Pläj Hard

Seafood from San Francisco's only Swedish restaurant

Yes, there are Swedish meatballs on the menu. But the herring with saffron and tomato is much more enticing.

When Roberth Sundell's Pläj (pronounced "play") opened in the Inn at the Opera last month, it became San Francisco's only Scandinavian restaurant.

However, the chef-owner isn't cooking for pea-soup-loving traditionalists, nor foodistas in search of the scientist-forager cuisine flourishing at places like Copenhagen's Noma.

Sundell has his own vision of Swedish food: colorful and wide-ranging. And his seafood dishes give that vision its best showing.

The herring, for instance, is buttery and mild, and cured three ways ($12): with tomato and saffron, ginger and smoked soy, and vivid lime-chile marinade. Lobster ($18) is poached with lager and dill, then offset with whitefish caviar, horseradish and avocado.

The restaurant's brief wine list is intentionally tucked behind the beer and cocktails; the ideal beverage to accompany Pläj's seafood is the Einstök Icelandic white ale ($6), clean and precisely carbonated, the beery equivalent of a Vinho Verde.

Shaved fennel, blue potatoes and lemon aïoli accompany tender salmon delicately smoked over caraway and hickory ($18). At once hearty and delicate, Swedish and Californian, it's Pläj's most winning dish.

Pläj, 333 Fulton St. (at Gough St.); 415-863-8400 or plajrestaurant.com