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Culinary peaks, long waits

The long wait: Richard Kuo and Fredrik Berselius are the owners and executive chefs of the Williamsburg restaurant Frej, which offers haute cusine at affordable prices, at the cost of a long wait list.
Photo by Caroline M. LeFevre

A quaint, current, and affordable miracle of a restaurant in Williamsburg, like all good things, has a long waiting list.

The pricing at the Scandinavian Frej has something to do with it. At $45, it’s not bad for a five course meal (the only option available to diners), but it’s especially good considering the chefs’ pedigree. They hail from the high-minded and high-priced Manhattan restaurant, WD-50, making the waiting list at this tiny restaurant more indicative of the quality of the food, than the bargain.

“It basically comes down to us doing everything ourselves from scratch. We try to be smart about what we use and how we’re using it and the ways for what we’re using,” said Frederik Berselius, co-owner and executive chef at Frej. “We’re always serving one menu, and we know how many people we serve every week.”

The truth about Frej’s food is that, at any price, you’d be lucky to eat it, but given its price tag, the pop-up may be inviting more than it can handle. The wait-list stretches forever, but cancellations happen all the time — so the patient are amply rewarded.

At its best, it is exemplified by dishes like the signature beef cooked in hay, a perfectly balanced plate of simple ingredients (beef served alongside vibrant carrots cooked to perfection), bursting with nostalgia, whisking the eater far away to a happier time often only imagined. The dessert, an elderflower parfait with cherries and shaved walnuts, is the confectionery equivalent of shaking a snow-globe for the first time.

My one criticism is that the inspired molecular gastronomy, like the mussel puree adorning the squid, feels repetitive when reappearing alongside a tea-braised pork belly course as a smear of smoked cheese. It was an opening hook that shouldn’t have continued so far into the song.

But this is nit-picking. Do yourself a favor, visit the website, get on their mailing list, and look forward to the unexpected surprise of getting an invitation to eat one of the best meals of your life.

Frej [90 Wythe Ave., at North 11th Street in Williamsburg, (347) 286–6241, www.frejnyc.com] 6–10 pm, Mon.–Wed.

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