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.
A tender sunchoke heart topped with a pickled watermelon rind and accompanied by a creamy sunchoke puree.
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.
They're based around genever, akvavit, wine, or beer, though many other spirits find their way in, as well. The B-Side Sling (Bols genever, roobis vermouth, lemon, maraschino, bitters) and Pack Mule (strawberry-peppercorn akvavit, ginger, Pimms, lemon, Campari) were both sweeter than we'd anticipated, but well-balanced and refreshing; the Manolin (akvavit, white rum, yellow chartreuse, lime, grapefruit syrup, kaffir lime) was more spirit-forward, drawing out and softening the sharp bite of chartreuse without obscuring the spirit.
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)
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)
The restaurant has more than forty on rotation; we were quite happy with our trio of radish, cherries, and super-snappy peas.
Lots of pickles, lots of booze.
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)
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)
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.
Hete Blicksem ($8)
Two bites of this has had me longing for winter ever since; I can imagine myself with a skillet of this "hot lightning" at least twice a week once the snow starts to fall. Fingerling potatoes, apple bits and thick-cut chunks of bacon (some so fatty and pale, they could masquerade as potato), all netted in a web of sweet stroop syrup—sweater food at its finest. Bacon and stroop infuse every last potato granule. Breakfast, dinner, dessert; there's no time I wouldn't love this.
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)
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."
While the lamb blade steak was a slightly awkward cut, the bone appearing just where you don't think it will, the meat was phenomenal: incredibly tender, with just enough of a sear. Perched on a bed of thinly shaved eggplant that soaks in the sour cherry juices.
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.
"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)
Given a spectacular crust, the mild fish perked up with pickled fennel and grapefruit confit that didn't lose its citrus punch.
Peach Lambic Crisp ($9)
We loved this peach lambic crisp; we loved the quenelle of ras el hanout ice cream even more.
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.
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.