Thursday, January 7, 2016

Back to Marius

IMG 4558
Prinseneiland, Amsterdam, January 6, 2016—
ONE WAY TO PARSE the world: there are Rembrandts, or Hemingways, or Beethovens, or Rodins; and then there are Vermeers, or Fitzgeralds, or Mozarts, or Degases. The restaurant Marius is, as can perhaps be guessed from the photo I took, a Vermeer. Light falls into the room from many sources, bringing physical details into clarity and order. Beautifully composed still lifes emerge: a row of bottles recalls Morandi, a pair of tureens on a shelf, Vermeer. The candle in its glass; the water carafe; the tall plain cylindrical vase with its tulips — the rhythm of orderly progression

Same goes for the menu, always handwritten, usually quickly; always describing a three- or four-course table d'hôte Marktmenu, with a few alternatives on the margin. Tonight,

voorgerecht: Gebakkren rode poon met prei, aardappel en lavassaus
tussengerecht: Zacht gegaarde koolvis met knolselderij dulse en speklookkingbouillon
hoofdgerecht: Gebraden varkensnek en gestoofde wang met kool, meiraap en grijze cantharellen
dessert: Gepocheerde kweepeer met pistache cake en vanille ijs
which I'll translate for you course by course.

My companions chose the voorgerecht to begin with — after the unlisted amuse-gueles of course. Rode poon (Chelidonichthys lucerna) is an Atlantic fish I'm unfamiliar with, a gurnard; it was poached, I'd say, and served with leek, potato, and lovage-flavored jus, and reportedly delicious.

I chose the tussengerecht ("between-course") for my first course. Koolvis (Pollachius virens) is pollock, itself a type of Atlantic cod. (Marius does not make a fetish of carefully distinguishing the various types of fish on its menu; this is simply expected by Dutch diners, who are after all descended from generations of fish-eaters, and like to know what's on the plate.) The fish was slowly cooked, as the menu describes, and served with celeriac and dulse — an edible red seaweed — cooked in a bacon broth.

Now it's no secret that Kees, the chef-owner of Marius, is an old friend, my "Dutch son" in fact, and he'd heard about our dinner New Year's Eve at the home of another chef friend. I'd described the liver-based broth Sander had cooked his mussels in, and the delighted cry Umami! that he'd greeted it with. I don't know if tonight's bacon-based broth on seaweed was a deliberate response or not; probably not — probably coincidental. They have similar tastes, but one's a Rembrandt, the other a Vermeer. One's a free-jazz improviser; the other's an elegant string quartet, part Haydn, part Webern.

But back to the menu: Our hoofdgerecht — chief course — was a delightful winter dish (and it has been cold here): roast pork neck with braised pork cheek, with cabbage, turnips and gray chanterelles. The two meats had been cooked separately, of course, each to exactly the right point. Ditto the vegetables, no one of which prevailed over others — each item in this ragout was as independent, but mindful of its place in the whole, as any bottle in a Morandi still life.

The vanilla ice cream was perfect. Lindsey said so, and she knows ice cream. The pistachio cake tasted exactly like hers, and that's high praise. It was a perfect meal.

Blanc sec: Mouthes Le Bihan, "la pic Colette" (Côtes de Duras, 2013: a delicious, complex, mouth-filling Sauvignon-Semillon blend that made me think of the Y Grec — dry Yquem — that we used to drink fifty years ago
Saumur Champigny, Château de Villeneuve, 2001: rich, deep, smooth, substantial, generous
•Marius, Barentszstraat 173, Amsterdam; 020 422 7880
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

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