Coriander, cardamom, pickled fish, dumplings and Douglas fir may sound like the makings of a special holiday feast but they're on the menu all year long at Plaj (pronounced like "play"). Hidden away inside the Inn at the Opera hotel near City Hall, this two-year-old destination for Scandinavian food comes from Sweden-born chef Roberth Sundell and his wife Andrea. It's a festive time of year — with ribbons, bows and twinkling lights filling our city's trees and storefronts — so the Nordic flavors at Plaj seem even more appropriate. Here are six dishes you've got to try this winter.
No gelatinized meat brick here. Sundell's delicate, loosely packed headcheese ($14) comes with pickled carrot ribbons, a light-handed horseradish cream and quince jam. This dish is also part of the five-course Julbord Scandinavian Christmas menu ($65) the restaurant will serve on December 14 and 21. Alternate bites with sips of the bar's housemade aquavit, a gin-like Scandanavian liquor with hints of coriander and caraway.
Pile sweet chunks of pickled herring ($14) onto housemade rye crackers and make sure you get a little bit of browned butter, salmon roe, fresh dill and allspice-pickled onion into each bite. A glass of mineraly Muscat from Alsace compliments these flavors.
One of the most delicate dishes on the menu, lobster ($28) comes in a sudsy bisque broth with fresh dill, avocado and lumpfish caviar. This makes a great segway into the menu's heartier fare.
A tender section of ox cheek ($25) sits over farro, frizzled onions and mustard greens. Little half-globes of green apple and a snowy pile of freshly grated horseradish reset your palate, making it very hard to put down the fork.
Although the menu has a nice gnocchi dish, save that for Italian restaurants and try these oozy Swedish potato dumplings ($14). Salty lardon bits and an onion broth give each bite a powerful umami hit.
A Danish take on donuts, these abelskivers taste a bit like a fluffy pancake ball. Smears of salty butter and sugary cloudberry jam are a must on each bite.