As inconspicuous a dining destination as when it was carved from a corner of Kinfolk, the new iteration of Aska occupies a low-slung, unmarked building dwarfed by the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge and dimmed by the exuberance of next-door neighbor, Miss Favela’s. Yet it couldn’t be less of an afterthought; rather, it’s the product of over two years of waiting and even more planning — and now that the anticipated reboot of his original, modern Nordic trailblazer is finally a reality, owner Fredrick Berselius has no intention of taking things slow.
In fact, the Swedish chef actually launched three distinct concepts at practically the same time; the formal dining room came first, shortly followed by a basement-level bar and lounge and a small plate-serving garden. And as opposed to the $65, six-course menus to which previous patrons had become accustomed, the price of tasting progressions escalated all the way to $215; putting Aska 2.0 not just on par with Brooklyn Fare and Blanca, but Daniel, Jean-Georges and Le Bernardin. This is your newest aspirational, special occasion restaurant, Brooklyn; and with only 24 seats available per night, Berselius fully expects you to treat it as such. Once you get over the sticker shock, actual value isn’t remotely in question; considering the 15 immaculate courses that steadily emerge over the span of three hours. Servers perform a soundless ballet as they faithfully refill water goblets and discretely align silverware, and instead of being herded into claustrophobic two tops, communal benches or backless stools, visitors lounge around round, Chinese banquet hall-sized tables, with more than enough distance between them to put on a show.
And indeed, Berselius obliges from his spotlit kitchen, set like a stage against the black box theatre of a room. From there, he and his assembled cast bend their sandy heads over pots of chanterelle and pine mushroom vinegar broth; tart shells crafted from two parts seaweed; and tiny pomme soufflé freckled with winter flounder roe that’s been smoked in dried carrot tops; while the space fills with the heady scent of spruce and singed hay. Since scrolled menus appear only as a parting gifts, it’s fun to take wild stabs at what’s to come based merely on place settings; such as a miniature set of shears, perhaps, or a wide mouthed wooden spoon. Of course, there’s no predicting sweet Maine shrimp buried in bouquets of burnt chamomile (use the scissors to snip the twine); smoked hake surrounded in toasted milk skin with a jaunty cap of sourdough; or slippery slices of scallop peppered with juniper buds, and anchored with a tacky slick of tart white currant gelee.
Making wise use of his time while negotiating leases, Berselius managed to amass an idiosyncratic Scandinavian pantry, including the salted plums that fan around a square of dry-aged ribeye. He’s also hoarded a stockpile of his signature ingredient, blood — although instead of being fashioned into chips or crackers, it’s the base of rust-dark pancake; its feral, sooty sweetness reinforced by cherries and rose hips, as well as a tiny truffle, bound with lavender and white chocolate. The provocative mignardise serves as final exclamation point on a weird and wonderful meal, and aptly articulates Berselius’ two-year-long disbursement of sweat and tears.
47 South Fifth St., Williamsburg
Photo by Jane Bruce