Friday, May 4, 2012

Eating in the Park Never Looked so Good!

Thanks so much to my blogging friend Kristin, who raved about her meal at Amsterdam's De Kas restaurant last fall and then insisted I make it part of our visit. One of those handfuls of memorable meals we will look back on, from the beautiful setting in a restored heritage greenhouse to the last sweet mouthfuls of coffee icecream. The adjoining orchard, potager, and hothouse beds signal the restaurant's emphasis on fresh produce -- and they also hint at the beauty of the food's presentation.

Warmly greeted, we found service to be impeccably warm and thoughtful all evening, sometimes playfully so yet always with an element of respect for our privacy as guests -- I'm perhaps belabouring this point, but I was very struck by the sense of care throughout our meal. For example, when we were presented with the first two wine pairings -- an effective but not overwhelming description of the wines and an explanation of how they complemented the intended courses -- I mentioned wanting to remember them in order to tell our sommelier daughter-in-law (to be). Our server quickly suggested I might photograph the labels and then patiently held the bottles for me so that I might do so. When I asked about the wonderful tea served at the end of the night, she went and wrote down its name and the contact information for the shop that sold it.

After the server had set us up with a dish of olives, some wonderful bread and Spanish olive oil for dipping, as well as a bowl of freshly cut radishes, she ascertained that we had no food allergies and were open to anything they might bring. Then we sat back and waited for the 3 courses, each with a different pairing. In fact, the first course comprised three different dishes, and two wines. Above you see the plate of beets -- some perfectly cooked, some sliced very thin and served as carpaccio. They were enlivened by a few slices of just-cooked rhubarb, some dabs of thick yogurt, piquantly seasoned, and a scattering of spun caramel pieces.
Arriving at the table at the same time were these beautifully cooked pieces of cod -- the skin was sublime! --  served on a bed of potato, mashed and then with small chunks of cod, so rather like an elevated version of bacalhau. Every element of this dish -- as with each of the dishes -- made an important contribution, and I was struck by how the sensory pleasure of the meal was enhanced by the intellectual component of thinking through the combinations. Here the creamy richness of the herb sauce was just enough to indulge the palate, but its "mouth feel" didn't dominate -- instead of deadening under its richness, our senses were engaged by the crisp of the radish, the detective work of recognising the kohlrabi, the feathery texture of the herbal decoration. And yet it wasn't pretentiously cerebral or conceptual; it primarily pleased the senses.

The third plate of our 1st-course trio presented these succulent spears of white asparagus whose perfect saltiness impressed Paul -- he often orders these as starters but has never enjoyed them as much. We kept noticing this throughout the meal: simple, perfect cooking which really allowed the food to reveal itself. These perfect spears were complemented by these little mushrooms, but also with nuggets of wrinkly-chewy morels -- I was delighted with the purslane, its tiny white flowers, and the violet leaves. . .
And all the while, we were delighted by the ambience -- which somehow managed not to be too industrial, with its geometries and its hard surfaces (glass, metal, concrete). The park setting helped, of course, as did the trees growing inside. The sound ambience was perfect as well -- restaurants can fall short on this so that one has to overhear nearby conversations and/or shout at one's dining companion. Here a pleasant buzz of happy table talk created an overall effect in which we could all speak at normal volumes without a sense of being overheard or of unwillingly eavesdropping.  I'm always impressed by restaurants that achieve this balance of science and art, and I see it as an indication of a real attention to dining pleasure
The seating, also, is spread out thoughtfully, as you can see. One wants a certain ability to people watch, truthfully, when out for dinner, but also enjoys a luxurious sense of space. This managed both.
Overhead, wonderful glass sculptures imitated, to my eye at least, jellyfish . . . .
and behind us we could see the working kitchen, enjoy the entertaining and purposeful bustle (the area outlined by white, behind the glass)
Look at these golden zucchini petals -- at one point, we could see one of the cooks stepping through the hothouse, stooping down to harvest more zucchini flowers for another table. They decorated the best pork chops ever, served with gnocchi, on a bed of anchovy-lined endives, with just a few tantalising nuggets of cauliflower. I know, I'm waxing a bit too enthusiastically, but seriously, this was a very, very, good meal.
Shredded carrots, toasted sunflower seeds, a lively mix of greens . . .
And as we worked our way through this main course, sipping on our Sangiovese, the sun set, and the lights inside became more dramatic.
We ordered a cheese plate, stretching out the evening more before surrendering to the last course, dessert. . .
Forgive the fuzzy photo of this tiramisu-inspired plate, the mascarpone layer light and airy, the coffee ice cream delicious.
We finished it with just the slightest sense of regret, then lingered over our Moscatel, then a pot of tea for me (the best Earl Grey I've ever had, I only wish I had time to track down some to bring home -- our server told me it comes from Tea in the City, but it looks as if we won't manage to get there this visit).

On the way out, I couldn't resist this photo of the greenhouse, those Dutch shoes parked by the door . . .

And the walk home (about 3.5 kilometres) was just long enough to let the meal settle comfortably before bedtime--we'd sat down shortly after 7:30 and were at the table 'til 10:30. In the meantime, Amsterdam had gussied itself up with nightlights



The end of our first full day in Amsterdam, and a very good day it was (didn't even tell you about the wonders of the Rijksmuseum, even with all its current restriction)

10 comments:

  1. Even though I've just had lunch, your meal description has my mouth watering! It looks just lovely.

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  2. OMG - I'm crying reading this! What a beautiful experience. I'm so glad for you that you have had such a wonderful time. Keep writing!

    I'll be curious to know how you compare (for want of a better word) Amsterdam to Paris. They are so different, don't you think?

    How I wish I were going back to Europe this summer. Alas, it is not in the cards.

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    1. Thinking about your question -- and I understand your hesitation over the "c" word. . . they are very different, and I would like to post on this later. . . Once again, thanks so much for sending us to De Kas -- a highlight of our visit!

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  3. From the look of these plate, your meal was utterly transporting... what an experience!

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  4. What a wonderful post - I am definitely bookmarking this in case we ever get back to Holland. Just read your first Amsterdam post as well and I'm looking forward to more - your travel posts are some of my favourites! All the best for the rest of your stay in Holland!

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    1. Did you get to Amsterdam while you were living in Europe? Or other Dutch cities?

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  5. I'm so pleased I've just finished dinner! Otherwise I'd be starving and cursing at the sights here!

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  6. What an amazing space. It looks like a large glasshouse or arboretum.
    My mouth is watering...
    (unlike Lisa we have not had dinner yet!)

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  7. Oh my goodness, what a gorgeous meal, and what a setting to enjoy it in. I love the integrated hothouse with the restaurant, it's a cool idea.

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    1. It's very cool -- takes that whole local, seasonal, organic thing to a logical place and does it in a gorgeous combo of heritage and contemporary.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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