Luksus is the latest beachhead of the New Nordic invasion of New York, joining such standouts as Acme, Aska, Skál, and Atera. All are helmed by chefs who worked (even if only briefly) at the Danish restaurant Noma, No. 1 on the deeply flawed, but much watched, S. Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list.
The 26-seat restaurant is in the back room of Tørst (pictured above), an upscale beer hall in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. While you wait for your table, you can order one of 21 beers on draft (hundreds by the bottle), which are drawn from taps lined up against a marble wall, with wooden handles stained from light to dark, matching the colors of the drinks that come out of them.
The owner, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, has a love affair with beer: he serves no other alcoholic beverage, and the size of his cellar would make many a sommelier flush with envy. The taps are powered by a device called the flux capacitor (named for Doc Brown’s fictional contraption in the Back to the Future series), which can adjust the nitrogen and carbon dioxide mix of each tap, and maintain the beers at any of four different temperatures.
The pint-sized dining room seats just 26, six at a bar facing an open kitchen, and twenty at tiny tables more suited to a cocktail lounge. Finding room for beer bottles, glassware, and a cavalcade of artful plates, is a Rubik’s Cube puzzle that the servers solve adeptly, all evening long.
Chef Daniel Burns serves a frequently-changing tasting menu with no choices, which was $75 last July, but has since risen to $95 after a series of overwhelmingly positive reviews, including three stars from Adam Platt in New York. Curiously, the Times has not yet weighed in.
Both the plating style and the ingredients are instantly recognizable as New Nordic, with combinations of flavors not normally found together, such as lamb sweetbreads with hay gribiche, or a dessert of beetroot and licorice. Root vegetables and flowers are in starring roles, with smoked this or pickled that, Many of these experiments work. Some fail miserably.
The meal opens with a series of four “snacks” that you eat with your hands. Pickled fiddlehead ferns (above left) were more interesting than good. Smoked black seabass, with radish, lobster, and seaweed (above right) were pleasant canapés, but a bit difficult to eat.
The best of the snacks was a braised chicken oyster (above left) resting in a cauliflower purée on top of a lettuce leaf, which you curled and ate as if it were a taco. Deep-fried lamb sweetbreads (above center), a bit greasy, were perfect for dipping in a hay-smoked gribiche.
In the Times, Pete Wells complained last week about restaurants that withhold the bread service until later in the meal than its usual position, at the beginning. Luksus is such a restaurant, although they make it worth the wait, with warm sourdough bread (above right). Soft butter is schmeared at the edge of a serving dish, in typical New Nordic fashion.
Poached Hake (above left), with green almonds and dill, was somewhat bitter tasting. (In the photo, the fish is obscured by a partially crushed cracker draped over the top of the plate.)
The evening reached its low point with a shallow broth of pork and chrysanthemum, in a bowl smeared with rutabaga and dappled at the edge with crumbles of smoked egg, such a terrible soup that even Oliver in the poorhouse wouldn’t have asked for more.
This was followed by the evening’s best dish, a filet of exquisite skate wing with sunchokes and a Jerusalem artichoke chip that could be served without apology at any three-star restaurant.
The palate cleanser was a ginger sorbet with lime yogurt (above left) that left a somewhat scorched aftertaste. Dessert (above center), was a combination of licorice ice cream, beet sorbet, and chocolate crumble that was much better than it sounds. A little chocolate disc (above right) was served to conclude the meal.
There are no wines available. A beer pairing is $45 per person. Once we realized how much beer that would be, we asked to share a pairing, which the staff was happy to do (and we observed this at other tables). Even at half a pairing per person, the beers came much faster than we could drink them.
The staff has an obvious passion for beer—each of them comes with a story—but many of the beers overwhelmed the food. I would have enjoyed them more in another setting. There’s a reason why wine is the world’s beverage of choice to go along with most foods, and Luksus has given me no reason to doubt the wisdom of that tradition.
The dining room was slightly more than half full on a Sunday evening, with a crowd mostly a lot younger than we are. Between the cooks (who also ferry plates to the tables) and servers, we counted seven staff for fourteen diners, more than enough to stay on top of things.
Is Luksus for you? That depends on whether you see your dinner as a partly intellectual exercise. Do you derive a visceral thrill from riding on the cutting edge of something new, or do you prefer the tried and true? The $95 menu is not exactly a bargain. For uncomplicated pleasures, you could get out for less at Peter Luger, and you’d know exactly what you’re getting.
For about the same price, you could have a Michelin two-star meal at Marea, in a far more comfortable room, where you have choices for every course, and where more than just beer is served. You could dine at four-star Jean-Georges, and enjoy a far more predictable, and better meal, for just $25 more. If you’re looking for value, Luksus would be more compelling somewhere below the original $75 tariff, rather than at the $95 it charges today.
I am not suggesting that those who choose Luksus have chosen poorly. We enjoyed our meal there, and to judge of the smiles and laughter in the room, I would guess most others did as well. It is obviously a success, and certainly worth a visit. But it is a work in progress, and in its current state not fully formed.
Luksus (615 Manhattan Ave. between Nassau & Driggs Ave., Greenpoint, Brooklyn)
Food: New Nordic cuisine
Service: Amply staffed by servers passionate about the cuisine
Ambiance: A 26-seat back room with an open kitchen and cocktail-size tables