When the team at two-MICHELIN-starred Scandinavian beauty Aquavit in New York’s Midtown Manhattan announced they would be closing for a few months for a renovation, diners and fans didn’t know what to expect. But tonight, Aquavit is officially reopen for business, and executive chef Emma Bengtsson is at the ready.
Aquavit 2.0 is now home to a 40-seat bar and lounge; the welcome addition is actually a collaboration between Bengtsson, her sous chefs, and owner Håkan Swahn. “We put a lot of research into this and wanted to showcase dishes that are crowd-pleasers and dishes you want to eat while still incorporating Swedish flavors,” she says. “We probably rewrote the menu 15 times to make sure every dish is a true crowd-pleaser.” Those items include pretzel sticks and beer cheese; mini sausages and whole grain mustard; a fried cod sandwich with apple remoulade and horseradish; and, for good measure, Swedish meatballs with lingonberries, cucumber and pommes purée.
The 52-seat main dining room, which still includes the same Mother of Pearl 60’s-style light fixtures from the original design, now features dark blue half-moon banquettes and a view of the open kitchen, something Bengtsson is stoked for. “It’s always been a dream of mine,” she says, noting she’s just as excited about the new kitchen equipment. “This time, I get to mold how the kitchen will look and feel. I’m not inheriting it from anyone else so I get to decide how it will function and flow. . . . I get to switch from working with something delicate and petite using tweezers to preparing for a 100-person banquet to making Swedish meatballs for the bar. There are so many different elements that are coming together to really extend the range of what we can do in the kitchen.”
All menu items in the dining room, too, have been completely overhauled; Bengtsson says she and her team are striving to up their game in terms of precision, technique and sustainable practices, all while teaming up with even more local producers. The dining room is expected to open in the next week or two.
“No matter the demographic, everyone eats differently today compared to years ago,” adds Bengtsson of today’s generation of diners. “Before, going out to dinner was reserved for special occasions. Today we want people to feel good on an everyday basis. People want to go out and have a good time with their friends and family on a regular basis.” The 2.0 version of the 32-year-old Aquavit is focused on everyday dining for the everyday eater.