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Ulrika's


rlibkind
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Because my wife is half-Norweigian and loves all things Scandinavian, except herring, and because I love herring, we finally made it to Ulrika's on E. 60th just east of Park for a late lunch Thursday.

The ultimate test is the Swedish meatball, which my wife ordered. It was just like you'd get at a Lutheran church supper whose church ladies knew how to cook. Good taste, firm and smooth texture, in a nice, lightly-applied gravy with a heap of lingonberries and a side of okay mashed potatoes. Marcus Samuelsson's recipe from his Aquavit cookbook produces a lighter meatball, but the one Ulrika serves passes the test and is a tad more traditional.

Each table gets two breads: a baked-in-a-flowerpot Swedish rye, slightly sweet, very carraway-y without sign of seeds, and a Wasa-like dark flatbread that was much better than you'll find in a package at the supermarket; I didn't ask, but it may well have been made on the premises.

I started out with the herring plate, five or six different styles of herring (mustard, matjes, tomato, among them, as well as something green from herbs) served on a big plate with a single small boiled potato, a slice of Västerbotten cheese and a tidy mound of egg salad. Excellent composition, even better taste. But then, I've yet to meet a marinated herring (other than the ones Maine lobstermen put in their traps) that I didn't like.

Of course, you can't eat herring with some aquavit (Aalborg Jubilee Aquavit, flavored with dill and coriander) and a beer (Ulrika's house draft pilsner). My wife thoroughly enjoyed a wine drink that might be more appropriate in warm weather: a light chilled white into which was scattered tiny cubes of cucumber and strawberries, freshened even more with a squeeze of lime. Sounds awful, tastes great, so long as you regard it as a refreshing beverage rather than an excursion into wine snobbery.

For a main I went for the Beef a la Rydberg: good, hot, crispy small cubes of double-fried potato accompanying larger cubes of good quality beef, seared and sauteed to a perfect medium rare.

Another entree that looked good when I saw it delivered to a nearby table was the fish soup: nice cuts of salmon, cod and some shellfish in a saffron broth with just enough cream to make it mellow. The perfect Atkins lunch. One of the two smart East Side middle-aged ladies at the table kept remarking: "This place is a find, an absolute find!"

I went for the dessert special, semlor, an almond-enhanced sweet bun split and stuffed with cream. In a more religious and stern Lutherna time, it was only served on Fat Tuesday, but now appears soon after Christmas and stays through Lent. My wife loves Scandinavian batter goodies, so she ordered the Swedish pancakes; the server gladly accommodated her request for more lingonberries rather than blueberries. The stack of three-inch lacy pancakes exceeded all expectations.

The long room is attractively decorated in a muted and underdone Country Swedish style. Service hit just the right note for a casual lunch.

Marcus Samuelsson is rightly acclaimed for his new Scandinavian-fusion cookery, and Aquavit remains a favorite of mine. But for high-level Scandinavian cooking of a more traditional nature, visit Ulrika's.

Now, if only I could find a restaurant that made good Danish sandwiches!

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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I went for the dessert special, semlor, an almond-enhanced sweet bun split and stuffed with cream. In a more religious and stern Lutherna time, it was only served on Fat Tuesday, but now appears soon after Christmas and stays through Lent.

Was just talking about these in another thread. I've always known them as "Shrove Tuesday Buns." My father says he learned about them when he was a postdoc in Upsala, that they are traditional for Shrove Tuesday but eaten throughout lent in Scandinavia. The way I always had them was with hot milk poured over the filling before the cream was put on top.

Thanks for telling us about Ulrika's! I, too, love herring in all its glorious forms, so I'll definitely want to check this out.

By the way, Ulrika's has a web site. According to the site, they won "Best Herring in New York" from the NY Press in the annual "Best of Manhattan" survey. They even have recipes for some of their dishes, including the award winning "herring kiss."

--

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Thanks for that good report.

What are the prices like?

At lunch, appetizer prices range from$9-$16, mains $15-$22 (there are also sandwiches at $10 and under).

The website offers full menu with prices. No wine or drinks list/prices, though. But if youj really want to indulge (and can walk home or take a cab) there's a $38 flight of 10, count 'em, 10 aquavits!

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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I went for the dessert special, semlor, an almond-enhanced sweet bun split and stuffed with cream. In a more religious and stern Lutherna time, it was only served on Fat Tuesday, but now appears soon after Christmas and stays through Lent.

Was just talking about these in another thread. I've always known them as "Shrove Tuesday Buns." My father says he learned about them when he was a postdoc in Upsala, that they are traditional for Shrove Tuesday but eaten throughout lent in Scandinavia. The way I always had them was with hot milk poured over the filling before the cream was put on top.

The semla at Ulrika's are similar, though not identical, to the ones described on the other string. Where those are hollowed out and then the crumbs mixed up with other goodies, at Ulrika's the bun is just split and filled with cream. I'm no pastry expert, so I'm uncertain how the almond flavor is introduced; there might be a little finely ground almond in the dough, but I really don't know. Ulrika's offers hot milk with them, too.

