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Friday, Dec. 26, 2008

FOOD

Tokyo's Aquavit mixes it up, in both superb drinks and food


Special to The Japan Times

Chef Marcus Samuelsson is known in New York City for his highly acclaimed Aquavit restaurant, which has been serving top-level contemporary Swedish cuisine for more than 20 years. We are happy to report that his first venture in Japan, which opened in Tokyo's Gaienmae neighborhood in early October, measures up to the same impressive standard.

The cooking is superb — fresh, inspired and provocative. And Aquavit's modern Scandinavian outlook adds a welcome note of diversity to Tokyo's French- and Italian-dominated international restaurant scene. The dining room is bright and energetic, hung with artwork and decorated in a fusion of Japanese and Scandinavian styles. The design is sleek, but warmed by homey touches such as the antique pepper mills on the tables and the grove of newly planted trees in the pocket garden in back.

One of the unique charms of Aquavit New York has been re-created here — a large menu of homemade aquavits, in surprising flavors such as horseradish, and pear, vanilla and black pepper. If you're after even more exotic thrills, you can try offbeat aquavit-based cocktails such as the Aquapolitan or the Spicy Mango Martini.

The appetizer menu starts things percolating with such enticing flavor combinations as venison carpaccio with cheese, celery root, radish and black truffle; and foie-gras ganache with cured and dried duck and apple compote. First-timers might go with the smorgasbord starter — ours was a big square plate topped by a grid of nine different appetizers in bite-size portions. Even before the starters, our palates were awakened by a deliciously creamy potato, leek and anchovy soup, just salty enough to activate the taste buds.

The main dishes tend toward multi-element assemblages with a balance of complementary flavors and textures. A succulent, seared duck breast was paired with a marvelously crisp confit — the thigh meat lightly accented with tarragon and playfully shaped into a cube — and served alongside soft parley spaetzel. Then there was the roast lamb — tender, flavorful top-quality meat cooked to perfection — paired with a spice-infused ragout of lamb wrapped in crunchy kohlrabi. Richly flavored hot-smoked trout was served in apple and horseradish broth with celery-root puree and mushrooms.

The inspired flavor combinations continue with the desserts. The Swedish pancakes are the most entertaining — you assemble them yourself with dollops of whipped cream, ginger confit and raspberries. Then there's the Arctic Circle (goat-cheese parfait with cassis sorbet) and a rich, brownielike chocolate-custard cake with salty caramel ice cream and diced cherries.

Aquavit's prix-fixe dinner menu is three courses for ¥9,250. Lunch is ¥4,700 for two courses and ¥5,900 for three, which includes Samuelsson's more traditional Swedish dishes, such as Toast Skagen (shrimp-salad sandwich), Beef Rydberg and Swedish meatballs.

Aquavit, Aoyama OM Square 1F, Kita-Aoyama 2-5-8; open 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. & 6-10 p.m.; (03) 5413-3300


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