Northern Light

Skál is quietly spinning an inventive menu on the Lower East Side

A mere year ago, Ben Spiegel resided on Lummi Island, WA (population: fewer than 1,000 people), where he cooked at the famed Willows Inn.

It was an idyllic existence, but at a certain point "my lovely girlfriend told me it was time to get off the island," he laughs. "I didn't have a choice."

We're glad she laid down the law.

Serving up a plate of carrots | Vintage kitchen tools

The chef, who did stints at Copenhagen's Noma and AOC, recently opened Skál, bringing a bit of the rough-hewn aesthetic of a coastal Icelandic home to the Lower East Side.

With no number on the building and no official grand opening, the restaurant opened with nary a peep in the middle of August. "It gave us a minute to breathe," says Spiegel, who also has previously worked at Denmark's Noma and AOC.

Breathe, grow and stretch the restaurant has, and it's now humming along at a beautiful pace. Sneakily simple on the menu, dishes come to the table plated with devotion and a carefully controlled ruckus of flavors. Go now for dishes such as the De Cicco broccoli ($11) and heirloom carrots ($13) before the buzz turns into bedlam.

Bits of nature dot the space | Beetroot, berries and skyr

Those carrots? They're roasted in a hot pan and so seriously caramelized Spiegel says it "almost forces the carrot to change its own identity." The carrots are then finished in smoked butter and topped with bitter wildflower honey, sunflower petals, mustard seeds, thyme oil and stringent skyr yogurt.

Beef tartare with Littleneck clams | Chef Ben Spiegel

The broccoli–topped with a sauce of duck eggs, fermented young garlic and fish sauce–is seared on one side, then flipped and lightly kissed with heat on the other. "The method leaves one side inherently charred, the other side almost raw and juicy. Every bite you take, the char is balanced out by the juiciness of the raw side," say Spiegel.

Like we said: go now.