Can a dish that's core elements involve battering and deep-frying be retooled into a "healthful" meal? That's the question diners will ask themselves beginning Thursday evening, when Reykjavík transplant Icelandic Fish & Chips debuts in the West Village. "The idea was to take the British dish and kind of put an Icelandic twist on it, we're a big fish nation," co-owner Helen Olafsdottir explains. "But [co-owner] Erna Kaaber had the vision of making it a little bit more healthy, so we use ingredients like spelt batter, we don't use egg in the batter."
Instead of fries—or "chips," as they say across the pond—the restaurant will serve roasted organic baby potatoes, which will "soak up the oil" in your stomach better than another potato product also laden with oil. On the side, dipping sauces based with skyr, an Icelandic yogurt, instead of mayo, seasoned with chili, paprika, truffle and traditional tartar ingredients.
Icelandic Fish & Chips began in the Icelandic capital in 2006 and Olafsdottir and the team have had the NYC spinoff in the works since 2013. Though they're across the Atlantic now, the team will be flying in cod, ling, haddock, arctic char and other fish three times a week from the waters around Iceland. It sounds like an enormous undertaking for a small business, but Olafsdottir insists the process is less onerous than one might imagine—it's only a five and a half hour flight—and still better than flying in fish from points farther away.
"Iceland has been exporting fish to America for a long time, for three decades at least or more," Olafsdottir says. "We felt, to be honest, that Icelandic fish was not getting the deserved credit that it should be getting. The ocean around Iceland is one of the cold spots, there are very few cold spots left around the planet. It makes that fish specifically fresh. We think it's one of the best fish in the world."
The restaurant will offer fish of the day specials, in addition to non-fried entrees like langoustines roasted with garlic and a baked arctic char sourced from fish that's farmed in unique river farms, where the fish is able to swim around in a flowing body of water, according to Olafsdottir.
Sparkling wines and vinho verde, which Olafsdottir says complements the fish, will be the thrust of the wine program helmed by sommelier Sabra Lewis. Cocktails will have a nordic bent like the Arctic Gimlet, cumin-flavored aquavit with dill and thyme. Olafsdottir says cocktails were a big hit during their soft open, so it seems they were on the right track with their motto: "Eat like an Icelander, drink like a New Yorker."
28 7th Avenue South; icelandicfishandchips.com
(Menu subject to change)