. Tax and gratuity tip are included in the bill, which is paid in advanced when the reservations are made. At the end of the meal, there is no fussing over the check or payment, and you are free to go without the hassle.
On the opposite spectrum of Aska is Delmonico’s, which has been at its 56 Beaver St location since 1837 with its grandiose entrance. Unlike Aska’s minimalist approach to interior design, Delmonico’s is elegantly decorated with paintings on the interior, depicting the eras that it has served, a vintage-designed wallpaper and carpet to match its chandeliers, lighting fixtures, and cutlery. It is the first restaurant where you can order a la carte from the menu, though a prix-fixe option is also available during restaurant week.
As you enter and are seated, you are given a warm variety bread basket including rolls, sour dough, and French bread, with salted and unsalted butter. Be careful not to fill up on that because the appetizers come very quickly. Its menu has barely changed since its opening in 1837 and includes many American classics, including the Baked Alaska, which originated there.
Between the appetizer, entrée, and dessert, the waiters are attentive and quick, cleaning the table cloth of any crumbs and uneaten pieces that have fallen off the plate. I opted for their lobster bisque as a starter, the classic 20oz Delmonico steak medium-rare as the entrée with asparagus, foraged mushrooms, and fries as sides, and the classic Baked Alaska as a dessert.
The lobster bisque is not that photogenic, however, looks can be deceiving. It was seasoned extremely well, but soupier than I expected. The lobster flavor was highlighted by subtle hints of cloves and garlic. The grilled asparagus, mushroom, and fries were delicious as well, but could not compare to the steak.
The Delmonico steakcut was a tiny bit too fatty for my liking, but it was seared to a perfect medium-rare. It was extremely moist and tender. I almost did not use the sauce provided, but used a little bit just to try it. It was an extremely large portion and great for sharing if you want to save room for some dessert.
For dessert, the Baked Alaska definitely met my expectations. The meringue on the outside was nice and light to balance out the rich, decadent banana ice cream in the center. Plating was simple, yet elegant, with the dessert taking the center stage and apricot puree spots dancing around it. The portion was extremely large, so it’s great for sharing.
Although Aska and Delmonico’s are as different as they can be from each other, from cooking style to interior design, both their service and food were top-notch and worth a visit if you are looking for romantic restaurants in New York City for a date night.