First Impressions: Aamanns-Copenhagen

After a year of being on the very verge, Aamanns-Copenhagen has finally opened. (There was a last-minute name change from Aamanns/Copenhagen, although for my money Aamanns-New York might have been the wiser switch.) I’ve been writing about this restaurant for so long that I’m not sure the background is necessary—or maybe it’s more so? In any event, the folks behind it are chef Adam Aamann-Christensen, a celebrity in Denmark, and Sanne Ytting, and it’s on Laight Street, across from Albert Capsouto Park.

“The location is a challenge,” said one of my companions at lunch. Indeed, Aamanns-Copenhagen in that One York/Tribeca Cinemas wedge of Tribeca that many folks ignore. But there’s more foot traffic than one might think (a subway exit is nearby, and now Barry’s Bootcamp is around the corner), and the room feels airy and light, thanks to being on a corner (even if it’s just the alley known as St. John’s Lane) and across from a lot of open space (the aforementioned park and, beyond that, Canal Street), with no metal awnings to get in the way.

The location may not particularly matter, however, because every Danish person in New York is going to make the 50-seat restaurant a second home. At lunch yesterday, the room filled up right after I took these photographs, and everyone was Danish. Between that, the food, the decor—Danish furniture and tableware—and the northern light, I honestly felt like I was on a quickie to Europe. That feeling should only intensify as Aamanns-Copenhagen grows into its plans to become a Danish cultural center, with talks and so on.

The aquavit may have played a role. Aamanns—as I expect to refer to it from now on—makes its own in house, and yesterday six flavors were available: lemon, parsley, dill, cranberry, roasted pumpkin, and toasted rye bread. (A signature flavor, beet, got polished off the night before.) We tried the pumpkin and the rye bread; the latter made me feel like I was burping up a deli sandwich. The manager had warned me it was “powerful.”

The menu is mostly smørrebrød, which the Danish don’t like referred to as open-faced sandwiches even if that’s what they are. The ones at Aamanns are delightfully complex: Atop the dense bread is a smear of something creamy (butter or mayonnaise), something substantial (meat, usually), something crispy (fried potato slices, perhaps), something piquant (maybe pickled green tomato cubes), and a dusting of herbs. They aren’t made so much as composed. We each ordered two different ones, and we each favored one over the other. The pork paté beat the roast beef, the gravlax beat the chicken salad, and the egg and shrimp beat the avocado, but anything would have—maybe people in Denmark don’t mind an avocado shot through with brown, but even in New York City, where good avocados can be rare, we expect better. The smørrebrød are small, but nicely priced ($7-$10), and filling, thanks to the bread. Our server said the kitchen expects to draw from a well of more than 100 possible smørrebrød combinations, although I couldn’t get an answer as to whether the menu would change from lunch to dinner. For dessert, we had the marzipan cake and the lemon “custard” (quotation marks not mine), and both were excellent.

The question that nagged at me was whether Americans will want to eat cold sandwiches (for lack of a better word) at dinner from November through March. Consequently, I’m tempted to suggest that Aamanns dip a toe into the world of soups.

The restaurant should, however, make for a lovely place to have a light breakfast—it’s open seven days a week, from 6:30 a.m. on weekdays—as long as we all promise not to walk in and order a Danish. Delivery will start soon, possibly next week, and a refrigerated case by the door stands ready to be stocked with prepared foods and products to take home.

Two last things: The name is pronounced oh-mens, and the “a” in Copenhagen is long, like in “hay.” I’ll add it to the Try-Beck-Uh Pronunciation Guide. As for smørrebrød, good luck.

Aamanns-Copenhagen is at 13 Laight (at St. John’s Place), 212-925-1313; aamanns-copenhagen.com.

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