30
Apr

AMSTERDAM 3/21-3/25/2014

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AMSTERDAM 3/21-3/25/2014

THOUGH 20 YEARS HAVE PASSED, THE ONLY DISH I CAN STILL SAVOR FROM 20 YEARS PAST IS THE SMOKED EEL IN THE OYSTER BAR.  BUT MUCH HAS CHANGED IN AMSTERDAM AS IT HAS IN LONDON, BERLIN, AND L.A.   STILL, UNTIL MY SISTER ANNIE HOOKS US UP WITH PETER VAN DUINEN, IT IS TOUGH FINDING A RELIABLE LIST.  WITHOUT PETER, WHO KNOWS WHAT OUR DINING EXPERIENCE MIGHT HAVE BEEN.  THE FIRST PLACE HE SENDS US IS “A BIT SOUTH OF THE CENTER OF THE CITY”.  EMERGING FROM METRO , WE THINK, AT FIRST, WE ARE ON QUEENS BOULEVARD.  AND RISJEL (LILLE IN DUTCH) WITH IT’S HIGH CEILINGS, EXPOSED AIR DUCTS AND BRIGHT LIGHTING, LOOKS LIKE A 50’S HIGH SCHOOL CAFETERIA.  THAT IS, UNTIL YOU SPOT THE CHICKENS.  ROWS AND ROWS OF CORNISH-GAME-HEN-SIZED BIRDS TURNING ON SPITS.  THEY RAISE THEM IN THE BACKYARD.  EVERY TABLE IS FULL.  THEY’VE RUN OUT OF ENGLISH MENUS, SO OUR 6’5″ WAITER (THE DUTCH ARE THE TALLEST IN EUROPE) KNEELS BY OUR TABLE AND PATIENTLY WALKS US THROUGH THE MENU, WHICH, CONSIDERING THE NAME OF THE RESTAURANT, IS LARGELY FRENCH: NEW FRENCH COOKING — NOT MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY — BUT LIGHT AND LOVELY VERSIONS OF BISTRO CLASSICS:  OCTOPUS SALAD, BRETON SOUPE DE POISSON, FROMAGE DE TETE, GREEN SALAD, FOLLOWED BY LOUP DE MER, COTE DE BOEUF FOR TWO, ONGLET AUX ECHALOTTES, PIGEON, AND THAT POUISSIN ROTIE.  LYNN’S SALAD IS PERFECTLY DRESSED; HER CHICKEN, JUICY AND FLAVORFUL.  MY FISH SOUP IS RICH AND RUST-COLORED WITH AOILI AND TOASTS.  THE SQUAB ARRIVES PREPARED TWO WAYS — BRAISED LEG, RARE SLICES OF THE BREAST.  THE WINE LIST IS NOT ONLY REASONABLE AND EXTENSIVE, BUT YOU CAN ORDER ANY WINE YOU WANT BY THE GLASS!

THE NEXT NIGHT,  BUSSIA, AN EASY WALK ALONG THE CANAL FROM OUR HOTEL, IS A VERY PRETTY, FAUX RUSTIC TWO-STORIED SPACE WITH WHITE PLASTER WALLS AND 400-YEAR-OLD EXPOSED BEAMS.  LYNN IS STILL FEELING QUEASY, SO I EAT ALONE.  THE WEBSITE SHOWS LOTS OF HANDMADE PASTA, BUT BUSSIA (SOMEPLACE IN PIEDMONTE) TURNS OUT TO BE MORE MODERNIST THAN MODENESE.  SOMEONE IS TRYING VERY HARD TO MAKE COMPLEX FERRAN-ADRIA-INSPIRED DISHES WHICH LOOK LIKE JEWELRY.  IT’S ALL VERY PRETTY AND NOT VERY GOOD.  MY MUSHROOM SOUP ARRIVES, OR RATHER, THE SOUP BOWL, EMPTY BUT FOR A CLUSTER OF EXQUISITE ARRANGEMENT OF TINY CARROTS, WILD MUSHROOMS, TRUFFLE SLICES, AND HERBS.  A WAITRESS, WHO LOOKS LIKE SHE’S STEPPED OUT OF A VERMEER, POURS THE HOT SOUP.  I’M SAVORING THE DELICIOUS BROTH WHEN I BITE INTO A CARROT.  PICKLED.  IT OVERWHELMS THE SOUP, THE MUSHROOMS, THE TRUFFLES, THE HERBS.  THE SAME PROBLEM IS REPEATED WITH MY MAGRET DE CANARD.  GUARDING PINK SLICES OF DUCK IS A BAFFLING MOAT OF POPCORN, MINI CORNCOBS, CUCUMBER SLAW, AND CUBES OF POLENTA WITH APRICOT CHUTNEY.  NEED I GO ON?

