You have to love Chef Marcus Samuelsson, who put Swedish and African cuisines on the map. We would say he even made both cuisines mainstream, with his restaurants Aquavit and the Red Rooster. No matter what new Marcus Samuelsson restaurant venture opens, he’s always stayed true to himself. Here’s a look at his new-ish spot, Hav & Mar.
When I was a kid, my family and I would go to a Swedish smorgasbord in the suburbs of Chicago. I fondly remember the large buffet, filled with meatballs, mashed potatoes, smoked salmon, and open-faced sandwiches. I’m not doing it justice, but anyway, whoever has experienced a smorgasbord knows that it’s a spread of beauty. So as an adult, when I came upon Aquavit in NYC, it quickly became one of my favorite restaurants. That was my first experience with one of Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurants, and I can say, I’ve enjoyed every one of his ventures since. There’s of course the iconic Red Rooster in NYC and Miami, and other restaurants all over the world, from Sweden to Canada.
What makes Hav & Mar special is its fusion with Ethiopian food. It feels like this venture is especially personal, and not just because Chef Marcus was in the house the night I ate at Hav & Mar. You can feel the passion that’s going into this new venture.
Hav & Mar is in the Chelsea neighborhood that is part of a complex of high-end casual restaurants within the Starret-Lehigh building. The space is grand, sleek, clean, and modern. You can tell that a great deal of thought went into creating the right vibe. The art was specially created for the restaurant by Derrick Adams and the space was designed by Atelier Zebulon Perron. In other words, it looks expensive yet down to earth for its Chelsea art district location.
The kitchen is open, and you can reserve one of the Chef’s Tables which are on the fringe of the bar area. I liked that the bar welcomes walk-ins when you don’t want the whole production of sitting at a table. It makes Hav & Mar a place that you would want to drop into when you’re in the neighborhood. It’s the kind of restaurant you can go to solo, on a date (first or hundredth), and also dine with a large group. Tables are normally packed with reservations all week, so it’s a fun and lively atmosphere.
In my opinion, Hav & Mar was no Marcus Samuelsson restaurant circa early 2000s Aquavit, but it was good. Bread is made to order and you can get a familiar blue cornbread as well as biscuits. If you’re living large and going for the full bread basket, that comes with an eggplant dip and tomato chutney. In case you’re extremely hungry, it’s recommended to add the bread to the table, as portions are light.
Speaking of which, the small plates live up to their name but are also highly creative. There’s a waffle with seafood and maple chimichurri, and a cured salmon with mustard seeds that seems inspired by Red Rooster and Aquavit. The she-crab soup was especially flavorful, as was the Hamachi with black ceviche.
An exception to the small portions is the Black Mermaid Tower, which is Hav & Mar’s rendition of the seafood tower. The Hav & Mar version though is more creative and flavorful, with charred octopus salad, blue shrimp, mussels, clams, and lobster. There are also crudités to get your veggies in. This is a good share when you’re with a group of friends.
For entrees, the intent to bring in large groups shines through with a family-sized plate option called the Grand Jubilee. Maine lobster, short rib, mussels, black rice, and turmeric rice are served family-style. Also, the fire-roasted whole fish for two was a standout.
Desserts were good, but it seems the night we were there they had a transition of the pastry department. They did somehow manage to find us the last donut in the house though, which was a solid way to end the meal.
As you would expect from a Marcus Samuelsson restaurant, their service was knowledgeable and attentive throughout the meal. The servers know the menu like the back of their hand, and the bartenders could give you the low-down on every aquavit. The service was genuine and down-to-earth as well, and one of the strongest points, even above the food.