Clean, fresh, simple, and a little quirky. Given everything I know from traveling to Scandinavia and from what I’ve read about the area, these are the words that encapsulate the region most accurately. Today, Scandinavia is enjoying its long awaited moment in the sun. And its food may very well be the reason for this push into the spotlight.
Over the past few years, Copenhagen’s Noma has consistently ranked among the world’s top restaurants. No one who remains up-to-date on food news can go more than a few minutes without reading something about Rene Redzepi, the gastronomic temple’s star chef. Freshly foraged Scandinavian plates are all the rage in the culinary sphere today. Thankfully, we New Yorkers don’t have to travel to Europe to sample the fare.
I was lucky enough to snag a table at Aska this past week, and in doing so virtually transported myself to the frostbitten Northern lands. New York City is harried and frenzied, a muddled conglomeration of hundreds of ethnic groups, religions and histories. In general, it’s hard to tell where one culture ends and the next begins. Aska, however, bucks the fusion trend that results when diversity meets urban density. Sharing a Brooklyn street corner with Kinfolk Studios, Aska represents the new Nordic culinary movement at its purest.
At Aska, excess of any kind is absent—something I recall observing throughout Scandinavia during my travels. The restaurant’s decor is marked by simplicity and minimalism, honoring its Scandinavian heritage while appealing to modern Brooklynites simultaneously. At the direction of the young, Swedish-born chef, Fredrik Berselius, Aska’s menu treats diners to the clean solitude that seems to reign in Scandinavia. But that doesn’t mean the food leaves you feeling cold.
The food at Aska is solid, though at times it can seem strikingly unusual, even for a person such as myself who’s accustomed to trying bizarre things. More than quirky, the dishes offered stay true to the Scandinavian culinary austerity currently taking the world by storm. Earthy pork blood is served dried into a crispy chip, three squid rings comprise an infectiously comforting plate and buttermilk is whipped with wild herbs into the next “it” ice cream. Each concoction is carefully crafted from freshly sourced ingredients, then manipulated into obscure bites that appear scant but are deceptively rich and warm. While familiar flavors are tweaked to the point that they’re virtually unrecognizable to diners, foreign ingredients provide unexpected comfort.
A juxtaposition of clean and complex defines Aska. Like Scandinavia itself, Aska both keeps you at arms length and beckons you in.
Aska, 90 Wythe Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718 388-2969, Mon-Fri & Sun 6pm-2am, Sat 6pm- 4am
*This story was originally published on NewYorkNatives.com on May 20, 2013. To read this and other stories from my Around the World in 5 Boroughs column, click here.