Monday, September 26, 2016
Sunday, September 25, 2016
Saturday, September 24, 2016
Friday, September 23, 2016
Zoutkeetsgracht, Amsterdam, September 22, 2016—
WE ENJOYED THIS PLACE at the beginning of the year, when we stopped in for a drink on New Year's Day, and decided to stay for dinner. It was cozy and welcoming, and the menu was traditional and simple — perfect for a cold day after a night of celebrating.
Since then there have been a number of changes. The physical ones are fairly subtle: new chairs, a slightly different decor. The biggest changes have been to the menu, which has almost given up the traditional Dutch cuisine in favor of the complex surprise-ingredient small plate fashion.
Our waiter said this was done to stay in competition with the wave of trendy restaurants opening in this city, but mostly to keep the cooks interested — otherwise they'd been losing interest after roasting a few hundred cockerels and French-frying tons of potatoes.
There were three of us at table, and one of us went for three of the small plates, to her liking as it turned out, though the third of them took an unconscionably long time appearing. My companion and I stayed with the traditional page, ordering that
"cockerel" — in fact a game hen, I think. First, though, I began with a salad: veal and tuna tartare, served with lotus root beets, and arugula, with a dollop of good mustard to kick things up a notch.
A clever variation on vitello tonnato, this turned out to be pretty tasty. The tartare had enough shallot and capers to give it presence, and the texture was correct.
My chicken, though, was mostly inedible. I'd had the same dish last time, when its concept and execution were fine. The birds are roasted on a rack, many at a time, and served with piri piri, green beans, and French fries, with a little container of applesauce on the side, for this is after all a traditional Dutch restaurant.
My hen was way undercooked, though, and the fries were a little soggy. Companion had no complaints, which leads me to suspect the cook had simply snatched my bird from the wrong rack; it was par-cooked but certainly not finished. And the fries weren't much better.
The dessert was an imaginative take on the traditional hemelse modder, "heavenly mud": a chocolate marquise, dark and serious and bittersweet, with an almost gluey texture from, I suppose, egg yolks. This version was called, simply, dark chocolate mousse, but was the recipe I remembered from January, except that it came tonight with blood orange ice cream, and a sprinkling of sea salt. It tasted fine, and made a spectacular appearance in its dark bowl, paired with raspberry puree.
Vermentino di Gallura, S'eleme (Sardinia), 2015 (very nice);
Adenauer, Ahr (Germany), 2014 (best red German wine I've tasted)
De Gouden Reael, Zandhoek 14, Amsterdam
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Vuurtoreneiland, September 21—
HOW TO DESCRIBE this most enterprising, courageous, and utterly rewarding restaurant? If you read Dutch you can consult the website http://vuurtoreneiland.nl; otherwise you'll have to take my word for it...
It is set on its own island off the Amsterdam coast, an elegant glass pavilion at the top of a low hill, rather bare of vegetation and built up otherwise only with a single cottage and an extensive but very discreet network of bunkers, for this isle and its twin were Amsterdam's defenses from attack via the Zuider Zee in the old days, before the advent of air warfare rendered them useless.
The ownership and use of the island involve arrangements to complex for me to understand, let alone relate. It is protected wilderness, with city, national, and European Union designations: but in good Dutch reasonableness allowances are made, sought even, for its preservation and maintenance in conjunction with the careful, respectful installation of the restaurant — another project of our friend Sander, whose Restaurant As I have written about here on other occasions. (http://eatingday.blogspot.nl/2013/01/restaurant-as.html ; http://eatingday.blogspot.nl/2016/01/restaurant-as.html)
WE EMBARKED, perhaps forty-five diners, from a quay at the Hotel Lloyd, on an aging, comfortable, nostalgic passenger-ferry that quickly brought the classic film Beat The Devil to mind. The boatswain wore a blue-and-white striped maillot; his white hair was wild above an open, smiling, weathered face. The skipper was in red-and-white stripes. We entered the main cabin and picked up glasses of Corenwijn and our box of amuse-bouches: a plank containing, for the four of us, smoked herring, beef tartare, gherkiins, rye bread and butter.
