"Vandaag is today!" the website proudly states. Today in Dutch, that is, probably one of the more pronounceable words in the language (and intelligible even if you can't quite get the guttual throat-clearing intonation at the end). And you should go, today, because the food here is just as exotic to the New York dining scene as is that language to your average Yankee. Today's market specialities, put in a Dutch context, are what drives this menu. We get Phillip Kirschen-Clarke channelling his mentors from WD-50 and Corton, but livening things up with Northern European nuances and a more rustic downscale, downtown vibe.
The room is airy, spacious, neat. Not quite stark, but uncluttered and streamlined, like good Dutch architecture. Fantastic shade-stripped wire lamp "chandeliers" drop from the ceiling and add a glow to a cool lines of the dining room. Simple graphic signage from the Netherlands appear throughout the space. There isn't a lot of frilliness around, but the menu shines with unfamiliar ingredients and creative flourish.
Ingredients you would associate with the region abound, but are put on the plate in ways you never even thought to think of. Wild arugula, grassy and full of bite, is paired with beets (classic), but flavored with bitters and shouldering
a rather enormous plank of slab bacon, of which the fat, even, is superbly meaty. I'm not a huge proponent of offal (of all the possible things to eat, sushi and offal are most definitely below the bottom of my list), but I had to try the lamb sweetbreads here, just tempted from the scent. Golden crisp on the outside, and tenderly juicy "meat".. err, organ?, these little ovine frittered critters are a must-have. These morsels are nestled in with crunchy grapes and pale leaves of chicory, and a few flecks of fiery Holland chiles (don't sequester all of them to a single bite), to counter their richness, which is tantamount. You could easily share this appetizer to guarantee room for following courses, whereas the lighter beets are probably better off hoarding.
The best entree I tried was the big bowl of little neck clams. Again, I guess I usually don't think of clams as a main course, but what the heck- I already broke my offal rule, so just roll with me. These shellfish are heartened by a substantial broth enriched with aquavit (keepin' it Scandinavian), parsnip frites (think moules et frites), allepo pepper (add some kick) and vanilla (mellow things out). All united, they sang together. The shells made lovely little vessels with which to ladle up the broth, most of which I stole from its primary
orderer. My entree of silver ribbonfish was described by our waiter as a "flaky white fish", which is most definitely is not. Splayed languidly across the plate, you might mistake it for an errant piece of chrome. It is THAT shiny, but definitely more the texture of a meaty sturgeon, and eel-like in proportion. They are certainly something to see: http://www.traveladventures.org/continents/asia/noryangjin-fish-market10.shtml. And while it's not my favorite fish ever, it was tasty enough, well cooked, and it's mustardy sauce paired well with the accompanying potatoes. The curly shards of fried carrot, however, tasted stale, and of old oil, all of which but the first bite were left on the plate. Come fall (fast approaching), novel ingredients now on the menu like mead, wit beer, pickles and mustards are going to turn even more appealing. Like in the side of dandelion greens, slightly fibrous from undercooking, but deliciously anointed with genever (a Dutch gin) and native gouda, make for some tasty greens. Also our dessert, a superlative peach crisp, was spiked with lambic and napped with a nutty oaten layer, but the real highlight was the curry ice cream, probably inspired by a peach chutney, that melted its sweety-savory richness into the luscious baked fruit like a silky cloak from a far-off land.
Speaking of far off lands, the lavatory, although requiring that unideal trip downstairs to visit, is one of the city's best loos: spacious, uncluttered, clean as a whip, with lovely lemony liquid soap and amusing pictures upon the shiny, forest green tiled walls. A broad wooden counter spans one side below a huge spotless mirror, and lighting you can alter to obtain a personally flattering level light. You'll look great, at least in the restroom, and while your dining upstairs, (while I'm sure the lighting is equally forgiving), the last thing you'll be thinking about is how you look.
VANDAAG 103 Second Avenue