Had you asked me a week ago if I had any interest in Nordic cuisine, I would’ve given you something like a polite, “Sure, I’m interested in all cuisines!” And then, you know, gone back to eating my tacos. But if you’d prefaced that question by mentioning that the chef at Agern, the restaurant inside of Grand Central Terminal, has a restaurant in Iceland called Dill, I might have thought differently. I LOVE dill. And it doesn’t hurt that the owner of Agern is the same guy who helped found Noma in Denmark, which has been named the best restaurant in the world, oh, I don’t know, four times?
Good luck trying to find Agern. It’s tucked away behind the food hall on Vanderbilt Avenue side of Grand Central, and the sign for it should be, like, studded with flashing lights and possibly a siren, but instead it’s quietly painted on a door at the same height as all of the signage in front of it.
The good thing is that while you’re busy being lost, you can stop at Almanak in the Great Northern Food Hall, also owned by Claus Meyer, and get Brussels sprouts with crunchy croutons
or pastrami and lamb sliders
and then notice that Agern is right behind you. It’s a cozy little space with no windows but tons of pastel and chevrons and swivel chairs. It’s the kind of stylish throwback space you expect to find in Alexander Skarsgård’s grandma’s house. It was already 8pm, and our very sweet server told us a tasting menu would take us two and a half hours, so we jumped right into the Land & Sea tasting for $165 (including service), some of us with wine pairings and some of us with cocktails. We got through the initial little bites, or “snacks” as the restaurant called them, with, you know, reasonable fanfare. The soda topping the oyster was a nice touch, the guy who doesn’t care for celery thought the sliver of celeriac was really tasty, and who doesn’t love a little pocket of deep-fried bread? We were getting a lot of dill, a lot of creaminess, and plenty of salt, but we didn’t think a lot of it.
But it turns out that’s the essence of Agern. A little something green, a little something creamy, a good amount of seasoning, and then just a little something special to put it over the top. The Arctic char was our first real dish, and we were all just looking at each other like, “Are you tasting what I’m tasting?” Here’s this seemingly simple plate covered in fresh ingredients all familiar to us, but the sum is greater than its parts. Was it just the crunch of the pumpkin seeds? Or pumpkin seed puree, which we’d never had before? Maybe it was just that the pea tendrils tasted so much like peas.
The butter was made with skyr, the Icelandic yogurt. The beet, baked in a husk of salt and ash, was studded with caraway seeds. The Guinea hen thigh came wrapped in brown paper so we could pick it up with our hands and still maintain our overwhelming classiness. Everything was a little bit tart and a little bit bitter and a little bit challenging in a way that makes it really exciting to eat.
Cooper’s Cup: Rough Rider bourbon, cold brew coffee, sumac, NY maple syrup
(Drank these all night long. Can’t resist a coffee cocktail.)
oyster with radish and cranberry soda
celeriac and dill
cod skin “chip” with green tomato
cheese with celery and apple
little fried ball of dough with turmeric
One of our servers added some phytoplankton to some water in a French press contraption and then made us drink it. It was like swallowing a wave, except on purpose.
Arctic char, pumpkin, apple, pumpkin seed
beef heart, salsify, dill, elderberry
whipped butter with skyr
salt and ash baked beet root, caraway seeds, huckleberries
cod, caviar, potatoes, dill
Guinea hen, sun chokes, nordic bbq, peppergrass
buttermilk, whey, watercress, horseradish
chocolate, burned butter, almonds, plums
vinegar caramel, aerated chocolate
These little extras were maybe a little too challenging for our group. The aerated chocolate had the texture of a kitchen sponge and immediately dissolved in our mouths in an expected, not altogether pleasant way. And here are the faces my two friends made while eating the vinegar-flavored caramel:
But everything else was an absolute hit! I swear!
sea buckthorn marshmallow, pate de fruits