6 at Astor Pl.; N, R, W at 8th St.-NYU
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This venue is closed.
During the recently vanished go-go era, it was relatively easy to hire an eccentric fusion chef from Bangkok, say, or Lyon; hang a chandelier (or a disco ball) from the ceiling of a warehouse downtown; and call your restaurant “cutting-edge.” But in these stripped-down, monochromatic times, it’s more difficult to separate yourself from the pack. Which may explain why the proprietors of Vandaag are marketing their interesting new East Village restaurant in all sorts of eclectic, slightly confounding ways. The name means “today” in Dutch, but the food isn’t Dutch exactly (“We call it ‘Northern European–influenced,’ ” a waiter told me). Vandaag is also a gin bar (cocktails made with old-fashioned Dutch “genever” gin are a house specialty) and a boutique farm-to-table restaurant (ingredients come from “the bounty of the Hudson region,” according to its website), and if you want first-class baked goods (gingerbread, macarons, fresh rye bread), the restaurant has those, too.
Vandaag’s inventive executive chef, Phillip Kirschen-Clark, is an acolyte of Wylie Dufresne (he also worked briefly for Paul Liebrandt at Corton), and he has a penchant for madcap, slightly obsessive locavore experimentation. Pickles are brined on the premises and adjusted according to the season (our $5 pot contained okra and pickled cherries), the excellent bread basket is made from scratch (Kirschen-Clark forages for the flour in local markets) and served with butter and a pat of mashed red lentils, and the salty-sweet Pine Island oysters are doused in white-wine vinegar and genever, in accordance, our friendly waiter intoned, with a recipe from 1840s Manhattan. The dense, strangely addictive house burger is wrapped in smoky bacon and made with a combination of beef and artisanal pork, and my Dutch-fusion version of Caesar salad was garnished with a crumbling of sausages and pistachio and spritzed with a subtle herring vinaigrette.
Inevitably, some of these experiments work better than others. “I think I’ve reached my pickle limit,” muttered the lady to my left, as she tasted a bowl of cool cucumber soup garnished, Northern European style, with a few too many tiny crispy eels, as well as ribbons of overpickled cantaloupe. The littleneck clams I sampled were fresh enough but swamped in an awkward broth flavored with aquavit and too much vanilla, and the flavor of my properly fatty artisanal pork chop was slightly lost under a thick glaze made with mead wine and Mission figs. The salty, well-charred lamb steak was more successful (it’s a blade steak, plated with an inventive purée made with cauliflower and goat’s milk), as were the seafood dishes, like striped bass (filleted, with a spoonful of sweet fennel jam on the side), and piles of crispy fried sea bream garnished with grapefruit and more fennel, which Kirschen-Clark serves as an open-face smørrebrød sandwich, at lunch, on a slice of toasted rye.
The room at Vandaag is bright and airy, in a clean, modish, Euro-style sort of way, and my favorite time to visit is at lunch, when the big casement windows are thrown open to the street and the menu includes other smørrebrød sandwiches, topped with ribbons of lamb or slabs of Benton’s bacon sweetened with fresh peaches. For diligent boozehounds, lunch is also a good time to begin working your woozy way through the bar list, which includes frothy “witbier” cocktails (ask for the Radler), twelve mostly Belgian and Dutch beers on tap, and a series of deadly cocktails made with different varieties of aquavit, and more genever. If you’re still standing, I recommend the baked goods for dessert (especially the gingerbread folded with apricots), and the supremely filling, aptly named Dutch calorie bomb called “smoutballen,” which is a giant, baseball-size fritter filled with clouds of freshly made hazelnut chocolate mousse.Ideal Meal
Romaine salad, “ham” burger, or lamb blade steak, smoutballen