GOOD NEWS! Esquire.com now has a new food section called "Eat Like a Man," which will be featuring restaurant articles by John Mariani and others from around the USA.THIS WEEK: Top Chef, Episode Endless.
I have just been chosen as one of five
recipients for the 2012 edition of the Grana Padano Italian
Cuisine Worldwide Awards, "to honor
have made an outstanding contribution to the
promotion and/or knowledge of the Italian
food and wine culture in the countries they
live, in the last year or during their life.
In your case the jury has intended to reward
especially the excellent work you have done
with your recent book How Italian
Food Conquered the World as well
as the contribution you have given during
your whole career. The nominations of
the candidates came from the network of the
– Italian Cuisine Master Chefs and
were evaluated by a jury of experts."
Eating in Amsterdam
by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE SPIRITS LOCKER
Gin Seeks a Return to the Spotlight
by John Mariani
Eating in Amsterdam
by John Mariani
"Shrovetide" by Frans Hals, circa 1615
As in any major capital in Europe these days, the options for enjoying just about any kind of cuisine is high, whether it's sushi, pizza, or tapas. And in that regard Amsterdam may well be richer in such options than Paris or Rome. Short-term visitors to Amsterdam will want to partake of the more indigenous restaurants, from low to high, that are everywhere. Amsterdammers love eating out, so you'll find the restaurants packed with the locals, while the tourists tend to go where tourists are told to go.
The biggest dining news in the city is the opening of Bord' Eau in the renovated--61 million euros--Hotel de L'Europe (Nieuwe Doelenstraat 2), where Sommelier Dannis Apeldorn oversees a first-rate winelist, with 24 wines by the glass, and 79 bottles under 50 euros, plus another thousand selections to choose from. You might, then, wish to first have a drink at the hotel's beautiful Freddy's Bar (named after Alfred "Freddy" Heineken, one of the most elegant of the so-called "brown bars" (referring to their color) in the city and more sophisticated than any.
Bord'Eau (left), the name is a pun meaning "next to the water" as here and in the French wine region), which replaced the outdated Excelsior. It is very elegant even posh in a very contemporary range of colors and soft gold lighting, flowers, superb tablesettings, thick linens and fine stemware. You know you're off to a good start when the butter and breads are as good as they are here. A pretty amuse set the stage for what followed, a pizza crisp topped with lobster cannoli and a lollipop of octopus. Executive Chef Richard van Oostenbrugge (below) and Chef Thomas Groot have fashioned menu that is as modern--without being "modernist"--as any in Europe. It is playful but always based on sound culinary principles, as evident in a dish of autumn vegetables with a pistachio vinaigrette and cous-cous style rice with Pierre Robert cheese whipped into a cream.
"Mac & Cheese" came with butternut squash, pearl radish and Saint Marcellin cheese, while a plate of crisp sweetbreads were matched with a risotto-style Taggiasche olives and celery root--all the flavors winningly complementary.
Main courses followed in the same balance, beginning with a fillet of red mullet and jus bécasse (woodcock), watercress salad and roasted toast. A big, well-fatted Anjou squab came with an Asian touch of orange and soy, cabbage and peanuts, which might well have appeared on a rijsstaffel feast but is far better on its own. Lozère lamb had the bite of lemon confit and capers, Niçoise vegetables and lamb jus. And a dry-aged (unusual in Europe) Simmenthaler loin and neck of beef came with stewed vegetables, rich pork belly and an ever richer Bordelaise sauce.
You, of course, expect desserts to be sumptuous in a restaurant of this caliber, and they certainly are, from cocoa bean moelleux with chocolate mousse and crumble to a wild peach Melba with white currants and crispy almonds.
There is a four-course menu at 66 euros ($86), five for 76, and six for 88, which are very reasonable prices, especially since à la carte prices are 18 euros-56 euros, and main courses 36 euros to 66 euros, though those same main courses may be ordered more cheaply in smaller portions. Prices for similar haute cuisine in Paris would cost double that. Service, as everywhere in Holland, is included.
