Imagine yourself being a part of a psychological test where you are asked to mention what comes into your mind when you hear the word “Scandinavia“….ummm…let’s see…IKEA, ABBA, Bjork and the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy? This, my friends is not even the tip of the iceberg. Scandinavian culture is very promising and has so much to offer, right from the cuisine, to the tradition.
Our insatiable desire to experience Scandinavian cuisine first hand, became a quest that had the Norse gods pointing us to the nearest Scandinavian restaurant…and that folks is the Pläj Scandinavian Bar & Restaurant in San Francisco, California.
Pläj has been open only for a short while, but has received rave reviews. We decided to go through an entire three course meal complete with drinks that packed quite a punch!!Instead of ordering the usual glass of wine, we took the more traditional route and ordered the insanely popular “Aquavit” to sample with our dinner. Aquavit is a rather strong potato based alcoholic drink, and is flavored with a combination of herbs such as carroway, cardamom, cumin and anise. It was served in a rather elegant shot glass that probably belongs in the delicate and dainty hands of a woman with class and flair.
We ordered the “Linje” Aquavit which has a rather interesting history behind its preparation. History says that the aquavit was placed in Viking ships running from Norway to Australia where it was left to brave the elements. The Aquavit was then collected and distributed from ths ship after it travelled over the equator twice. This process is still followed to this day and word has it that the Aquavit acquires an enhanced flavor by followng this process. For all you burgeoning alcoholics, the aquavit can be accompanied with your favorite brand of beer!!…yup! you heard us right…aquavit (which is alcohol), with beer (which is more alcohol)!!
Since we were going the traditional route, we figured that starting the meal off with some pickled herring done two ways, one being breaded and fried (called breaded Skåne) with pickled onions and carrots, and the other being herring with a rich and creamy saffron and mustard sauce accompanied by a colorful potato salad with miniature red potatoes,onions and chives and yes, ofcourse the ever so prevalent Norwegian flatbrød or “flat bread.” It doesn’t get more Scandinavian than pickled herring and a glass of Aquavit! Talk about living life the Scandinavian way!!
With an appetizer as exceptional as the herring, expectations were running high for the entrees. As you can guess by now…we took the Scandinavian route here too and ordered the Swedish meatballs with lingonberry preserves and mashed potatoes and then there was the Krondill poached lobster Skagen (which is a town in Denmark), served under a mound of frothy goodness with hints of horseradish,avocado and chilli along with white fish caviar to top it all off. Swedish meatballs with lingonberry is such a classic favorite and shone through like the star it is.
Other entrees worth mentioning are the saddle venison, the port braised ox cheek and for the more adventurous of you, the charcuteri with its selection of meats such as cured pork belly, cured lamb belly and wild boar salami all accompanied by spicy gooseberry jam and rye bread. Unfortunately, we did not have the stomach to chow down on some stomach…we’re getting there though!
The dessert menu was a little more contemporary than the rest of the menu, but we were as diligent as two food enthusiasts could be, about taking the more traditional route and went straight for the chocolate torte with cloudberry sorbet placed in a creamy vanilla sauce with meringue cookies. Cloudberry costs big bucks in the United States and is worshipped even in Sweden where it is referred to as “gold of the bogs.” The chefs at Pläj import cloudberry preserves from Sweden to add to the dessert menu. We were very inspired to get our own cloudberry based dessert in the works after our dessert.
Pläj is overall, a wonderful restaurant with a great ambience, fast and attentive service and has stayed as true to the Scandinavian culinary experience as possible.