My friend spent a year in Sweden during high school, and she’s gets nostalgic for Swedish food. The options in Manhattan are limited. We’ve been to the fancy and expensive Aquavit once, and to the more informal Aquavit Cafe twice. I hadn’t realized there was anything else like it, until the other day I stumbled upon Smörgås Chef in the West Village.
It turns out there are three Smörgås Chefs, including one on Stone Street in the Financial District, just a ten minute walk from home. We paid a visit on Friday night. Though not full, there was a decent crowd—mostly neighborhood residents, we would guess. It’s a small, charming space. Our server informed us that the chef-owner, Morten Sohlberg, designed the tables as well as the bottle lamps hanging in the window. (See photo.)
The West Village location is larger, and has more of Mr. Sohlberg’s handiwork, but the quiet informality of the Stone Street space appealed to us. The street itself is a time warp; somehow, developers missed it when all the skyscrapers were being built in the late 20th century. For years, Stone Street was an eyesore and was used only as a parking lot, before preservationists had it declared a landmark in 1996. Closed off to traffic, it is now a home to restaurants and clubs. Most of the construction dates to 1836, and no building on the street is older than 1929.
We started with two quintessential Swedish dishes. I had the Gravlaks (smoked salmon) with mustard sauce ($10), which was just about perfect. My friend said she was pleased with the Herring Sampler ($8).
Alas, we didn’t have equally good luck with the main courses. My Rack of Lamb ($28) was dry and over-cooked. My friend was happier with the Swedish Meatballs ($18) — not as good as Aquavit’s, but perfectly respectable.
Though not as polished or elegant as the Aquavit Cafe, Smörgås Chef is priced a dollar or two lower per item. It’s in the neighborhood, and it’s nice to know we can drop by anytime. Perhaps that over-cooked lamb was an anomaly. I’m sure we’ll be back.
Smörgås Chef (53 Stone St between Hanover Sq & Coenties Alley, Financial District)