Looking for a taste of Copenhagen in the East Village? Last night marked the grand opening of n’eat, the latest entry in New York’s growing list of New Nordic eateries, which offers a relaxed take on one of the food world’s trendiest genres. The restaurant is the first stateside venture from chef Gabriel Hedlund and restaurateur Mathias Kær.
Hedlund, a Swede, and Kær, a Dane, give off the same characteristically Scandinavian vibes as their new restaurant: casual, understated, cool. Kær is a veteran of the Copenhagen restaurant scene and Hedlund comes to New York following stints in the kitchens of several restaurants in Norway and Denmark at the vanguard of the New Nordic movement (including, yes, Noma).
What you won’t find at n’eat is a wallet-busting multi-course tasting menu like the one found at Noma and often adopted by other proliferators of New Nordic cuisine (like Williamsburg’s Aska, where a 19-course tasting menu runs $215). The menu is entirely a la carte, consisting of a handful of snack options ($8 each) and 15 not-quite-entrée-sized dishes—five vegetable, five fish, five meat—each priced at $16.
“I think that the New Nordic cuisine also has other things to offer that you don’t really have the opportunity to show when you do very fine dining,” Kær said, noting that the restaurant’s Second Avenue location called for an unpretentious approach. “I think it’s better with a neighborhood kind of feel, where you can just come in and hand a couple of dishes and a glass of wine when you come home late from work.”
The diverse menu, which will change seasonally, invites those looking to sample a variety of dishes—think three to five items per person—with options like a playful Nordic take on ramen featuring squid “noodles” and a gorgeous braised short rib with pickled huckleberries and smoked bone marrow. Adventurous eaters will delight in the inventive, unconventional dessert options, including an intriguing marriage of skyr (Icelandic yogurt), white chocolate, cucumbers, and dill.
Though Hedlund and Kær are bucking the tasting menu trend, they’re remaining faithful to the New Nordic spirit, with its emphasis on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients prepared with graceful simplicity. “We’re not here to take classic Nordic ingredients and bring them over here,” Kær said. “We kind of have to find new ingredients that we haven’t been working so much with back in Denmark and try to display them in a different way than maybe Americans are used to.”
For Hedlund, a chef committed to local food, moving from Copenhagen to New York brought with it a few challenges in sourcing native ingredients. “There’s some berries that I can’t get, and seafood and some of the veggies are a little bit different,” he explained, while noting that overall the two cities’ climates are similar enough that they do share a number of ingredients in common. Only a handful of ingredients are imported, such as cheeses, moss, and seaweed.
A front “lawn” of real grass, complete with a picnic table, welcomes guests into the clean, bright space dominated by white and wood tones, and accentuated by streaks of earthy color from various foods being pickled in jars along one wall. A spacious private dining room in the back accommodates 20 next to the glass-walled wine room, but the best seats in the house are at the bar, which overlooks an open kitchen where Hedlund and his team work.
The wine program, developed under the auspices of sommelier Pernille Folkersen, features a range of accessibly priced glasses and bottles, heavy on champagne and burgundy, including a large selection of natural wines (so hot right now). Also available is cider, sake– which Kær explained pairs well with the freshness and acidity of New Nordic cuisine– and a beer list featuring entries from Brooklyn-by-way-of-Denmark craft outfit Evil Twin Brewing.