This we took up to top deck, where we sat and nibbled, talked and laughed, and watched the slow progress of the built-up skyline slide past. The low red wafer of the sun (thanks, Stephen) peeked inscrutably from behind untroubled clouds: we were steaming north, through the main lock dividing IJ and Amstel from the IJsselmeer, ultimately to dock at a small pier on the low island.
Sander took us on a little tour of the bunkers on our way to the pavilion. The work is really quite amazing: begun three years ago, it has now entered a second or perhaps third phase. Where were once barracks and officers' quarters, storerooms and ammunition magazines, kitchens and bars are slowly being installed. You could imagine this being a marvelous retreat, comfortable and even luxurious, yet leaving tthe surface of the island quite natural and pristine.
But we were here for dinner, and proceeded to the pavillion. By now it was nearly dark out, and the double-gabled long rectangle of the completely glassed steel-frame building glowed from within, where tables for two and four were quite busily and happily full.
Our own was a table for five: the chef joined us. And we had a typically enterprisiing, imaginative Sander dinner:
Bread and half-churned butter
Celery root, mussel, lovage, beet, ricotta, grapes
Salt cod, buckthorn, corn
Wild boar, Jerusalem artichoke, palm cabbage, gravy
Pear and chocolate
Let's begin with that "half-churned" butter. Normally butter is churned from fresh cream until the buttermilk is completely separated out: here the process had been interrupted, leaving just enough whey to give the butter a curiously sweet tang and a soft, silky, almost whipped-cream texture.
The celery root-mussel dish was a triumph of counterposed textures, colors, and flavors. I said to Sander that I often find such dishes compromised by the use of too many ingredients: normally six is one too many. Not here; never at his table.
Who knew buckthorn could be eaten? It gentler this version of baccala, soft and silky like the butter, a maritime version of the Venetian baccala mantecata, conversing with its elegant and subtle corn broth.
The boar, from the Hoge Veluwe forest in the Dutch interior, was dense and meaty, comfortable with the equally dense, cabbage-core-like palm and the serious Jerusalem artichoke, given dignity by the subtle, authoritative gravy. (You see: I can and do reach for familiar adjectives now and then.)
Saint-Romain, "Combe Bazin," Domaine de Chassarnay (Cotes d'Or), 2014, light and supple;
Cotes du Roussillon-Villages, Domaine de Rouvre, "Aux Champeilles", 2003, mature, superior, generous and satisfying
And then the boat back, under the half moon, on a fragrant, soft, end-of-summer night, with another glass of Corenwijn. A superb evening.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Prinseneiland, Amsterdam, September 20, 2016—
THIS WILL ALWAYS BE among one of my Big Five restaurants: any involving our friend Kees. And so it is almost always our first stop in this city: a modest, comfortable dining room on the Barentszstraat, out in the zeeheldersbuurt near the main railway station.
We'd breakfasted in the Reykjavik airport, on salmon and beer, and lunched on coffee and a raisin bun at Schiphol. By dinner time we needed a reset, and Marius was just the place.
We began with the house amuse-gueule, olives, salami, bread and olive oil — the salami a saucisson sec from Saumur, complex and sophisticated.
Next, the Contessa and I going mezzo-mezzo: skate with spinach sautéed in brown butter; squid, sliced into strips, with tomato and a marvelous Georgian-inspired "pesto" involving walnuts, raisins, and spices.
Main course: for her, roast quail with duck liver; for me, braised beef with chanterelles, corn, and romanesco. The beef was from a retired dairy cow, summoning childhood memories from the farm; deeply flavored, sound and nourishing.
Wines: Greco di tufo, Calafe, 2009 (!); Fixin, Domaine Gérard Seguin "La Place", 2014 (very nice indeed)
Restaurant Marius, Barentszstraat 173
1013 NM Amsterdam; +31 20 422 78 80