Chef Mikko Kosonen isn’t sure if the kind of rye bread he bakes at home for himself would necessarily be embraced by D.C. diners. “It’s a little too heavy for the local taste,” he said of the dark Finnish-style rye bread.
But Kosonen’s been blown away by the response he’s gotten from locals who’ve tried all the Nordic food at Mikko, the charming Scandinavian-style cafe he opened this spring at 1636 R Street NW in Dupont Circle. “Even the herring, it’s a big surprise. Everyone who orders it likes it,” Kosonen said.
Fans of lingonberry and herring sandwiches seek out the tiny Mikko, which is done up in the red, white, and blue of Nordic countries’ flags with yellow outdoor furniture to represent the Swedish flag. “Half of the people are [familiar with the food]. Half of our customers are somehow in Scandinavia, perhaps their grandparents came [from there],” Kosonen said.
This summer was incredibly busy for Kosonen, who grew up near Helsinki and spent 15 years as the executive chef for the Finnish Ambassador to the United States. He still prepares meals for embassies all over town through his catering company, which is located in the same building. “My idea was that this was going to be a side gig for my catering,” he said of the cafe’s popularity. “But I was wrong. That’s a good thing.”
In fact, Kosonen has expansion on his mind, beyond the sandwiches and pastries sold during the day and small plates that diners can find in the evenings. “Since we own the whole building and the lease is up in 2019, the second floor we’re going to expand into a real restaurant. Then who knows, maybe after that, third floor, fine dining,” he told Eater.
Here’s a tour through several of the restaurant’s most eye-catching, interesting, and/or best-selling dishes to date. Plus, now that Mikko has its liquor license, diners can wash these dishes down with Aquavit.
Roast beef Danish-style open-face sandwich: It might be a bit heavy for the summer, but this open-face roast beef sandwich loaded with the restaurant’s potato salad has been one of diners’ favorites. The sandwich is accented with horseradish and crispy onion and definitely requires a knife and fork for the fastidious diner.
Gravlax Danish-style open-face sandwich: Of the 1002 open-face Danish sandwiches sold in June alone, 308 of them were the gravlax option. The cured salmon dish is made in-house, and served on rye bread with mustard, egg, and dill. “It takes three days to get the gravalox done,” Kosonen said noting that a batch is always going at any given time.
As for the rye bread, it’s from Estonia. “This rye bread, they use potatoes with the rye, so it makes it a little more soft. It’s easier for people,” he said.
Hot dog and shrimp salad sandwich: For this lunch special, the humble hot dog gets dressed up with dill and a dollop of shrimp salad, which Kosonen calls “a very traditional recipe from the Nordic” region. This fancy hot dog is a big seller: in June, the restaurant sold 1020 specials of the day (usually the Swedish hot dog, meatballs, or a dinner entree).
Potato blinis: On the entrees and small plates menu, diners can’t get enough blinis. “We’re always going to have a blini in our menu,” Kosonen said. “We change the caviar from time to time depending what we can get in our hands. This is on our small plates in the evenings. It’s probably the biggest seller.”
Freshly baked cinnamon rolls and cardamom buns: For those who want to observe the Swedish tradition of Fika or coffee and chit chat, the restaurant’s got it covered. “We do the cinnamon rolls and cardamom buns in the morning,” Kosonen said. “We make quite a different [types of] bread here.” There’s one reaction that he often hears from customers who bite into a cinnamon roll: “Oh wow, this is so different then what you can get in the Cinnabon.”
Finnish-style fish soup: On dreary days or otherwise, fish soup is a favorite — and it’s deceptively simple. “It’s a clear soup, water-based. It has potatoes, onions, and fish: salmon and cod, and also some other kind of fish,” Kosonen said. In June, the restaurant sold 150 fish soups.
Bronzini: This piece of fish is accented with carrot puree, and Brussels sprouts, and sometimes horseradish. “We don’t do much work plating. The Nordic food is very straightforward,” Kosonen explains, although he will step it up when catering for politicos and royalty, of course. “Easy-going, very plain — like the fish. Just salt and that’s it. Nothing else.”
Mikko is set to launch a new happy hour menu on October 18, with toast n’ skagen, buckwheat gravlax blini, mushroom pizetta, beef meatballs, wild boar sausage, and Swedish pigs in a blanket sold Tuesday through Saturday 5 to 7 p.m. for $6.50 each. Drinkers will find $2 off wine and house cocktails and $6 rail drinks. Be there on launch day on October 18 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and receive a complimentary dish of smoked salmon on buckwheat blini with sour cream, red onion and dill, with the purchase of any happy hour beverage.