Modern Dutch food in New Amsterdam.
Mon Oct 11 2010
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
You might expect a restaurant with a name like Vandaag to be tended to by a clog-wearing waitstaff. But while the sign outside seems to signal an old-school Dutch sensibility, its translation provides a better explanation of what the place is about.
Vandaag means "today," as in fresh and up-to-date. Which perfectly sums up this new hybrid caf, bar and bistro—from the design-mag decor featuring cagelike steel chandeliers and low-slung black leather banquettes, to the cutting-edge cocktails and Greenmarket cuisine executed with modern techniques.
Unlike so many new downtown venues—caught up in the mania for all-American drunk food—Vandaag's young chef, Phillip Kirschen-Clark, explores a style of regional cooking still underexposed in New York. Northern Europe, specifically Holland and Denmark, provides the aesthetic framework not just for the food, but also the clean lines in the dining room, and the outstanding mixed drinks.
Former Clover Club barkeep Katie Stipe offers some of the city's most unusual cocktails, built with beer, wine, jenever and aquavit. The Radler—made with pineapple-infused aquavit, ginger syrup and Belgian wheat beer—was light and refreshing, while the Turf War utilized tart aquavit, Lillet, maraschino liqueur and absinthe to achieve a beautiful balance.
Kirschen-Clark, a veteran of Corton and wd~50, offers great snacks to go along with Stipe's drinks, like bright seasonal pickles (cherries, turnips, cucumbers and radishes on one recent visit) and crisp bitterballen—essentially meaty croquettes—filled with deliciously rich strands of Mornay-sauced oxtail.
The chef—a high-end technician and an original voice—also cooks food worth settling in for, departing from the comfort-food zeitgeist with offbeat accents added to just about every dish. His beautifully crunchy sweetbread nuggets, in one generous starter, come with lush Concord grape mayo for dipping as if they were fries from an Amsterdam street cart. The steamed clams that followed at dinner one night were wonderfully fragrant—submerged in a mix of vanilla-butter and garlic, with shoestring parsnip fries for sopping up the sauce. Though lamb riblets showed up still chewy despite a long braise in kelp stock, an exacting cauliflower quintet—the florets served pureed, griddled, braised, fried and raw—helped salvage the dish.
The restaurant grew rowdy with cocktail hounds as the evening progressed, but it was downright idyllic on another visit midday, the sun still streaming in over the sunflowers in the big picture windows. The focus of the menu at lunch is on the sort of open-faced sandwiches you might find in a blue-collar Danish caf, a full hearty meal—like a perfectly crisp sea bass fillet with tart grapefruit and fennel—atop country bread baked daily in-house.
Even without a pastry chef, the sweet treats (an oversize cream puff filled with light Nutella mousse, warm caramel wafers pressed fresh to order) deliver an inspired conclusion. With their unfamiliar names (smoutballen, stroopwaffel) and exciting flavors, they're fitting finales for a restaurant that realizes that being current means starting trends—not following them.
Drink this: Hard-to-find Dutch beers are available, but don't miss cocktails like the Radler ($10) and the Turf War ($12).
Eat this: Seasonal pickles, bitterballen, clams, sea bass sandwich
Sit here: By day the most inviting seats are on the picnic benches under the wall of windows along East 6th Street. At night you may want to settle instead into a plush leather banquette facing the scene at the bar.
Conversation piece: Vandaag is owned by Brendan Spiro, a restaurant consultant with an esoteric sensibility; in the '90s he ran a Scandinavian-Asian fusion spot in Tribeca.
103 Second Ave at 6th St (212-253-0470). Subway: F to Lower East Side--Second Ave, 6 to Astor Pl. Mon, Tue 9am--midnight; Wed--Sat 9am--1:30am; Sun 11am--midnight. Average main course: $23.