North Star Rising in Williamsburg

If you're wondering about that whiff of wood smoke and dill in the late-winter air, it might well be the contemporary Nordic cooking that has captivated New Yorkers recently, first at Acme (an instant Chowhound favorite) and now at an intriguing little Brooklyn pop-up called Frej. Its two chefs, New York restaurant veterans who have cooked at Corton, among other places, set out to make simple, modern Scandinavian food from local ingredients. Just a few weeks into their run, tupac17616 is sold. He says their five-course dinners—a bargain at $45, served just three nights a week—display "thoughtful, confident, nuanced" cooking with a keen sense of balance.

Dinner might start with smoked fish, usually brook trout but sometimes mackerel, typically served with a warm egg yolk emulsion, little discs of cucumber, fried rye bread, and dill in various forms. Another memorable starter is thin-sliced goat heart over celery root with pickled elderberries. tupac (who also blogs about Frej) says the kitchen's deft balancing of flavors—richness and tartness, fruity sweetness and herbal bitterness—is exemplified by one of his favorite dishes: dots of sunchoke purée and iron-rich beef liver sauce with crispy sunchoke skin, pears pickled in elderflower vinegar, burnt hazelnuts, and thyme. "The combination is arresting," he says, "decidedly sweet but with rich, woodsy and bitter tinges."

Heartier dishes maintain that sense of balance: Earl Grey tea–braised pork belly comes with smoked-onion purée and peppery winter cress. Roasted rutabaga and apple cider lend sweetness to flat iron steak cooked in hay. Desserts, too, offer pleasing harmonies and some surprises. A cardamom parfait with hibiscus cake and walnuts gets a welcome tart note from freeze-dried raspberries.

The plating is as striking as the flavors. Frej's visual aesthetic, seeming at once artless and composed, "recalls Relæ and nods toward Noma," tupac says—name-checking, respectively, a rising star and the best-known destination in Copenhagen dining. "Maybe the ingredients have been deliberately placed there, or perhaps they’ve just fallen on the plate, amongst the same foraged garnishes that nature herself might provide."

Frej serves up to about 25 diners a night from 6 to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday at the arts and event space Kinfolk Studios in Williamsburg (e-mail info@frejnyc.com for reservations). For these chefs, this is almost surely a prelude to bigger things.

Frej at Kinfolk Studios [Williamsburg]
90 Wythe Avenue (at N. 11th Street), Brooklyn
347-286-6241

Discuss: [Williamsburg] Frej: a Scandinavian pop-up inside Kinfolk Studios -- March 2012 report