Although I’ve yet to witness throngs of excitable youths galloping down Manhattan Avenue screaming for smørrebrød, maatjes herring in their bloated hipster bellies slowing them down, it would seem that the modest Nordic invasion of the past few years has ingrained itself in New York’s dining culture. The hallmarks of these establishments — spartan, pointed design elements with occasionally austere food to match, an emphasis on constructing meals from the ground up, and highlighting lesser-known or underutilized ingredients like spelt berries and tree needles — present a distinct vision of food at its most primal, even if it often takes modern techniques to get there. Was that bog I tasted in a palate-cleansing quenelle of cranberry sorbet? Acerbic and fresh, the unsweetened fruit was bracing in its potency, aided by a sweet and peppery ginger cordial.
The sorbet was just one memorable taste in a procession of courses at Luksus, the Nordic-inspired Greenpoint restaurant behind beer bar Tørst from Daniel Burns and peripatetic Danish brewer and beer consultant Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø of Evil Twin Brewing. Tørst is a worthy destination on its own, with handsome backlit wall taps and a massive selection of hard-to-find suds from craft brewers domestic and abroad that are special enough to make even the most fervent beer geeks perk up. Hidden behind a sliding white door, the restaurant maintains an aesthetic modernism — all blond wood and soft light — while evoking the rustic intimacy of the many watering holes scattered throughout Scandinavian coastal towns. The duo allowed Tørst to get its sea legs before opening Luksus in July.
Despite what some have asserted, Luksus is not the only restaurant in New York offering a tasting menu with beer pairings. Formerly neo-Czech restaurant Hospoda has, under new chef René Stein, implemented a beer-paired tasting as well — albeit Hospoda mostly dabbles in Pilsner Urquell, one of the Czech Republic’s most prized exports and a fine if industrial product. In contrast, Jarnit-Bjergsø presides over a fluctuating list featuring thought-provoking proprietary efforts (including several that are exclusive to the restaurant) that in some instances eclipse the food as conversation piece.
That was certainly the case with the first pour of the night, a sour, slightly bitter American wild ale from gypsy brewer Mikkeller (run by Jeppe’s brother, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø) called “It’s Alive!” fermented with rhubarb and brettanomyces yeast. The funky, light bubbles were perfect for a procession of small snacks in place of champagne: roasted sunchoke puree chips dusted with vinegar powder, crisp lamb sweetbreads to dip in burnt-hay gribiche, creamy chunks of cod head sitting on crunchy chicken skin, and the stuffed, baked Danish pancakes called aebleskiver. Typically sweet, Burns fills his with duck confit and cranberry puree, a holdover from Thanksgiving.
When Luksus first launched, diners received three of these snacks before the main event for $75. Burns and Co. have since upped the number of snacks to five and set their menu at $95, making it the fifth most expensive tasting in Brooklyn, tied with Battersby. And so, it was surprising to see a single sliver of radish cradling a small pile of diced watermelon radish relish on my seafood allergy–prone companion’s plate in place of the lightly cured fluke that I enjoyed. The fluke was served in tandem with the cod head, but my fellow diner received no substitution for the latter. Radishes took the place of seafood later in the meal as well, this time standing in for thin coins of raw scallop in a bacon dashi. As we’d given the restaurant fair warning, it was a bit lackluster. Diners should be grateful for any substitutions, but a radish slice topped with more radishes?
Possible miscommunication aside, clean flavors dominate the bulk of the meal. Folds of peppery black radish and sweet chestnut found their footing in a vivid serrano chili–spiked squash broth poured tableside. Combining unexpected spice with winter squash electrified the otherwise mild ingredient. Burns has a way with meat as well. One night, the chef spooned brown butter over mandolin-thin slices of rutabaga next to a medallion of just-pink ribeye. Soon after our server returned with an accompanying side dish of spelt berries cooked risotto-style and covered by a thin sheet of beef heart. Even the bread feels elemental: bulky, yeast-forward slices of dark sourdough served with soft cow’s milk butter.
A dessert of carrot parfait reinforced the kitchen’s devotion to purity, pairing the vegetable’s innate sweetness with gels of cumin blood orange and pine. The carrot’s astringent accompaniments made the parfait taste sweeter still; the dessert was accompanied by a murky altbier from Düsseldorf’s Uerige brewpub. Fruity and cake-like, the beer rounded out the dish with a richness hidden within the plate, and it’s this way in which beer is treated as an equal partner to food that makes Luksus stand out. For suds-loving gourmands, dinner at Luksus is an all but necessary experience.