The Scandinavian concept of hygge (“hue-guh”) gives new meaning to the notion of “comfort food”—and there’s perhaps no better time to embrace the philosophy of coziness and warmth via cuisine or gatherings with friends than when the bite of winter hits. But there’s more to the newfound popularity of Nordic cuisine. In 2004, the New Nordic manifesto was born, promoting traditional food products in an effort to move away from, according to the official website of Denmark, “the low quality and tasteless yet clinically perfect food that had come to pass for Danish food.” Find out where you can sample some delicious examples of fine Nordic cuisine that embrace “new” traditions.
Tullibee, Minneapolis, Minnesota
With Minnesota’s large population of those claiming Scandinavian heritage, it’s no surprise the Hewing Hotel chose Nordic cuisine for its sleek flagship restaurant Tullibee. Bradley Day’s menu is influenced by rural Nordic practices of foraging, butchery, and fermentation techniques and is heavily driven by seasonality. Expect dishes like lefse Norwegian flatbread and the Caesar salad with smoked smelt dressing and aged Gouda. If the rustic-chic surroundings aren’t enough of a chillax vibe, check out the hotel’s Finnish spa. Make a reservation at Tullibee.
Aquavit, New York, New York
Named for a spirit infused with spices and herbs like caraway and dill, Aquavit’s menu goes heavy on the same herbals abundant in inland Sweden. The land is covered by game-rich forests, berries, and mushrooms, and fish-rich seas surrounding the nation’s shores inspire dishes like herring, striped bass, and Icelandic cod, cooked by chef Emma Bengtsson. The former pastry chef pays homage to tradition by balancing sweet and salty with desserts like indulgent chocolate with savory long pepper. Make a reservation at Aquavit.
PLAJ, San Francisco, California
Chef-owner Andrea Sundell says Swedish meatballs were a last-minute add to the menu since her husband, chef Robert Sundell, wanted to go more upscale, but those comfort-food flavors of home are what’s brought the most orders to the kitchen – and praise. “The most powerful thing anyone’s ever said to me was, ‘I haven’t had this flavor since my grandmother passed.’ There are nostalgia and history here and memories being evoked; it’s cool to be a part of.” She describes the atmosphere much like a visit to Grandma’s too, as it’s “warm, intimate, and cozy.” Other hits using best of California’s fresh produce are the herring and beef-cured gravlax with a lemon crème sea buckthorn sorbet. Make a reservation at PLAJ.
Alta Nordic Kitchen, Los Angeles, California
Swedish chef Christer Larsson says Nordic cuisine for him – and his fellow chef and son Ian – is about straightforward interpretations of home “based on (the best) products rather than creative combinations and presentations. Our mission statement is to serve authentic cuisine in a warm and friendly setting.” They’ve hit it out of the park with grilled sea bass served simply with melted butter and freshly grated horseradish, Frikadeller, a Danish meatball served with mashed potatoes, lingonberries, and mushroom gravy, and homemade rye bread with a sourdough starter that’s toasted and served with herring, smoked fish, or pâté. Make a reservation at Alta Nordic Kitchen.
Agern, New York, New York
Natural wood in warm tones, clean lines, sleek furniture, and mosaic tile work evoke a world away from a major metropolitan transportation hub, but it’s all about escape at Agern, which is tucked away at Grand Central Terminal. Contemporary Scandinavian fare from the co-founder of Copenhagen’s Noma, chef Gunnar Gíslason—who just wrote his first food and lifestyle tome, The Hygge Life – includes Arctic char, beef with elderberries and tarragon, and charred cabbage with horseradish. Make a reservation at Agern.
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Carley Thornell is a travel writer whose experiences eating street food in Japan, English peas in the UK, free-range steak in Argentina, and Brussels sprouts at Estragon tapas in her hometown of Boston have provided unforgettable culinary inspiration. Shout out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credits: Newrevmedia.com (PLAJ); Signe Birck (Aquavit).