Aquavit Comes to Tokyo

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The Japanese and the Scandinavians are both given to clean, uncluttered interiors, and can do wonderful things with fish. No surprise, then, that the Tokyo branch of Aquavit — the first Asian venture from 39-year-old chef Marcus Samuelsson, creator of the Aquavit restaurants in New York City and Stockholm — is packing them in. Tucked away in the bustling Kita-Aoyama neighborhood, the light-filled Aquavit greets diners with a warm and tactile mix of high-backed booths of sage-green velvet and traditional tables of crisp white linens. Furnishings and fittings, by Swedish designer Bruno Mathsson and Danes Arne Jacobsen and Poul Henningsen, exude impeccable taste, while playful touches (curvaceous oversized pepper grinders, chunky cutlery) keep the room from becoming too rarefied. (See the top 10 food trends of 2008.)

The artful menu will impress Tokyo's demanding diners. Classic fare is given a very contemporary update: melt-in-the-mouth gravlax is accompanied by tangy espresso-mustard sauce, while foie gras is served as a ganache with cured duck and apple compote. Rare tuna and scallop come with salt-baked fennel-and-scallop sausage. Presentation is very contemporary. Even the afterthoughts — tiny gingerbread men arriving with the coffee, the wafer-thin caraway crispbread — are fresh and unusual. (See 10 things to do in Seoul.)

Imagination also extends to the drinks menu, where — what else? — the Scandinavian grain spirit aquavit is mixed with the likes of cucumber, lychee blossom, mango and chili to create unique cocktails, best sipped in the candlelit bar, cocooned in a soft leather Arne Jacobsen Egg chair. Samuelsson knows all about blending influences; born in Ethiopia, adopted by Swedish parents and based in America, he has introduced an original approach to a gastronomic capital where culinary passion is paramount. For details, see

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