Note: This is a review of Vandaag under chef Philip Kirschen-Clark, who left the restaurant in August 2011 in a dispute with the owners, who apparently wanted a more casual and less ambitious restaurant. That strategy failed, and Vandaag closed in May 2012.
The space is now Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue.
In a town where most of the restaurants are boring copies of things you’ve seen before, welcome to Vandaag. It serves Dutch cuisine, a curiously under-represented genre, given the city’s origins. Indeed, if you trust Zagat, it is literally the city’s sole example of its kind.
The décor, like everything else at Vandaag, isn’t a copy of anything else in Manhattan. Unassuming from the outside, it’s decked out in a sleek, minimalist design that instantly feels like a modern classic. Years from now, the architect’s rendering might hang in a gallery at the Museum of Modern Art.
You’ll do well on the mostly all-Dutch wine list, but the cocktails caught my eye. There are separate sections for cocktails made with beer, akvavit, wine, and beer.
Who else serves a Popeye ($11), with Fresno chili pepper, Akvavit, spicy tomato, pilsner, and fennel pollen? What about a Vikingo ($12), with Viking blood mead, dry amontillado sherry, resposado tequila, and a maraschio cherry? No one. That’s who.
The chef, Phillip Kirschen-Clark, came from Corton via Jimmy’s No. 43 and Pegu Club. His menu isn’t terribly expensive, given the quality, with appetizers $8–14 and entrées mostly $21–28; the “ham” burger is $15, the dry-aged ribeye for two $100. A tasting menu (not served weekends) is $80.
The trade-off is that bread isn’t free. It’s $6 on a section of the menu devoted to snacks ($4–6). Instead, we had the Juniper Pecans ($5; above left), a wickedly good treat that could easily ruin dinner. The amuse bouche (above right) was a smoked salmon rillette with sauerkraut, served on a striking black slate platter.
We were slightly misled about the size of a soft-shell crab appetizer ($18; above left): it was enough for two people to share, and wonderful to boot. Gravlax ($13; above right) was a work of art, mostly for the clever and labor-intensive plating. The juxtaposition of salmon with beets, yogurt, spruce buds and roe was spectacular.
The “Ham” Burger ($15; above left) is a house-blend burger girdled in bacon with gouda cheese—a hefty portion, but my friend liked it.
Black Chicken ($25; above right) was a roll of the dice for me. I’d describe it as interesting, rather than good. Considered a delicacy in China, it is seldom served in the west. It leaves a funky aftertaste that isn’t altogether appealing. Though no fault of the chef’s, I am not eager to try it again.
Service was top-notch. The restaurant was less than half full at 6:00 p.m. on a Friday evening, as one would expect in the East Village, which doesn’t start to hop until much, much later on. As the owners haven’t packed every square inch of the place with tables, as (say) a Keith McNally might have done, I suspect it doesn’t become unpleasant, even when full.
From this admittedly small sample size, Vandaag strikes me as an essential restaurant, one that fills its unusual niche extremely well.
Vandaag (103 Second Avenue at E. 6th Street, East Village)