Like most other food people I know, I don't like buffet-style eating in restaurants. Among family and friends in the comfort of someone's home is fine, in fact it often gives the party a rustic, family-style quality, but not at restaurants. A buffet at a restaurant always reminds me of the scary, chain-restaurant salad bars of my Western Michigan upbringing (the 'sneeze guard' alone would cause me to lose my appetite). Yet on a recent trip to New York at the nouvelle-Swedish restaurant Aquavit I not only found my ideal restaurant buffet, but what is clearly my desired way to enjoy a Sunday brunch.
Instead of the standard weekend "eggs benedict focused" brunch buffet, Aquavit offers an elaborate, creative Smorgasbord spread. For those not familiar with a Swedish Smorgasbord it is typically a multi-coursed buffet dinner that starts with herring and cheese; then moves to cured and smoked meats and salmon; onto meatballs with lingonberry, venison and gratin potatoes; and concludes with a variety of sweets. I first experienced a classic smorgasbord via a good friend with Swedish ancestry. The thing that appealed to me most about the occasion, even more than the delicious and varied foods, was the gathering of good friends and family at the darkest and coldest time of year (about half the calendar year in Scandinavia). Add a healthy amount of Glogg (mulled wine), Carlsberg Beer and Aquavit (a distilled spirit often flavored with caraway or dill); and you'll understand how those Swedes get their reputation for partying. If you find yourself in New York City on a Sunday morning over the next several months I highly recommend succumbing to this wonderful wintertime tradition.
Aquavit 65 East 55th Street (Btwn. Park and Madison Ave.) www.aquavit.org
Here's a great recipe for gravlox (cured salmon):
Makes 2-3# of Gravlox
Salmon or A. Char Fillet, Skin-on 5 #
Brown Sugar 5 Cups
Kosher Salt 10 Cups
Fennel, Sliced Thin (Bulb + Fronds) 3
Parsley, Minced ½ Cup
Tarragon, Minced (optional) ¼ Cup
Coriander Seed 2/3 Cup
Fennel Seed 2/3 Cup
White Pepper 2 ½ Teaspoons
Lemon Zest 4 Lemons
Orange Zest 3 Oranges
Lime Zest 5 Limes
Combine fish cure in a large bowl. Cover fish on both sides with cure, make sure to use it all, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours. After 24 hours, drain off liquid that has collected in pan and cure for additional 12 to 24 hours (12 hours for arctic char fillet, 24 for thick salmon fillet). Rinse off cure, pat fish dry with paper towel and refrigerate until ready to slice. Extra cured fish freezes well, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap and place in zip-lock bag.