LYNN’S APPETITE HAS IMPROVED MARGINALLY WHEN WE TAKE A SEAT AT TOSCANINI, AN AMSTERDAM FIXTURE FOR OVER 25 YEARS AND JUSTIFIABLY SO.  NOTHING PRECIOUS ABOUT THIS FRIENDLY, BUSTLING RESTAURANT HOUSED IN A FORMER HORSE GUARDS’ STABLE.  THE TABLES ARE FILLED WITH A MIX OF FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN AND AMOROUS COUPLES.  THIS IS A MULTI-REGION ITALIAN MENU WITH PLEASANTLY SURPRISING LITTLE TWISTS.  MY LINGUINE NERO IS  SQUID INK  BLACK, WITH A CRUNCH OF TOASTED HAZELNUTS; THE OXTAIL STEW, GARNISHED WITH SLICES OF FRESH CELERY AND A SCATTERING OF PINE NUTS.  LYNN’S RAVIOLI WITH MASCARPONE IS A BIT TOOTHSOME, BUT THE TRICOLORE SALAD WAS ABOUT ALL SHE CAN HANDLE ANYWAY.  IT’S COLD BUT WE WALK HOME ALONG THE RING CANALS, STOPPING TO ADMIRE THE HOMOMONUMENT, A SLAB OF PINK MARBLE IN THE SHAPE OF THE HATS HOMOSEXUALS WERE FORCED TO WEAR BY THE OCCUPYING NAZIS.

OUR LAST MEAL IN AMSTERDAM AND, SADLY, LYNN IS STILL SUFFERING FROM THE BOSCH CURSE.  I NOBLY DECIDE TO BRAVE ANOTHER MEAL ALONE AND SET OFF IN THE COLD TO WALK TO BORDEWIJK (PICTURED ABOVE), WHICH IS ONLY A SHORT DISTANCE FROM TOSCANINI.  ACCORDING TO PETER, IT IS VIRTUALLY AN INSTITUTION.  I’M EXPECTING A CLASSIC FRENCH BISTRO WITH A ZINC BAR, BENTWOOD CHAIRS AND CHECKERED TABLECLOTHS.  INSTEAD, PANELS OF COLORED GLASSES WITH A LETTER ON EACH SHOUTS OUT B-O-R-D-E-W-I-J-K, WELCOMING YOU INTO ONE LONG ROOM WITH HONEY WALLS, PILLARS OF EMERALD GREEN, THE CEILING ACCENTED WITH STRIPS OF WHITE NEON.  THE BAR AND KITCHEN ARE AT THE FAR END AND THAT’S WHERE THEY SEAT ME.  I TRY TO READ BUT IT’S MORE FUN WATCHING THE BUSTLE AT THE BAR AND THE CHEFS PUTTING THE FINAL GARNISHES ON THE DISHES BEFORE THEY ARE SENT ON THEIR WAY.  THE MENU IS SO INVITING THAT I WISH THAT NOT JUST LYNN, BUT SEVERAL FRIENDS WERE AT THE TABLE SO THERE WOULD BE MORE TO TASTE:  POULET DE BRESSE, FRESH OYSTERS, GRANITEE DE MOULES AUX SAFFRON, RIB-EYE BAKED IN SALT…  I SETTLE ON A PIGEON SALAD WITH A SLAB OF FOIE GRAS.   THE PIGEON IS SLIGHTLY OVERCOOKED; THE FOIE GRAS, TOO COLD.  BUT THEY MAKE UP FOR IT WITH A PERFECTLY-COOKED, PAN-ROASTED TURBOT IN A SUBTLE BUERRE BLANC, ACCOMPANIED BY STRANGE BATONS OF BREADED, DEEP-FRIED SALSIFY.  AN EXCELLENT VOUVRAY, INTENSELY-FLAVORED SORBETS, A SINGLE ESPRESSO AND THE LONG WALK HOME.  IF JUST FOR THE FOOD ALONE, JUST FOR THAT CHICKEN AT RISJEL WE’LL COME BACK TO AMSTERDAM.

 

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