Wednesday, February 07, 2007


February 4

I feel what is perhaps an inappropriate attachment to Riingo, because I'm pretty sure I was the first person to write about its first executive chef, Johan Svensson.
It all started after the 2003 James Beard Foundation Awards. Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit was named the best chef in New York, and I somehow ended up in the Aquavit celebratory limo, seated next to a jovial Johan, who said he was going to be the chef at Marcus’ new restaurant.
"He's opening a new restaurant?" I asked, and resolved to quickly write a profile of him.
The profile turned out well. Johan explained how to barbecue a reindeer, and I got to make Viking jokes.
Johan recently became the executive chef at Aquavit (Marcus hasn't been in charge of day-to-day activities there for years), and Riingo's new chef is a Swede of Finnish descent named Jimmy Lappalainen (I broke that story, and felt kind of bad about it because the Aquavit people were trying to keep the move under the radar until the chefs settled in, which isn’t unreasonable).
This evening I went there with my friend Chandler to see what Jimmy was up to.
Chandler had just returned from Paris that day, but he said he was only slightly nauseous from jet lag and was happy to come to dinner.
Chandler, being a scent critic, was especially enamored of aromatic menu elements, like the vanilla-scented eggplant puree that was served with seared scallops. Jimmy told us he used Tahitian vanilla for that. As I understand it, Tahitian vanilla is traditionally used more for perfume-making and bourbon vanilla is used in food, but Tahitian vanilla in food was all the rage a few years ago. Now vanilla of any sort is enjoying a culinary resurgence.
He also liked the mango-mint soup we had for dessert, and pointed out that manufactured mango scents contain a fair amount of cis-3 hexanol, which is the scent of freshly cut grass.
We also had tuna tartare with pickled daikon and chives, beer-braised short ribs (which also were on Johan's menu) with apple purée and hearts of palm, pan-seared cod with caramelized cabbage and plum, and five-spice duck breast with tapioca dumplings and mustard greens.
Oh, and a bunch of assorted sushi and sashimi, including ama ebi, which are in season right now.
Ama ebi translates as "sweet shrimp" but it’s actually raw shrimp. I love it, but it has an acquired texture.

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