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