(photo courtesy of Zagat.. it was too dark for my camera to really capture its beauty on the outside)
Bucking the norm, I easily released my tight grip over choosing a place to eat and asked my friend Lucy to pick our dinner date destination. A foodie herself, Lucy wisely picked Vandaag, a new Dutch restaurant in the East Village that has garnered significant buzz since Sam Sifton’s New York Times review in September of 2010.
Having lived in Belgium for a while in college I am quite familiar with the regional cuisine of Holland, France and Belgium and was very excited to try New York’s interpretation.With a mix of Dutch/Swedish/Belgian and German influences, the menu Chef Phillip Kirschen-Clark has created is a creative take on traditional fare.
Always five minutes early to everything, I plopped myself in a cozy corner booth. On the suggestion of some twitter followers I immediately ordered the seasonal pickle pot and waited patiently for Lucy to arrive. Soon after Lucy joined, we both ordered cocktails from their extensive and creative drink menu which was certainly a welcome change from what we get most of the time in the city. The cocktails had fun names (West of 2nd, Turf War, Kindred Spirit, and Spice Tree amongst others) and featured rarely seen spirits such as akvakit and genever (the juniper flavored and strongly alcoholic traditional liquor of Netherlands and Belgium).
While catching up (we hadn’t seen each other in a while) our server made a few attempts to retrieve our order and after the third time (and his personal suggestions) we settled on the hen for two (I love that she is down to share) and the “hot lightning” potatoes my co-worker Jason said I had to order!
*Seasonal Pickle Pot*
I really could not have asked for a better dish to munch on while waiting for our drinks; the pickle pot was filled to the brim with pickled cucumbers, apples and a weird-looking root vegetable that looked just like something Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King would eat. But the apples were soggy, mushy and lacked any discernible flavor so I focused my attention on the cucumbers and root veggies. The vinegar taste was very much apparent but not concentrated enough that it distracted from the vegetables flavor.
*Amuse Bouche: Herring Ceviche*
A one bite explosion of pickled herring on what seemed to be a tortilla crisp. A welcome addition to the table but in the end a forgetful beginning.
*Hete Bliksam: “Hot Lightning” Crisp Fingerling Potatoes, Bacon, Apple and Stroop Syrup*
These were completely over the top and if I ate these all by myself I would be ashamed. The flavor is so intense, heavy and rich, so sharing them is probably the best way to go. Although I could see myself devouring a bowl of these after a night of raucous partying immediately after I awaken from a drunken slumber; this “hot lightning” is probably a fantastic cure for a serious hangover.
*Stuffed Hen for Two with Barley Farce Stuffing and Roasted Turnips*
This dish is unbelievable and was literally and figuratively the backbone of our structured and shared meal. I love the ability to showcase my knife and carving skills and enjoyed placing each piece of the bird on both Lucy and my plates. Sinking my teeth in I chomped into a delicate yet thick crust heavily smeared with a delightful mix of herbs and spices and found the most succulent and moist meat on the inside. It was an absolute delight; every component melding together perfectly to create an exquisite bite. Not surprisingly, I ate my entire portion while Lucy took her leftovers home.
* Hen Wings with a Bergamot Glaze*
I thought it was a great little touch to serve the wings on a separate plate in a slightly different preparation. Slathered in a bergamot glaze they were truly a one bite delight. Yet a little bit of me wished that a whole leg was coated with the glaze and that they would serve a little bit of the glaze on the side.
Vandaag is a beautifully designed space with enough room to stretch out and relax; not too many eating establishments in New York can lay claim to that fact. This is especially true in the East Village (where Vandaag is located) where you nearly dine on top of each other in most restaurants. Prior to my experience I had heard mixed feelings on the menu but having only eaten three items from the menu I cannot lay claim to its entirety. What we ate was absolutely delicious; the cocktails were outstanding and my next trip will likely be an after work cocktail paired with a few snacks.
If you want to taste regional Dutch cuisine, this may not be the place for you. The atmosphere is not typical Holland and while there are some Dutch features (a beautiful orange bike in the front and the waiters aprons), the typical coziness of a traditional Dutch restaurant is not found in this very modern and sterile environment.
There is a reason I gained 20 lbs when I lived in Belgium; the food from this region is just too rich and heavy to enjoy everyday. But there is no reason that Vandaag should not be on your list of places to try and return to over and over again; it’s a great place to grab a delectable libation and a few bites.
103 2nd Avenue (at 6th Street)