An excellent example of this is the “Taste of Herring.” Herring is a traditional Scandinavian dish, but hardly one that non-Scandies would go running towards. In an effort to share this emblem of Nordic culture with the broader global community, Sundell pairs the herring with some traditional accoutrements (i.e. red onion, rye crisps, lemony crème fraiche, mustard dill) along with some non-traditional, yet familiar tastes like saffron tomato (Mediterranean), soy-ginger (Asian), and coriander-chile (Latin), making it accessible to all. Oh, and he brilliantly prefaces the name with “Taste of…”—surely luring in even the mildly adventurous.
The cocktail list (i.e. “The Pläj List” – c’mon, how can that not make you smile?) is another area that showcases Scandinavian roots with hints of California. The Tulip is a particular favorite, with its lingonberry syrup, Swedish bitters, and lemony goodness lolling in a bath of sparkling wine. And the cocktail named “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” certainly does its part to resonate with the masses.
The menu is divided into Dagen (“of the day”), Hagen (“from the garden”), Fjord (“from the water”), and Beta (“to graze”) and with this array, there is something for everyone to enjoy. While many of the dishes are familiar to repeat patrons, the preparation style is often tweaked, so there is always something new to entertain the most curious of palates.
Recurrent themes throughout each dish are: hidden gems tucked away such that each bite becomes a playful discovery, masterful textural contrast, and just the right amount of acidity/saltiness to make the flavors pop and, well, “play” in your mouth.
Imagine a menu where each dish is masterfully crafted like this!
…and picture yourself forever at Pläj.
Occupation: Winemaker and Project Director
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Bacon Bacon Food Truck
Reviewed Pläj Restaurant: Saturday, January 4, 2014
I had been attempting to schedule a reservation at Pläj restaurant for the better part of a year. I was happy to have Check Please! as the motivation for me to finally make it happen. Having previously lived in Stockholm I was pretty excited to go and revisit the flavors from that part of the world again.
The starters were fantastic. I have to say the Ultra Greens Salad was by far one of the best-dressed salads I had ever tasted. Not over dressed, not under dressed. Perfect. And the Poached Lobster with Caviar was a nice, light frothy treat. My only wish was a bit more lobster. The Swedish meatballs were just like I remembered; a little bready, great texture, and a perfect accompaniment to the pickled cucumber and lingonberries.
I had the Elk with Sunchoke Gratin for my main course. I was expecting the elk to have a slightly gamey taste similar to venison, and was disappointed to find it the cleanest, almost flavorless steak I’ve ever had. It was perfectly cooked, but really had almost no flavor. Once I started including the mushrooms and jus with each bite it improved, but I kept longing for some meaty flavor.
Dessert was perfectly portioned. I had the Cardamom Crème Brulee that tasted more of vanilla than crème brulee.
The staff is an interesting lot. They are professional enough but there was always this air of grumpy unhappiness about them that was hard to shake.
And then came the bill. Holy cow, this place was expensive. I did not walk away feeling that the food-to-value proposition was in balance. I honestly feel like there are much better places in the theatre district for that price where the experience and food overwhelm, not under.
Occupation: Start-up Co-Founder
Location: Mountain View
Favorite Restaurant: Evvia Estiatorio
Reviewed Pläj Restaurant: Saturday, January 4, 2014
Pläj is located in the back of a New England-esque inn. As soon as our small party walked in the door, we were greeted warmly and taken immediately to our table. The waiting area and bar are both quite compact. After 20 minutes of waiting and occasionally hailing, our server finally appeared annoyed. She offered no apologies for the extended wait time and her responses were brisk and at times passive aggressive, offering little help with the menu.
To my great relief, Pläj’s menu was amazingly simple. One sheet presented us with the ultimate path to happiness: all vegetables (Hagen), fish (Fjord), meat (Beta) and desserts (Godis) listed side-by-side for an easy comparison. Finally, our bread arrived in a nice little brown bag, and we all loved it for its rustic country hardness, simplicity and warmth. While the plates were small and pricy, it was apparent that the Chef put a lot of care into the composition of flavors, textures, and colors of each dish. Our appetizer and the Nordic standard, the Salmon Gravlax ($13) was delicious, whereas buttery cured salmon seemed to melt into lemon crème fraîche, dill purée, and house-made sweet stone mustard for a bite that's light and lively.
Fast forwarding to our main entrée, the highlight of our visit became a plate of foam on top of the Krondill Poached Lobster with skagen, brioche crouton, caviar, and avocado ($23). The dish was lite and creamy, bursting with a beautiful balance of delicate and strong flavors, hot and chilled ingredients. Some other fusion creations lacked imagination, like the Organic Beet Root, Black Burgundy Truffle Salad ($14), which demonstrated somewhat poor integration of the ingredients and forgettable flavors. The Swedish meatballs ($15) left very little to the imagination as well.
The final dish of the evening, Cardamom Crème Brulee ($8) was well-executed, but seemed to be on the menu for the sake of high-end restaurant tradition alone. It wanted something to make it uniquely Scandinavian; liquor dipped lingonberries, perhaps?