Slideshow: Vandaag in the East Village: So Much More Than a Gin Bar

Bitterballen ($10)
Bitterballen ($10)
Where Vandaag does comfort food, they do so extraordinarily well. These oxtail croquets are fried to a greaseless crisp, an almost fragile shell housing a melty core of slow-braised oxtail bound with a gouda bechamel, the last of which accounts for the creaminess and slight nutty edge of the interior. A mustard relish cuts each fatty bite nicely.
Amuse #1
Amuse #1
A tender sunchoke heart topped with a pickled watermelon rind and accompanied by a creamy sunchoke puree.
Amuse #2
Amuse #2
A custard-smooth corn soup shows off all the vegetable's August sweetness, with lemon verbena and saffron artfully laid on top; chili oil and pickled okra keep things lively. These two sips left me wanting a bowlful.
Akvavit
Akvavit
Sample the Scandinavian spirit in cocktails, or in flights (3/$20). Sipping the strawberry with long pepper and sarawak peppercorn, you get the fruit more than the spice; chamomile citron makes for a beautifully smooth, almost soothing sip going down.
Bread Basket ($6)
Bread Basket ($6)
Country white and country wheat, delicate crisps and a fig-semolina bread scented with cardamom. Alone, they're worth an order, but become unmissable with the addition of a lentil-sumac spread and a small mound of gin butter.
Seasonal Pickle Pot ($5)
Seasonal Pickle Pot ($5)
The restaurant has more than forty on rotation; we were quite happy with our trio of radish, cherries, and super-snappy peas.
Plates
Plates
We like restaurants that don't take themselves too seriously. Vandaag brought out different sharing plates with each course, and this was one of our favorites—well, along with the melting rainbow face and the friendly-looking robot. Better than fortune cookies.
Chilled cucumber soup ($9)
Chilled cucumber soup ($9)
The cucumber's fresh vegetal bite is a perfect backdrop for the cocktail of gin, mint, and ginger dancing on top; it's texturally playful, too, a soft ribbon of pickled cantelope under crunchy, salty smoked eel that didn't sog in the slightest.
Lamb Sweetbreads ($13)
Lamb Sweetbreads ($13)
The only dish of the evening we didn't want to finish. The sweetbreads were heavy and lifeless, the bed of chicory less a contrast than a welcome distraction.
Romaine ($11)
Romaine ($11)
A sort of reimagined Caesar, taut fingers of romaine in a herring vinaigrette with crumbles of sausage and pistachios.
"Quarter-pound prawn" ($13)
One massive prawn, cooked uniformly, despite its size; nowhere chewy, nowhere mushy. Flanked by dehydrated corn and a battered zucchini flower.
Little neck clams ($23)
Little neck clams ($23)
They bathe in a broth touched by aquavit, aleppo pepper, and vanilla—a sharp, saline broth that tastes like nothing so much as an ocean liqueur. Perfect with the salty crunch of parsnip "frites."
Vandaag
Vandaag "Ham" Burger ($15)
Don't expect a run-of-the-mill burger. Vandaag's is a blend of Pat LaFrieda pork and dry-aged beef, rolled in Benton's bacon, and slow-cooked as a roulade to medium rare; it's then sliced up and seared.
Autopsy shot
Autopsy shot
"It's more hammy in taste and texture than any burger you'll find," says Brendan Spiro, "thus the name." While the bun is a bit stiff for an optimal burger-eating experience, just think of this as a beautiful marriage of meats and you won't be disappointed.
Sea bream ($22)
Sea bream ($22)
Given a spectacular crust, the mild fish perked up with pickled fennel and grapefruit confit that didn't lose its citrus punch.
Chocolate Pudding ($8)
Chocolate Pudding ($8)
Not the childhood rainbow-sprinkled concoction it looks, the thick, spoon-clinging chocolate pudding is topped with anise sprinkles and partnered with a chartreuse ice behind a wall of crumbled cookie. A thinner pudding might have wobbled and weakened with such a wet bowl-fellow, but the chocolate is so robust it just glides over the top.
Stroopwafel ($4)
Stroopwafel ($4)
There are far worse endings to a meal than this Frisbee-sized stroopwafel. The Dutch cookies are often perched over mugs of tea or coffee for the caramel-like filling to soften, but for this guy, you'd need a bowl of cafe au lait.