If you really want a herring feast, try Aquavit's Sunday buffet. Or, of course, get take home from Russ & Daughters. Ulrika's web site said she created some Scandinavian herrings for that revered establishment.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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On a more serious note, I dined at Ulrika's recently too.

I shared the herring sampler appetizer, which was very good (and fun to eat) but reminded me of the majtes herring that comes in a jar. I think I was hoping for fresh herring, rather than pickled -- but I understand that's a seasonal thing here, apparently it's imported in the spring and is available in the U.S. for a very short time.

Followed that up with the Swedish meatballs served with mashed potatoes, sauteed spinach, and lingonberries (which resemble tiny cranberries). Oddly, meatballs -n- mashed potatoes reminded me of Jewish soul food, as did the herring.

My wife thoroughly enjoyed a wine drink that might be more appropriate in warm weather: a light chilled white into which was scattered tiny cubes of cucumber and strawberries, freshened even more with a squeeze of lime.

I tried the same drink, and I thought it was one of the highlights of the meal. It was so pretty, it looked like pink and green flowers floating in the glass! Next time I go back, I'm trying the hot glogg.

Like rlibkind, I also eyed my neighbors' plates...the table next to us had orded a tasting menu -- and everything looked great. And the dishes just kept coming! They were seated and nibbling herring when we arrived, and still were nibbling contentedly even as we paid the check and departed.

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Well I know where I'm taking my Swedish sweetie :wink:

"Give me 8 hours, 3 people, wine, conversation and natural ingredients and I'll give you one of the best nights in your life. Outside of this forum - there would be no takers."- Wine_Dad, egullet.org

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Next time I go back, I'm trying the hot glogg.

Glogg, with the umlaut above the "o" is a traditional holiday drink that is typically only served in the several parties leading up to Christmas. I've visited Sweden several times (what can I say, I have a thing for hot blonde women :wub: ) and have never had it in any other month than December, from St. Lucia day and on. You would never find it off-season in a restaurant in Sweden. Basically, it's red wine that's simmered with cloves, cinammon, and a few other spices.

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  • 1 year later...

Last night I went out to dinner with an expatriate Swede. I thought she'd enjoy visiting Ulrika's, where I'd eaten several times before. I was unprepared for the waves of nostalgic rapture that radiated out from her from the moment she walked in until the time she cleaned out their take-out candy counter on the way out. So I guess any questions about whether Ulrike's is authentic must be answered in the affirmative.

As the thread subtitle here says, Ulrike's is unfused and unreconstructed Swedish food. My dining companion disliked Aquavit: she said she found the food there overly elaborated and (she said the following with a look of utter contempt) "not even Swedish, but rather some pan-Scandanavian fusion." But she loved Ulrika's, because it was what she'd eaten all of her pre-moving-to-the-U.S. life.

This non-Swedish New York Jew will note that the quality of ingredients and preparation at Ulrika's can't touch Aquavit. BUT I prefer Ulrika's anyway. I, too, find the food at Aquavit over-elaborated and fussy. While Ulrika's isn't a patch on Lupa, the food has the same deep, soulful quality (although the food at Ulrika's isn't of the same quality as the food at Lupa in any other way). It's very satisfying.

I had a hot glogg at the bar, which sort of horrified my dining companion since it's after Christmas. She had that beautiful white wine drink that people have already remarked upon in this thread. I think it was called something like bai (with an umlaut somewhere). I ended up having one, too, and while it didn't taste quite as good as it looked, I'll certainly want another when the weather warms up.

For my appetizer, I had a traditional dish called raraka. It consists of a bunch of not-assertively-flavored fish roe and chopped raw onions heaped on top of a potato pancake (I believe the Swedish word for that is latke) with sour cream. This non-Swedish barbarian would have preferred this dish if the roe were more sharply flavored. But it was hard not to like.

For my main dish, I had a venison chop. It wasn't the best venison I've ever had in my life, but it was fine. It had some kind of fruit or berry sauce that tasted very good on it. It was accompanied by another potato pancake (this time they called it rosti), some parsnip (I think it was) puree, and -- oddly -- a piece of smoked fish. Even more oddly, the fish went very well with the venison. As they say in Sweden, go know.

Dessert was funny. (Funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha.) It was billed as cheesecake with cloudberry sauce. But what it was, under the cloudberry sauce, was these dry strips of sweetened cheese food. I thought they were too dry, and insufficiently flavored. I was about to dismiss it as failed attempt at cheesecake when my dining companion exclaimed that it was a traditional Swedish dessert that everyone in her family loves. I guess that's what comes of living thousands of miles from Junior's.

No one is going to claim that Ulrika's is one of the best restaurants in New York. But it's a very pleasant place to eat very solid, pleasing food. And people are always asking about romantic restaurants. Well, let me say this: if you're taking out a homesick Swede, Ulrika's is as much a "sure thing" as Trader Vic's used to be.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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