The hotel also has a casual Hoofdstad Brasserie on premises with an open kitchen, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
High-end, deluxe restaurants have long been part of the Amsterdam dining scene, with established places like Roberto in the Hilton, Christophe, Breitner, and the landmarked Café Americain, but, as elsewhere in Europe, few are outside those hotels that can pay the kind of money it takes to do open such places. Bridges (below) is just such a new restaurant, situated in the Sofitel along the Oudezijds Voorburgwal canal and was not long ago a municipal canteen. In 1949, COBRA-artist Karel Appel painted the well-known "Questioning Children" (below) for the space and is still here at the restaurant, whose clean, modern design of whites and reds are something like a set for "2001: Space Odyssey." Lighting at night is a little low in which to read the small print on the menu.
Bridges, with a smart bar up front (below), is a mainly seafood restaurant, and the focus is absolutely on the main ingredient on the plate, with few additions to detract from its exquisite freshness, as fashioned by Chef Aurélien Poirot. Sommelier Hans Tuin has culled his excellent list to reflect this same idea and is happy to match wines with dishes, since most on his list can be ordered by the glass.
Our table of four ordered broadly across the ever-changing menu, following an amuse of smoked salmon and mussels. Oysters came with cucumber, tinged with tarragon foam and shallots. A detour from the seafood menu ("From the Field") was the fine, silky foie gras with more foam, this time potato and sea salt, and a plate of well-made gnocchi lashed with lemon oil and shavings of Parmigiano.
Returning to seafood form, we had selections from the raw side of the menu, pearl-like scallops and salmon of pristine quality, then tuna tartare in a cream sauce, with pommes pont neuf and salad. A half lobster cooked in a tandoor with Indian-style naan bread was good, but like several dishes that evening, quite salty.
Prices are pretty high, but this quality of seafood comes dear, with starters 14 euros to 49 euros, and main courses 22 euros to 105 euros (this last for wild turbot and caviar).
I found a new favorite place to have lunch or dinner, near the Concert Hall on the broad Avenue Van Baerlestraat, named Brasserie van Baerle (right), now two decades old. The interior of the dining room is a rare enchantment, with wonderful lines, glossy white ceilings, deep purple banquettes, little lamps on the table, white tablecloths, big mirrors, and a window over the street. Outside there is a favored patio, though my guest and I scurried back inside because smoking is allowed outside and there was plenty of it going on.
The proprietor and her well-trained staff delivered an amuse of creamed mushroom soup, ideal with the bottle of iced Riesling I ordered. We then had rich foie gras mousse and shrimp croquettes with samphire greens and a light shallot mayonnaise and greens--perfect for lunch; a sea bream and tiny scallops with flavored rice and vegetables, including asparagus with beurre blanc lavished over them was simply good in the best way. Veal ravioli packed with chanterelles was lifted by a little spiced oil.
For dessert there was a creamy bavarois.
Brunch is very popular here, and the Brasserie gets a good pre-theater and concert crowd.
At lunch the prices range from 13.50 euros to 14.50 euros and main courses 13.50 euros to 19.50 euros. At dinner the top price for a main course is 29 euros.
Amsterdam is famous for its rijsstaffel (rice table) restaurants, a heritage of its colonial days in Indonesia, serving a vast meal composed of sometimes dozens of dishes, though these days you can sample somewhat fewer from various menus. The ideal is to go with several people and try as many items as you wish. Sometimes the dishes are brought out according to how spicy they are, but again, you can mix and match. The restaurants tend to be very casual and don't cost very much at all. Nor, I am told, do they differ radically in quality from one another in town.
We had a pleasant if somewhat underwhelming lunch at one of the better known rijsstaffel eateries, the 30-year-old Sama Sebo (Hoostraat 27), about ten minutes' walk from the Museum District. The place looks like a pub up front; the dining room (left) could use an update and a rehab; the service is by rote. The food is good, according to which dishes you sample; some of them seemed like they'd been sitting on the steam table too long. But there was definitely a lot of flavor and spice.
The full rijsstaffel runs a modest 29.50 euros ($38.50) per person, and, since I haven't the acumen or space enough to describe them all, let me just list them all: Nasi, Sajor, Babi Ketjap, Daging Madura, Ajam, Sateh, Krupuk, S.G. Sajoran, S.G. Tahu, S.G. Kering, Gado Gado, Serundeng, Pisang Goreng, Rudjak Manis, Atjar, Sambal and Katjang. Smaller versions made be had for 16.50 euros.
