For now, the Swedish-American Hall is almost the last vestige of what remains of Upper Market’s once-thriving Scandinavian heritage. While we’re all waiting for Ryan Scott to put the finishing touches on Finn Town, his new project in the Castro that’s not even all that Finnish, the pickled pleasures of herring and skagen can be had at one neighborhood over, at Pläj.
Prounced “play,” the four-year-old Hayes Valley restaurant puns on the whimsy it brings to a cuisine frequently regarded to be as severe and unyielding as the tundra, as well as to the programming at the nearby theater-ballet-opera complex at Civic Center. Swedish-born chef-owner Roberth Sundell and his wife Andrea redesigned the interior to balance the formality of white tablecloths with Matisse-esque wallpaper depicting herbs and blossoms. The menu remains firmly anchored in the upper latitudes, a little less cerebral than the recently closed Franco-Scandinavian Volta, but full of well-executed dishes that go far beyond Swedish meatballs — although those are here, too.
And even when it does open, Finn Town’s Scandinavian contributions will be a moot point, anyway, as Finland, while definitely a Nordic country, is not technically part of Scandinavia. So the Pläj is indeed the thing.
This tower of bay shrimp on brioche named for the northernmost town in Denmark may swap out its roe from day to day, but the dominant note will always be the tang of horseradish. Bedecked with herbs, it’s lighter than any mayo-heavy seafood salad. And carb-y though it is, don’t let it stop you from ordering Pläj’s bread, with its caramelized butter and scallion.
You aren’t going to get out of here without encountering at least a few few unfamiliar terms, and this trio of open-faced sandwiches — Danish for “bread and butter” — includes lamb terrine, a rullepølse made with lamb instead of the standard pork, gubbröra, the combination of spice-cured anchovy and egg that’s Swedish for “old man’s mix.” It’s rich and only mildly saline, and all three smørrebrøds are rib-stickers. This one all but cries out for a beer.
Smoked fish croquettes
One must always get one fried thing, mustn’t one? At three to an order, these fried fish balls, mixed with trout roe and horseradish cream, are as hearty and satisfying as any arancini.
And one must dive deep into the Baltic Sea, as well. Herring might be a polarizing fish, but it’s got those omega-3s, and here, it’s also got pink peppercorn, lemon, and apple. Pair it with Pläj’s house aquavit, with wintry flavors of caraway and juniper.
Grilled Duroc pork chop
It’s November, and that means ending on a meaty note. Let’s say braised ox cheek and elk saddle sound good but what you really want is to reward yourself with something truly classic. Sunderth’s gorgeously plated, bone-in pork chop is flawless — as befits the Duroc breed of pig — prepared with mushrooms and a red wine jus. They don’t survive a seven-month winter on Svalbard by eating lichen! — PLK
Pläj, 333 Fulton St., 415-294-8925 or plajrestaurant.com