I was interested to try Pläj as soon as I heard that a new Scandinavian restaurant was opening in the city. Partly because the new Nordic Food movement seems to be the next big thing and partly because my in-laws are from Minnesota, which has a significant population of Swedish Americans, and they often talk about ethnic dishes such as Lutefisk, Pepperkakor and Brown Beans. In terms of the global map of gastronomy, all eyes follow Danish chef virtuoso René Redzepi (an elBulli alumni) who is listed as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, his gastronomic temple Noma in Copenhagen has topped the World’s 50 best restaurant list for the past three years. Fäviken in Sweden has been named the world’s most daring restaurant for its profoundly seasonal farm to table dining, the top ten list is well dominated by Nordic venues. And we are all even fascinated with those descriptions of sandwiches and coffee drinking in the swedish crime thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. All of this is a far cry from the Smörgåsbord buffets of olde, which is pretty well represented by the food served in the Ikea cafeteria, and I’ll admit that secretly I have an unhealthy obsession with pickled herring.
I met my friend Ben who writes the tempting and stylish blog Focus:Snap:Eat there last week for dinner at the restaurant which is located on the bottom floor of the Inn at Opera Plaza. Swedish born Owner/Chef Roberth Sundell began his career in Stockholm under Master Chef Orjan Klein from Restaurant KB, which was the first in Stockholm to receive a Michelin star. He worked in London prior to coming to the States to work in Arizona, then Los Angeles before moving to Northern California as Executive Chef at Martis Camp in North Lake Tahoe in 2008. Earlier this month, he opened Pläj (pronounced like play) where the menu focuses on Scandinavian cuisine with California flair so it speaks to a broader experience. The dining room is dark with no windows which gives it a slightly claustrophobic feel. The interior is a mix of sleek elegance with bold bright modern flourishes like the bright orange chairs lining the communal table in the back room where we were seated.
We chose local water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir and had our own icy bottle at the table to refresh ourselves.
We shared the Taste of Herring ($12), which was pickled herring prepared three ways. In the foreground is smoked soy and shaved dried bonito, a classic umami bomb, saffron tomato in the center, and coriander chili, lime ginger on the end. There were meticulously minced chives, fronds of fennel, fresh tomato, and red onion which added bursts of fresh flavors. I think the smoked soy combined best with the pickled herring, the other preparations seemed very sweet. It was served with long dry crackers that reminded me of rye-krisps and a trio of tiny potatoes, one blue, one yellow and one red, all cut in half.
I was drawn to the dumplings, called Nordic Kumla ($12), which were served with a heavenly onion ragout that was particularly moreish when combined with the brown butter and crisp meaty chunks of lardon. My tastebuds were in a state of bliss with this dish, I liked it the best of the bunch. The dumpling had nicely crisped bottoms and the insides were tender and creamy. The lingonberry added a lovely sweet-tart element.
I had to order the Swedish Meatballs ($15) when I saw them on the menu. They were well crisped on the outside and less squishy than the ones I’ve eaten previously, in fact they were downright meaty and quite flavorful! They were served in pan gravy with creamy potato puree, some lingonberry along with refreshing paper thin slices of sweet pickled cucumber mixed with fresh herbs. This dish was on the verge of being too sweet for me.
Ben had the white asparagus, morels, fennel confit, egg 63 C, hollandaise sauce, fried sour dough ($15). It was rather bland, but rich and creamy, the fried sourdough seemed dry and hard not very croutony.
He had another seafood dish, Krondill poached lobster skagen, white fish caviar, horseradish, avocado chili $18. I sampled a piece of the flesh which was tender and its sweetness was enhanced by the pungent horseradish infused creamy sauce.
We both ordered dessert from the Godi menu, I loved the chocolate torte which was like a decadent brownie, sprinkled with dense crunchy bits of meringue, and a scoop of Cloudberry Sorbet which was an ethereal and snowy puff that tasted like the essence of sweet berries, drizzled with blood orange infused olive oil.
Ben had the Lavender Rhubarb Crumble Pie with Strawberry Ice Cream ($8) which was a bit on the tart side, but the strawberry ice cream was totally delicious on its own.
For those of us who don’t often trot around the globe, we can now have Pläj, which celebrates local and seasonal ingredients inspired by the rustic flavors and simple elegance of Scandinavian cusine