Friday, November 12, 2010

Eating at As

Amsterdam, November 11, 2010—

WE EAT TONIGHT in a favorite place of ours. It's a little awkward to have two favorite places in one city; it's like having divided loyalties. But there's nothing to be done about it, we have two.

We arrived by tram in a torrential downpour complete with thunder and lightning, and walked a couple of hundred meters to get to the restaurant. We were eating early, seven o'clock; there were only two or three couples there before us. There were six of us, so we took one of the little semi-private rooms that radiate from the center of the main dining room, which is in the form of a perfect circle.

(The kitchen, quixotically, is outside, sheltered under a roof to be sure, but walled only with canvas and transparent plastic, and then only in this sort of weather. Out back, there are pigpens and a chickenyard, because this place takes Eat Local seriously.)

There was no menu on paper; the waitress told us the possibilities. First course: a salad of endive, radicchio, and ricotta; a platter of tuna in tomato sauce with arugula and polenta. (Yes, we're in the Netherlands: but contemporary Dutch restaurants are much beholden to Italy.)

Second course: Chowder (mine without footed shellfish). This was a surprising dish, a perfectly authentic Boston clam chowder, rich with milk and butter and fish, spicy with black pepper. I've only had chowder this good at home until this; I never expected to find it in The Netherlands — undoubtedly an unthinking attitude on my part; perhaps it's perfectly traditional here. Why wouldn't it be, with Dutch shellfish, fish, butter, and milk?

Third course: A fine baked fish for two-thirds the table, but Tom and I opted for vlees, not vis. The "flesh" was roast beef, sliced and served with kale, salsify, and carrots — as traditional a Dutch farmer dish as you could ask.

For dessert I had a cheese plate, three cheeses, I wasn't properly introduced, though one was a pungent and nicely balanced blue, one was a good delicate Dutch cows'-milk not-quite-hard cheese, and the third was French, white, creamy, and floral. And then a grappa, to enhance digestion of this last (for a while) Dutch dinner, for tomorrow we fly home.

Sauvignon blanc, Pays de Hérault, "La Grange des Felines," 2009; Dolcetto

Restaurant As, Prinses Irenestraat 10, Amsterdam; tel. +31 020 0440100.

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