Sunday, August 22, 2010

Amsterdam's Upscale Restaurants

You can tell by the number of articles I've written about Amsterdam, how much I enjoyed my trip. Here is another in a four-part series I wrote for Peter Greenberg.

Amsterdam's Upscale Restaurants
Supperclub appetizer - Amsterdam cuisineLast week, globe-trotting investigative gastronome David Latt investigated the local finds in Amsterdam’s surprisingly robust cafe scene.

But can serious food-lovers find high-end and innovative restaurants to satisfy their cravings? Read on to find out what he discovered in the Dutch capital.

Balthazar's Kitchen, a local favorite, is a small restaurant with a big reputation. On the few nights I was in Amsterdam I could never secure a reservation.

The same was true of the French restaurant, Braque, where a friend and I were turned away two nights in a row.

I had better luck at the Supperclub. The well-polished brass doorway downstairs hints at the grand setting upstairs.

Beds at Supperclub AmsterdamBegun two decades ago, the Supperclub has branches in London, Singapore, San Francisco, and Istanbul, with plans to open in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Art is served along with a prix fix meal as patrons share a comfortable cushion provocatively referred to as a bed. A different performance is offered every night of the week. Themes are varied, but usually touch on issues of personal liberation, emotional and literal enslavement, and sexual expression.

On the day I attended, Andre d. Singleton, a New Yorker, presented an evening that consisted of short videos and musical performances, with the aim of "complicating gender."

While the creative intentions were to stimulate and provoke, the prix fix menu was designed to put the diner at ease with comfort food: a mozzarella and scallops appetizer, a tenderloin with mushroom sauce, and a dessert of homemade ice creams.

Restaurant at the Sofitel Amsterdam GrantFor an elegant meal in a quiet setting, try the upscale Bridges Bar in the remodeled Sofitel Amsterdam The Grand where you will rub elbows with Amsterdam's elite. The contemporary French-Asian menu focuses on seafood in an exclusive setting.

For our main course during a late afternoon lunch, we had a delicate miso-marinated, grilled cod paired with a very nice Chardonnay from Chile (Veramonte 1997 Reserve, Casablanca Valley).

The locavore movement, so widespread in the U.S., has had a slow acceptance in the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, the leader in the field of organic, locally sourced ingredients is Restaurant De Kas, where I experienced the best of the best in my food tour of the city.

Opened in 2000 in a renovated municipal greenhouse on the southern end of Park Frankendael, south-east from the city center, the restaurant has the homey feel of a neighborhood hangout, albeit one in an all-glass house.
Learn more with: Dutch Food & the Amsterdam Restaurant Scene

Restaurant de KasServing a set menu of three starters, one entree, and a dessert, the only changes a diner can make is to add an aperitif, paired wines, and a cheese course. When seated, the diner is asked one question, "Tell me what you don't like or can't eat." Otherwise, the chef is in charge. Except that he isn't.

The produce and herbs served at the restaurant come from the greenhouse next to the restaurant and from their farm in Ilpendam, 10 miles north of Amsterdam. As Xavier Giesen, the assistant maitre d', explains, "We are a restaurant but also growers. The chef tells the gardener what he wants, but the gardener tells the chef what's available."

The menu changes weekly and seasonally.

When I visited the restaurant, the menu was transitioning from spring to summer. The amuse-bouche that night was a crostini of a lively relish of baby artichoke heart, cauliflower, fennel, onions, carrots, gherkins, flat-cut parley, and an edible Begonia, seasoned with turmeric and mustard seed.
Headed to Amsterdam? Don't miss Amsterdam for Americans: An In-Depth Amsterdam Travel Guide

The three starters were presented at the same time and were all cleverly served at room temperature so the diner isn't compelled to eat one before the other.

Crostini at Restaurant de KasWhite and green asparagus topped with a Beurre noisette (brown butter) foam, lobster claw with leeks and beets served with a grapefruit juice reduction, and a deep-fried zucchini blossom and stem on top of cold potato soup with potato cubes, fried onions, parsley, and scallions.

All were perfectly cooked and plated, the ingredients of the highest quality. If I had a favorite it was the potato soup with the zucchini blossom, although I ate every bit of the asparagus dish, even though I am not usually a fan of white asparagus, a Dutch favorite.

The main course was a small piece of meltingly tender lamb shoulder topped with pickled onions and a delicious herb butter, accompanied by a scattering of gnocchi, dill, cauliflower, and freshly made pickled cucumbers. A green salad with a mild dressing was added as a palate cleanser.

With all these dishes, the chef carefully balances flavors and textures, paying homage to the Dutch preference for pickled vegetables by including either pickling spices and/or lightly pickled vegetables.

Panna cotta for dessert didn't sound very exciting, but each spoonful made me pause. The elements—vanilla panna cotta with rhubarb, strawberries, a scoop of lemon sorbet and a sheet of white chocolate—were so exquisite. The flavors of cold, smooth, creamy, sour, and sweet touched all the best dessert flavor notes.

A set menu relieves the tension of debating what to order and the kitchen can focus on fewer dishes, thereby allowing for better execution and less waste. Without a question a win-win advantage, at least as practiced at De Kas.

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