Throughout the year, Restaurant Editor Bill Addison will travel the country to chronicle what's happening in America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back at the end of the year to find out which restaurants made the cut.
Shish Parsigian came up to us at Asta, where she is co-owner, a few minutes after we sat down. "Do you know about your drawers?" she asked. "There are drawers under each place setting that contain all the flatware you'll need for dinner."
It was but one detail about Asta that reminded me of the intimate restaurants burgeoning in Copenhagen—particularly Relae, where a Noma alum, Christian Puglisi, cooks abridged but sumptuous tasting menus, serving whimsies like a study of carrots or beef tartare with oysters and lovage. Chef Alex Crabb, who runs Asta with Parsigian, spent two months apprenticing at Noma before opening his own place and clearly absorbed some of the Danish aesthetics. He borrowed the silverware-drawer conceit from Relae, and both restaurants sport scruffy exposed brick and buffed concrete floors. But Crabb and Parsigian also threw in some American quirkiness for their spare, 41-seat room. Spray-painted birds and bunnies flit on the walls of the restroom hallway, and they left an image of Zeus, hoisting a lightening bolt, etched by previous occupants and uncovered during renovation.