At PLÄJ Prior to Jethro Tull

Scandanavian food has never been hotter: with the closing of El Bulli in 2011, Copenhagen’s Noma catapulted to the top spot. Now down to No. 2 again on the Pellegrino Top 100 list, it did draw attention to the region since five restaurants from Scandinavia are included in the top 50 spots. You no longer have to travel far to experience Scandinavian food, thanks to Pläj, opened by Owner-Chef Roberth Sundell just about a year ago inside the Inn at the Opera in Hayes Valley.

With Swedish food relatively unknown here in the Bay Area (outside of the Ikea cafeteria and food aisles that is), Stockholm native Sundell focuses on upscale Nordic food in a very cozy, European-style 44-seat restaurant in the midst of the performing arts venues in Civic Center. The BarFlys like going to concerts, and we had tickets to see Jethro Tull’s 40th Anniversary tour of Thick as a Brick playing at the War Memorial Opera House. We thought this would be a great opportunity to try out Pläj (pronounced “play”) prior to the concert which was mere steps away from the restaurant.

We grabbed seats at the small six-stooled bar and perused their cocktail list, which is more vodka-centric than most other bars. It makes sense as vodka is one of the primary liquors from Scandinavia, with the other being aquavit (similar to herb-flavored vodka) which is featured in one cocktail and as a shot. They even have a Swedish Fish Martini made with the candy infused vodka, but we opted to get their refreshing version of a Gin gimlet:

Their menu is listed in four sections: Hagen (starters), Fjord (fish), Beta (meat) and Godis (dessert). All of the plates are meant to be shared; they suggest ordering two to three dishes per person. The servers are all willing to help diners navigate their way for those who are less familiar with the menu items.

One of the BarFlys has been lucky enough to travel to Scandinavia for work and feels that Stockholm is one of the most beautiful cities on earth. What she distinctly remembers is the sheer number of different preparations of herring — at least a dozen different versions for both breakfast and lunch/dinner. It was with this in mind that we had to try the Taste of Herring with three different preparations of the sustainable fish. Each of the piles contained two small filets prepared with saffron tomato, coriander chili-lime and ginger smoked soy flavors. Boiled potatoes, onions, dill and rye crisp rounds accompanied the herring serving as additional condiments and vehicles to eat with the fish:

We moved on from the cocktail to sharing a bottle of Tangent Grenache Blanc from Edna Valley. The Rhône-style white was crisp with nice acidity to pair with our meal:

The Asparagus dish comes with king trumpet mushrooms, a 65°C egg, hollandaise sauce, soft rye croutons and candied fennel. Breaking the egg added an extra yolk-sauce to the already silky hollandaise. The overall dish was great, but the candied fennel was too sweet and didn’t really go with the other items, so we ate it separately:

The Local Halibut served with chanterelles in a champagne cream sauce was a tad overcooked, but we enjoyed the crispy skin. Topped with pea sprouts and salmon roe, it was a delicious seafood dish:

We decided to have a shot of whiskey before dinner and we noticed that they had the Van Winkle Bourbon available. Rarely seen at most bars, we ordered a shot of it along with a another shot of Buffalo Trace Bourbon (shown left) as the reference. This wasn’t the ultra-rare Pappys, but the bourbon was exceptionally smooth, obviously so when compared against the Buffalo Trace:

When we purchased tickets to see Ian Anderson’s Jethro Tull perform Thick as a Brick (Parts 1 and 2), we were surprised to see that it was going to be at the tony War Memorial Opera House. Considering that it was a multi-media theatrical presentation of the albums performed live by the progressive rock group, it made sense to hold it there. In case you were wondering how well the Lytro camera does in concerts, it performs just fine, even when using high zoom factors. Here’s a photo of Ian Anderson doing his signature Pan pose with his flute:

In order to perform Thick as a Brick in its entirety as an album, the group added his alter-ego and London-based singer/performer Ryan O’Donnell to sing while he played the flute:

The mere proximity of Pläj to the Davies Symphony Hall, War Memorial Opera House and the Herbst Theatre makes it an ideal pre-show destination. The Nordic-Northern Californian food is delicious and the atmosphere is very warm and inviting. Maybe next time, we’ll have to try the Swedish meatballs.

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