Swedish-born chef Roberth Sundell runs Pläj, the only restaurant in San Francisco dedicated to Scandinavian fare. Pronounced “play,” the eatery opened in 2012 and offers Nordic classics like herring, whitefish and potato dumplings, as well as Swedish specialties (elk and lingonberries make proud appearances on the menu). Sundell’s passion for his native cuisine and love of local ingredients is a boon to the Bay Area’s large Scandinavian community, not to mention SF foodies looking to stretch their palates. We caught up with him on his favorite food group, holiday smorgasbords and why caviar in a tube is a (good) thing.
How would you describe Pläj’s style?
Pläj’s style of food I would describe as new traditional Scandinavian with California touches. Style of service is detailed, approachable and kind. The vibe is more that you feel like a guest in our home. “Comfortable” is the word.
What’s something surprising people don’t know about you?
I have four children and an identical twin brother. Secret is out now.
Who has been the most influential person in your life (and why)?
My mom. The reason is, she puts praising and valuing family first when it comes to traditions, cooking and spending holidays together.
What’re the best food things we have to look forward to about spring and summer?
All the fun and great vegetables. I love this season with fresh asparagus, artichoke, ramps, green garlic, fava beans and morels. You feel like a little kid in the candy store.
Do you have any particular holiday traditions?
We have Midsummer when we celebrate the summer solstice, always at the end of June. I think they are talking about making Midsummer Sweden’s national day? Who knows. We also have Lucia on December 13th, and Christmas and New Year’s we celebrate with a lot of food and drinks, especially Christmas when we are eating julbord. It’s a smorgasbord of ham, herring, meatballs, cabbage, all kinds of sausages and cold cuts — usually served from the last Sunday of November to Christmas Eve.
Typical breakfast? Boiled egg, toast and Swedish caviar called Kalles. Can’t get enough.
Late-night snack? Cereal
Guilty pleasure? Swedish candy
Favorite condiment? Kalles Kaviar. I know it’s in a tube.
Item you can’t live without? Milk
Any food you hate? Insects as street food. Just can’t do it.
What could we always find in your fridge? Milk, cheese, yogurt. Love dairy.
Favorite vacation destination (and where you’re going next)? My favorite vacation spot is up in Lake Tahoe. There’s something just so relaxing about it. It’s always fun, both in summer and winter. My next destination is Reykavik in Iceland.
Favorite dish you make at home? I just love to make a great juicy pork or veal roast, gravy and pickled cucumber.
How do you stay in shape? Playing with my kids.