To read Part One of this article on Amsterdam, click here.
Mas (la grillade)
everybody knows, in Old French a mas is a stone
farm house or small estate where as much as
possible, the food comes from its own fields or
nearby, an ancient and obvious idea that predates
modern locavorism by millennia. About five years ago
Chef Galen Zamarra (below)
opened Mas (Farmhouse) in Greenwich Village to wide
applause; its décor had a rusticity that was
both comfortable and sophisticated, a nook-like
restaurant with a menu stressing simple goodness. This
fall Zamarra, with partner Eric Blinderman, debuted
Mas (la grillade), and about the only thing about it I
can't applaud are those eccentric parentheses.
Just about everything else about this marvelous
restaurant is a revelation of good taste, based on the
deceptively simple notion that you can turn out
wonderful food from a wood-burning stove. (Note the
large wheel in the photo to the right, which allows
the cooks to raise or lower the food to get the right
temperature.) If such a technique seems restrictive,
just point anywhere on the menu--vegetables, fish,
meats--and you'll be amazed how flavorful they all are when
treated to Zamarra's way with a flame.
Mas (la grillade) is open for lunch and dinner daily.
NOTES FROM THE SPIRITS LOCKER
Gin Seeks a Return to
since James Bond ordered a “shaken, not stirred”
martini made with vodka, in Ian Fleming’s 1958 novel
“Dr. No,” gin’s popularity began to sink. While
vodka has cannily capitalized on the youth market,
gin—the other white liquor--hasn’t been a hot
category for decades. Gin sales have been soaring in
China, India and Russia, but elsewhere, except for
premium imports, sales have dropped or remained flat
in the top markets of the Philippines, the U.S.,
and, in Europe, Spain.
Dry Gin ($20)—Beefeater is a true London
gin, “distilled in the heart of the city,” at a high
47 percent alcohol, so it’s very lush. When I poured
a little from the bottle, its aroma of juniper,
Seville oranges and lemon bounded out of the glass.
Very aromatic, Beefeater is complex and wonderful on
the rocks, but also good for a
Gibson, a martini garnished with cocktail
Gordon’s London Dry Gin ($17)—American
made, in Norwalk, CT, Gordon’s is based on a 1769
formula, with an “Appointment by Her Majesty the
Queen.” The weak nose is a little sharp and it’s a
fairly bland gin, minty but pretty bland, so it
would do well as a mixer with tonic or in a negroni.
Seagrams Extra Dry ($14)—“Extra Dry” means
little since all gins are distilled dry. This has a
light aroma of citrus, that floats over the palate,
with a distinctly American taste—punchy, not too
much alcohol (40 percent), fruity and fleshy, and at
$14 you can see why it’s such a big seller in the
U.S. My father, a smart man, always used to have
bottles of Seagrams and Gilbey’s in the liquor
cabinet. He’d use the Gilbey’s for those who asked
for gin on the rocks or with tonic, the Seagrams to
make a perfect martini. He was right.
Bombay Sapphire East ($25)—Worth every
penny, with 42 percent alcohol, this U.K. product is
a stylish gin rife with aromatics—many stenciled on
the bottle—like Thai lemongrass and Vietnamese black
peppercorns, that make it unusual and somewhat
exotic, the kind of gin you’d order in a Singapore
sling at the Raffles Bar in Singapore before heading
out to tend your rubber plantation. (Other Bombay
gins may have a different proof.)
Tanqueray Special Dry English Gin ($25)—For many gin lovers this is the apex of London gins, highly refined, bursting with aromatics and tropical fruit, all balanced with spice notes that linger on the palate. It’s almost creamy and is best enjoyed on its own or in the very driest martini a bartender can possibly make, with lemon peel, not an olive.
John Mariani's wine and spirits column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis.
In Providence, RI, at Cook & Brown Public House, chef/owner Nemo Bolin says the restaurant's most frequently stolen items are the polished black rocks they use to hold down checks. "At one point we realized that people thought they were large after-dinner mints," he said, "although only one ever made it to the table, so maybe people were taking them home and biting into them later in the evening. We lost so many that we had to change the way that we presented the bill to people."
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I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, ForbesTraveler.com and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star places as five-star experiences." THIS WEEK: Following The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in Stockholm
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Tennis Resorts Online: A Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991).
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