Story and photos by Bo Zaunders
A Taste of Sweden in Midtown Manhattan
Nothing could have been more Swedish. Food apart, the cups, the plates, the cutlery, everything came from Sweden - including Orrefors and Costa Boda glassware. Even the dining room had a clean, functional, very Nordic look about it.
I’m referring to Björk, the café and bistro that recently opened on the ground floor of Scandinavia House on Park Avenue at 38th Street in New York City.
As for the food, trust Ulrika Bengtsson to take good care of that. A renowned chef in New York City, who grew up in Sweden, her commitment to her homeland fare is unmistakable.
When she told me about her childhood on a farm in southern Sweden, there was no end to her enthusiasm. “We grew many things,” she said, “and my father was a hunter, so all the Swedish classics were on the table – meatballs, cod in egg sauce, biff a la Lindström, and much more.”
Recalling the autumns, the time for moose hunts and mushroom picking, she became quite galvanized, her face blushing with pleasure as she told me of her unbound love of chanterelles.
We talked about cloudberries and lingonberries, after which we turned to the Björk menu.
One section, titled DAGENS, featured the daily specials, beginning with Monday’s Biff Lindström with honey and mustard sauce, and ending with Friday’s Pytt I Panna with pickled beets. On Tuesdays, there is Laxpudding with brown butter and horseradish, a delicacy I tasted and photographed.
Next to the menu’s daily specials is a relatively short listing called CLASSICS, which seems to sum up what we think of as quintessential, not only of Swedish, but of Scandinavian food: Herring plate, Gravlax with honey mustard sauce, Toast Skagen, Smörgåsbord plate, and Meatballs.
Wondering if the shrimp used for Toast Skagen still comes from the waters outside Greenland, I was not only given an affirmative answer, but a plateful of shrimp was brought out from the kitchen and, as if to confirm their excellence, Ulrika bit into one of them.
Incidentally, she also, later on, nibbled at one of her famous meatballs and sipped a spoonful of Nordic Borscht.
Another classic, prepared during my visit, was potato wrap, tunnbröd, or what is known in Norway as lefse, served open-faced with sausages, mashed potatoes, pickled cucumber, mustard, and crispy onions. Definitely a winner.
Regarding desserts, I especially enjoyed a Crispy Swedish Waffle with jam and whipped cream. And, adding to my pleasure and served on a different plate, a variety of cookies, buns and cakes.
Several times I tried to find out if Ulrika had a favorite dish. It was all in vain.
Then, at one point, she gave me an answer that made perfect sense: “It’s like asking a mother to pick her favorite kid.”
On a follow-up visit with my wife Roxie, I picked the Smörgåsbord plate as a main dish, and was duly impressed – a sensational mix of Scandinavian classics, including gravlax with mustard sauce, pickled herring, Jansson’s temptation, meatballs, and few other delicacies, all placed in nice portions on a deep plate.
And this time dinner concluded with a generous slice of Princess cake, a traditional Swedish layer cake consisting of alternating layers of airy sponge cake, pastry cream, raspberry jam, and with a coating of green marzipan.
Roxie and I have also dropped in for a visit to the Björk bar, which boasts some happy hour drink specials and a small menu of its own. I drank beer, Roxie wine, and shared a platter of gravlax bites with a honey mustard sauce dip, as well as bread and butter.
A taste of Sweden in midtown Manhattan.
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