Restaurants Now: Ramón Freixa Madrid, Joseph Leonard, Mathias Dahlgren

In this week’s roundup, delirious excess is the order of the day at Madrid’s latest superstar restaurant, while two other spots—one in New York’s West Village, the other in Stockholm—show that restraint has its own rewards.
joseph leonard

New York City: Joseph Leonard

From Times Square to Wall Street bonuses (again), it’s easy to get the impression that in New York, bigger is inescapably better. But I’ve always believed that small can be just as swell, so I was won over the moment I walked into Gabriel Stulman’s new place Joseph Leonard. This little gem of a spot—there’s seating for only 31—is located on a picturesque corner just off Sheridan Square. Despite the restaurant’s size, chef Jim McDuffee’s tiny four-person kitchen manages to turn out a diverse array of shellfish, charcuterie, and market-fresh dishes. Corn soup is chock-full of sweet kernels and topped with a dollop of onion crème fraîche; a flaky croissant-crusted tart is layered, pizza-like, with a sweet heirloom tomato jam, brie, and an array of fresh tomatoes. And my baked Chatham cod—seared quickly before getting finished in the oven, then served with peas, chanterelles, and orzo—was about as perfect a piece of fish as I’ve had in awhile. They don’t take reservations, and those 31 seats fill up fast (on a recent Sunday evening, there was already a waiting list at 6:30) because another thing that’s small about this joint are the prices. 170 Waverly Place, New York City (646-429-8383; —Lawrence Karol

Madrid: Ramón Freixa Madrid

Ramón Freixa does not know the meaning of “less is more.” It’s said that the chef of Barcelona’s one-star Racó d’en Freixa searched for years for a new place to fully express his vision, and now that he’s found it—in Madrid of all places—the emphasis is definitely on the fully. From the decor (postmodern Baroque—not, unfortunately, an oxymoron) to the tableware (black water goblets! gold chargers!) to the mignardises served before dessert, everything at Ramón Freixa Madrid is over the top. That can be a bad thing, as in the case of a rather heaping plate of “snacks”—a spoonful of spherified foie gras, a strangely matzoh-like cornet piped with chorizo cream, a lozenge of gelified cola—which are united only by their common diminuitiveness. But it can also be very, very good. Why have a boring old salad if you can match each raw vegetable with its dried-and-fried twin? Why content yourself with a rich, herby stew of sautéed wild mushrooms when you can top it with sweet rounds of octopus? And crisp rabbit ribs? And tiny pancetta meatballs? Three cooking styles for the lobster, ten textures for the tomatoes, six kinds of chocolate with your coffee…who said the age of excess is over? Hotel Selenza, Calle Claudio Coello, 67, Madrid (34-917-818-262) —Lisa Abend

Stockholm: Mathias Dahlgren

Mathias Dahlgren is on a mission to remake the world’s understanding of Swedish cuisine, but we’re not talking about ironic deconstructions of meatballs, fish, and potatoes. Dahlgren’s food is more earnest than that. It’s also interesting and fantastically delicious. After a flurry of intriguing amuses—beet chips that taste like the sea?—dinner starts with a bite of bread, smoky as oven ashes. Technical and natural fireworks follow: a silky scallop that somehow packs the intense flavor of Chinese dried scallops, asparagus from Gotland that tastes so wild and green you wonder why anyone would ever eat white asparagus…until those show up later, nestled in nettle purée and parading their proud sweetness. But the dish I keep thinking about was bread fried with cheese and served with a traditional sparkling “wine” of birch sap from the northern woods, so dry it’s savory. This quietly odd dish—seemingly familiar yet totally foreign—left me full of questions, wondering what other doors there are to open in Swedish cuisine. Grand Hôtel Stockholm, Södra Blasieholmshamnen 6, Stockholm (46-08-679-35-84; —Francis Lam

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