Restaurant Review: ‘New Nordic’ Isn’t New, but ILIS Adds a Fresh Spin

The most talked-about dish at ILIS, the cavernous Brooklyn restaurant opened by the Danish-born chef Mads Refslund in October, has to be the clam flask. This is a drinking vessel made by opening a surf clam, removing the clam, resealing the halves of the shell and shearing off a bit of the top lip to create a small opening through which you sip the liquid inside.

When I first had the clam flask, it was filled with a blend of tomato juice and dried-clam broth that tasted something like a virgin Caesar cocktail. The contents, though, are not what has captured everybody’s attention. The reason everybody remembers the flask is that it is tightly bound and knotted with twine, like a corset designed for bivalves with a taste for mild kink.

Mr. Refslund’s cooks must spend a good part of the workweek at the arts-and-crafts station. An Okinawan sweet potato is presented in a fluted tart shell molded from beeswax. Chopped whelk in potato foam is nestled inside the shell and is eaten with a birch stick lashed to an operculum, the part of the whelk that normally seals the shell’s opening and looks something like a guitar pick.

The “clam flask” suggests a bivalve with a taste for mild bondage.Credit…Evan Sung for The New York Times
A whelk course is served in the shell with a spoon fashioned from a bit of the snail’s anatomy.Credit…Evan Sung for The New York Times

This use of natural materials in the kitchen is one of the hallmarks of the New Nordic style that Mr. Refslund helped found, and the handmade pieces at ILIS have a certain spooky pagan beauty. They cast a spell over all my meals there, a daydreamy state so pleasant that I didn’t want to admit that many of the dishes weren’t really landing the way they should.

A similar spell must have fallen over the writers and influencers who have been talking about ILIS as if it were a New York City branch of Noma. It’s far from that. Mr. Refslund and René Redzepi served as co-chefs of Noma when it opened in 2003 in Copenhagen. After about six months, they agreed that they weren’t cut out to work together, and Mr. Refslund left. He doesn’t try to claim credit for what Noma became, but a lot of people in New York seem eager to give it to him.

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