Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Restaurant As

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Prinseneiland, January 5, 2016—
TO BEGIN WITH, for you anglophone readers, as is Dutch for "axis," and the restaurant's name has two referents: it's in a part of outer Amsterdam, toward the south, called the Axis for some reason I don't recall (and having nothing to do with World War II, I promise you); and the restaurant occupies a curious large room in the shape of a circle, with tables radiating out from a central bar, like spokes on a wheel.

The kitchen, curiously, is outside the building, in a little pavilion of its own. And there Sander Overeinder (who I must mention worked a term at Chez Panisse, many years ago) whips up some truly distinctive and memorable meals.

At table we decided, our two Dutch friends and we, that there are many kinds of chefs: some are like architects, some like painters… Sander is a free-jazz musician, improvising absolutely new things, often with improbable sources and juxtapositions, but on a very solid understanding of the basic principles of coherence and purpose. But let's get to the menu.

The menu here is simple enough: you can have three, four, five, or six courses. The dishes are not described on the menu, which changes daily; the very skilfull waitress explains it for you. As is apparently usual, the fore-course provided two dishes:

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First, salsify sticks with nagelhout, Dutch for "nailboard," which Wikipedia tells me refers to the nail-studded plank these thin slices of beef are stuck to in order to air-dry. A sort of carpaccio jerky, I suppose; very tasty. Under it, chestnut purée, with cream and olive oil; on it, a spray of mâche and a scatter of dark finely crumbed don't-recall-what.

Then raw mackerel filets with roe and pomegranate seeds and onion cups on a bed of kale, with a drizzle of balsamic. Marvelous.

IMG 4529 We're in the Netherlands — Holland, in fact — so beets are inevitable, and our light between-course involved cooked herring with beets and watercress. Steady visitors here will know beets are not to my taste; they always taste like aluminum. But this beet did not; I don't know why. Perhaps it was the proximity of the cooked fish, rich and a little oily. Whatever the case, it was an inspired juxtaposition.

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The main course is the hardest of all to describe. Beef, of course, and a piece that cared more about taste and texture than about tenderness. Puntarella, yes, brought in from Italy, and cooked just to soften it a bit — except for the core, normally thrown away, but kept in Sander's frugal kitchen, sliced, steamed until just the right texture. (That's it in the cente, cut side facing up.)

Then too there was a scatter of tiny lentils, because Sander seems always to have beans handy in some form, and uses them as condiments in his complex composed dishes. You don't eat a course like this by deconstructing it; you go at it with knife and fork, taking the whole mix to your palate at once. Some forkfuls will have more meat, or lentils, or puntarella than others; each bite brings out different preponderances, revealing new aspects… oh what a rhapsody…

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Desserts, of course. First, poached pear, with a scatter of… wait, what, are these toasted bread crumbs, powdered fine? Not amaretto crumbs? Yes, why not?

And then two delicious sorbets, one a soft caramel, the other — pear and parsnip! Inspired. Chocolate bark to garnish. A stunning end to a magical dinner.

Vermentinu, Terra Nostra (Corsica), 2014: golden, fruity, rich, nice finish
Chablis, Domaine Vincent Dampt, 2014: slow to open, typical, nicely balanced
Cabernet sauvignon, Domaine Richeaume (Provence), "Tradition", 2012: rich and deep, very fine, like Bordeaux used to taste
•Restaurant As, Pr. Irenestraat 19, Amsterdam; 020 644 0100
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

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