Dining in AMSTERDAM
Photos & Article by Virginia Miller
Getting lost amid the canals and museums of Amsterdam is mesmerizing. While the hash house, hippie-spirited, eclectic streets near the train station make for fascinating people watching (forgive the rant: I won’t even get into the Red Light District, being a passionate advocate against human trafficking, as the ever-growing sex trade enslaves millions worldwide), those commonly touted aspects are not what I appreciate about Amsterdam. Rather, it’s the city’s stellar museums and artsy-cool neighborhoods, like the Jordaan, that offer unexpected pleasures around each corner – music shops, butchers, cafes, art galleries, bespoke shoe makers and clothiers – all down narrow streets punctuated by waterways. Wandering without a gameplan yields many unexpected delights.
As with many cities worldwide, Amsterdam is experiencing a strong food revival with new restaurants, markets and bars cropping up everywhere. The city’s long connection with Indonesia informs its rich Dutch Indonesian cuisine, consistently touted as the best Indonesian food outside of Indonesia.
It was a memorable journey visiting Amsterdam with Bols Genever, the legendary genever (Dutch precursor to gin) with original distillery dating back to 1575 (more on my visit with Bols next issue).
Along with tasting aged genever out of barrels with Bols Master Distiller Piet van Leijenhorst, sailing to the charming fishing village of Marken was a highlight of my week: a charming village marked by fields of green, dotted with sheep and adorable cottages, surrounded by water. I watched Dutch wooden shoes being carved in a small shop off a stream, inhaling fresh shavings of wood, under just-carved shoes hanging – and drying – by the dozens from the ceiling.
Here are food recommendations and edible highlights within walking distance of Amsterdam’s city center (best cocktail havens here):
My favorite Amsterdam restaurant is also my favorite cocktail bar (more about the cocktails here). Tales & Spirits is magically inviting exuding a spirit akin to a Parisian Belle Époque cafe under dripping chandeliers. Modern inventiveness meets comfort on a menu where you just might encounter a sweet-savory dish like fried duck liver contrasted with ginger cookie crumble, celeriac cream, crispy almond brittle and caramelized apple ice cream.
An impressive seafood restaurant I just happened upon one late night, Sluizer 1967 (referring to the year it opened) serves the likes of silky, house-cured gravlax and fresh fish of the day, which in my visit was flaky, grilled dourade. The meal reached an apex with a bottle of unusual Pago del Vicario rose: dark, lush, yet acidic and balanced.
Packed and warm though the cozy space may be, The Pantry is a heartwarming little restaurant in which to explore traditional Dutch cuisine, whether smoked eel on toast, or hearty platters of sausages or meatballs with mashed potatoes – I especially like Boerenkoolstamppot, a traditional mash of potatoes and kale.
THE SEAFOOD BAR
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Just around the corner from my hotel and leafy, green Vondelpark, The Seafood Bar is a bright, pristine restaurant with a buoyant offering of ultra-fresh calamari, lobster (lobster salad sandwiches on rustic wheat bread make an ideal lunch), crab and oysters.
My retro heart swelled with delight at the 1970’s, tan vinyl booths, padded bar and low ceiling camp of Castell, a blessedly dated steakhouse serving (hilariously) self-described “Dutch big ass steaks”. Generous hunks of beef accompany baked potatoes and lobster tails. It feels like 1970’s American steakhouse kitsch meets traditional Netherlands treats such as Indonesian kebabs or smoked eel on toasts.
The gorgeous Conservatorium hotel (which just opened at the end of 2011) is as striking on the interior as it is the exterior. The historic, elegant building houses an ultra-modern atrium, ideal for lunch, flooded with light. Expensive, stylish dishes from Chef Schilo van Coevorden highlight the likes of seasonal white asparagus (a regional specialty, thankfully in season during my visit) or an array of local seafood and meats. Lobster bisque is touched with lemon zest and Bols Corenwyn.
Visiting Pancakes Amsterdam, a tiny, two-level cafe charmer with friendly service, confirmed that when we see “Dutch pancakes” in the states (more like giant popovers or sunken cakes equally inspired by German pfannkuchen), they’re nothing like the Dutch pancakes found around Amsterdam.
Here, giant, flat, savory and/or sweet pancakes are subtly sour (here using organic flour milled at the historic Eersteling windmill), crispy and doughy by turns, and utterly delicious. At this cafe, my favorite is a fantastic bacon, banana, red chili pancake.
KANTJIL & de TIJGER
Though I was appalled by limp salads (wilted brown lettuce, hard mango) and vegetables at this Dutch Indonesian restaurant, their Indonesian version of Dutch bitterballen, savory, fried meat bread balls, is a treat, as are their hearty curry bowls and rice dishes.
As I learned this visit, whether influenced by its close proximity to Belgium or not, Amsterdam is a haven for excellent chocolatiers.
Four standouts: Unlimited Delicious (oh, that wasabi peanut butter truffle!), Pucinni Bomboni (visually striking presentation and oversized chocolates; not all of them work but a four pepper chocolate truffle was a standout), Pepper Mango, and Chocolátl (drinking chocolate).