Beef Tartare at Skal, the Lower East Side's New Icelandic Bar


[Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

There's not much to look at on the walk to Skal, a Nordic cocktail bar and restaurant on the far end of Canal Street. But a recent visit on a cold, cloudy night was rewarded with surprising warmth from the bar and a chatty but civil crowd. And, of course, this tartare.

The dish is elusively called Raw Beef ($15) on the menu, and the demure description of "littleneck clams, wild onions, and grilled bread" do little to prepare you for this unevenly chopped plate, with some morsels no larger than a pea, others big enough to hang off your fork. There's those chamomile fronds on top for starters, and a sprinkling of pollen, and a tiny chamomile flower stuck in the meat that looks like the punchline to a James Thurber joke.

But that's garnish. The soul of the dish is its raw roar of beefiness, almost alarmingly savory yet not oversalted. Take your time with it—you'll need to as not to be overwhelmed—and let the meat sit on your tongue a second before you chew. The flavor is clear and uninterrupted, beef good enough not to require adornment, with a hint of briny salinity from the clams. Then there's the toast, which is bathed in beef fat before hitting the grill, and its fattiness draws out the sweet meatiness of the beef all the more.

The dish is larger than it appears in the photo, but make no mistake: this is a tiny portion of food for what you're paying. But take a bite and you'll see there's nothing precious about it. The flavor well outsizes the plate.