Long Island City’s Sage General Store (24-20 Jackson Avenue, Queens; 718-361-0707) — ordinarily a breakfast and lunch spot — has recently been playing host to a pop-up restaurant called Mr. Nilsson, the first to bring Scandinavian fare to the neighborhood. So named because its female owner, Leslie Nilsson, began receiving job applications from chefs addressed to a “Mr. Nilsson,” the pop-up serves four- and eight-course tasting menus at dinnertime, Tuesdays through Saturdays. The chefs are Greg Proechel, who previously helped develop massive 28-course tasting menus for Blanca, and Michael Kollarik, who has cooked at the Cannibal, Momofuku, and Edi and the Wolf; they’re delving into Nordic cuisine for the first time. We stopped by to sample the food, which ran counter to images of Scandinavia as a solemn, chilly region: Each dish was vivid and vibrant in color and taste.
On a recent evening, the four-course tasting menu began with an amuse-bouche of chicharrón — made from fish rather than pork skin — topped with American caviar and dill; it was a pleasingly salty and crunchy opener to the meal. The first course was pickled cauliflower (some of the vegetables were colored a deep scarlet) with brussels sprouts and psychedelic-looking romanesco served over creamy labneh, a clever counterpoint to the vegetables’ sharpness.
The next dish also featured some lovely hues, in the form of pink-and-white striped radish, along with fermented beets, salmon roe, and dill blanketing tender squares of cured mackerel. We were then treated to another interstitial snack — slices of fingerling potato with anchovy — and we ordered a dense brown bread, which came with a green, briny snail butter and an intense orange caraway butter. After the bread was gone, we barely resisted devouring the butter straight.
The main course was a thick cut of Icelandic cod, with a salty, golden crust and tender, flaky white flesh. Beneath the cod was sweet sunchoke purée, as well as a deep-green pool of miner’s lettuce, a leaf native to the western U.S. and Canada. It tasted like a liquified, more potent spinach, a smart complement to the mild fish.
Another bite, goat cheese funnel cake with lingonberry jam, stood out just as much as the courses, and would make for an excellent bar snack served with beer.
Finally, dessert was a sweet — but not overwhelmingly so — brown butter cake with honey semifreddo, accompanied by carrots, the vegetable’s sugars drawn out through roasting.
Service was accommodating throughout; servers explained the components of each dish in detail, and made a first-course substitution for a guest with a cauliflower allergy. The meal shows that the team behind Mr. Nilsson is invested in bringing innovative, eye-catching cuisine to Queens, in a cozy setting that’s in keeping with the borough’s down-to-earth feel.
One staff member said the pop-up is here to stay indefinitely. It’ll be worth tracking how the menu changes with the seasons.