A Very Danish Christmas With Aquavit

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - November 16, 2011
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Thomas Sorensen’s popular Danish Christmas dinner keeps growing year by year. Jo McGarry photo

If you find an image of a herring in a wine glass in your email in-box anytime soon, just click the reply button and respond with a resounding yes.

The invitation is to a Danish Christmas celebration that promises to be one of the liveliest events of the season. Hosted by Honolulu Design Center owner Thomas Sorensen, and held at the glamorous STAGE restaurant, the evening is an attempt to introduce the Scandinavian side of Christmas to friends, family and any customers smart enough to RSVP before the Philippe Starck tables are all taken.

“We started four years ago with a small dinner for about 50 people,” says Sorensen, who was born and raised in Denmark. “Then word spread about what a good time it was, and we capped the evening at 75.”

Word kept spreading. “We expect to fill the entire restaurant this year,” he says. “People are realizing that we know how to have a good time.”

No one doubts that. Sorensen has long been known for his love of design and art, and his ability to put together a great party. The one on Dec. 14 includes a seven-course gourmet Danish dinner complete with Carlsberg lager and Denmark’s signature spirit, Aquavit.

“People in the U.S. are not too familiar with Aquavit,” he explains, opening an office cabinet to reveal a dozen or so different types. “We have it brought in especially for the dinner so guests can experience a true taste.”

Sorensen serves snaps (colloquial word for Aquavit) to guests in an attempt to foster a better appreciation of Denmark’s signature spirit.

Distilled from grain and flavored with spices and herbs (usually caraway or dill) the drink is an acquired taste, but one that’s increasingly appreciated by guests at Sorensen’s dinners.

“They have a great time,” he laughs. “They’re not really used to it, but everyone ends up enjoying the effect.”

Sorensen even makes the grog (mulled wine) that’s served as guests arrive. “We usually start the night before,” he says, “and by morning the whole place smells like Christmas.”

Providing some muchneeded balance to the communal tables that will be laden with beer, wine and spirits is a menu that’s hand-picked by Sorensen and executed by STAGE executive chef Ron De Guzman and his culinary team.

“At first, when I looked at the recipes for the herring and the other dishes, I wasn’t sure we could do them,” says De Guzman.

But three years in he’s as comfortable with gravlax, herring and pumpernickel as he is with pork belly and kalbi.

“We like to tell people that our menu at STAGE is locally inspired and a comfort food,” says De Guzman. “The Danish Christmas dinner is kind of the same thing.”

And the menu is something of a family affair. Sorensen’s brother makes a mean liver pate, so good in fact it’s served to all as an appetizer.

I asked Sorensen if he flew it in for the evening. “No,” he replied. “I fly him in.”

I’m betting that Aquavit is one of the highlights of this season’s eatings, and suggest if you can get your hands on one of the reasonably priced $75 tickets, then do so. You might even combine a little retail therapy and holiday shopping while you’re enjoying a sampling of snaps, homemade meatballs and gravlax.

One thing’s for certain, you’ll be sitting on the most comfortable chairs of any restaurant in the state.

Details of the Danish Christmas Dinner (one night only) at stagerestauranthawaii.com/aquavit

Happy eating!

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