In what has become a Sunday tradition, my global foodie friend Julia and I took a trip to Northern Europe for some smoked fish and roasted game.
I’ve never actually been to Northern Europe (such a shame, I know) nor do I know anything about its cuisine beyond fondue and smoked salmon (two very delicious things). Let the edification begin…
Vandaag | Unfamiliar territory
The restaurant managed to capture what is so effortlessly cool about Scandinavian culture. Mis-matched plates designed by local artists, a row of taps at the bar prominently displaying all the Northern European crafted beers available for conscientious consumption, plain yet poignant decorations scattered about (I spotted some classic delftware by the door), and my favorite – casual wooden menus with a simple tulip carved into the backside.
In my opinion, Vandaag is a mix between a fine dining establishment and a roadside 50’s diner. Our artfully plated amuse was presented by a heavily tattoed waitress with a yellow bandanna in her hair.
A premeditated contradiction?
Anyway, the amuse was a salmon “salad” with onion relish and a carrot cake crouton sitting on top of some kind of grain/chip/bread.
Aside from the grain/chip/bread nearly knocking out my teeth (it was ridiculously hard), the salmon tasted freshly smoked and the relish was a nice acidic touch. Although intriguing, the carrot cake got lost in the mix.
Our first appetizer was a light salad (Julia and I both researched ahead of time and knew the main attraction was going to be the “hen for two” so we were advised to start off light).
So I wasn’t incredibly surprised that our “salad” was a few pieces of sliced celery, potatoes, smoked salmon and salmon roe. And our dressing was a mild mayonnaise.
I’m not the biggest fan of the fishy roe, and this salad was a miss for me.
After a bit of a break, we were served the hen for two…
and a side of bergamot glazed wings served separately…
We also ordered the “hot lightning” potatoes – crisp fingerlings, bacon, apple, and “stroop” sauce. What is “stroop” sauce you ask? We’ll get to that in a minute.
Not a bad looking plate!
As promised, the hen was wonderfully cooked. The salty skin was crisp and brittle, the meat was moist and tender. The stuffing (barley farce cooked with the hen’s inside parts) was nice and subtle – but I had to push aside the chunks of liver and other mysterious organs. Yummy.
The turnips were crunchy and delicious and the bitter greens really brightened up the plate (and my palate). The wings were fatty, but forgettable. The veggies definitely helped cut all that fat and grease.
OK, what I really want to talk about are the potatoes…
“Stroop sauce” which I later learned a la Google is a sweet caramel syrup popular in the Netherlands and often served between two butter waffle cookies. It’s essentially sugar, butter, cinnamon and water. But Vandaag’s version was upped a notch with some kind of chili powder or spice. It was “hot lightning” indeed!
But man, was it good. Sweet, sticky, savory soft potatoes with chewy bits of bacon and a massive kick in the mouth afterwards. An amazing side dish!
It was an oddly familiar and comforting dinner for such an unfamiliar cuisine (peppered of course with the occasional surprise here and there).
I’d give Vandaag 3 out of 5 stars for an outrageous discovery (thanks stroop sauce) and an otherwise solid meal.