Savory Morsels

The Culinary Adventures of a California Girl

Saturday, September 16, 2006

***September 16, 2006: Marius***

Marius: The Best Restaurant in Amsterdam
Barentszstraat 243
Marius was my last dinner in Amsterdam – I’d previously had a great dinner at De Kas, a pretty good one at Tempo Doeloe, and a decent one at Envy (the scene was better than the food). Marius was actually a bit of a gamble; The Dylan concierge, taxi drivers, and tour guides had all never even heard of it! I’d found Marius on a random NYC food blog and after learning that the chef was an ex-Chez Panisse guy and reading a good review on, I decided that I had to go.
The restaurant was tiny, cutely decorated in a Provincial French countryside way, and not too busy for a Saturday night. There were only 3 staff members (the chef, waitress, and sous-chef) and they all buzzed about helping in the kitchen and talking with the diners. We were seated “outside” under a green-house ceiling of sorts, surrounded by greenery, and lit only by candle light. The best part of the setting was the little shuttered window through which we could watch Kaas (the chef) work his magic and occasionally lean out to joke with the dinners (many of whom he seemed to know well) and check on how their meals were progressing.
After we sat down we were quickly offered the aperitif of the night, a specially fermented wine (that almost taste like vermouth) served with lemon and ice. Upon receiving our drinks we were also given a country-loaf of amazingly hearty, yet light bread that I couldn’t stop eating (so much for diets…), huge flavorful green olives, and marinated peppers. I was so consumed with devouring the bread and butter that I nearly forgot about the rest of dinner – although at the time I wasn’t aware how excited I should have been getting!
The menu was a semi-set four course meal composed of the freshest ingredients Kaas could find that morning. There were plenty of substitutes listed on the side if you weren’t in love with his choices and Kaas (who cames out to explain the menu and chat from time to time) let us know that he would be more than happy to accommodate for vegetarians, allergies, and any particular preferences. Lucky for me, I thought the menu sounded amazing just as it was and we decided to have all the suggested courses with their wine pairings.

The first course contained a small fillet of sea wolf (a fish I’d never had before) over eggplant purée and paired with a grilled prawn and a raw zucchini side salad. The fish was unbelievable, it was somewhat like bass or halibut but more delicate and prepared so that it was moist and flakey with a delicious, slightly crispy top. While I didn’t feel that the shrimp was a necessary edition to the course (I’m usually not a fan of having more than one type of fish or meat on my plate), it was quite good as well and, unlike the shrimp I’d had a couple of nights before at Tempo Doeloe, not overcooked at all. The eggplant puree went beautifully with the fish, but I was also glad to have the fresh zucchini salad because it gave the course some necessary crunch. Overall Kaas was off to a great start – everything was light, delicious, and expertly seasoned in a way that allowed the flavors of the high quality ingredients to shine through. I could easily see the Chez Panisse influence!

While the man at the table adjacent to us joked with Kaas that he was “cooking American tonight” - the second course of handmade pigeon ravioli reminded me of the fact that I was in Europe. For some reason I rarely see Pigeon on menus in the states, and I have no idea why when it can taste as amazing as it did in the ravioli. The slightly gamey pigeon was enveloped in fresh, thin ravioli that were then placed in a rich broth of pigeon jus, onions, and cauliflower. The portion was nicely sized (I had been worried about running out of room with a four course meal and all that bread), and the raviolis almost seemed to melt away in my mouth. After devouring the pasta, I couldn’t help but to soak up all of the broth with the remaining pieces of bread.

The final savory course was venison (my favorite meat!) prepared with a small mix of roasted vegetables. We were never asked how we wanted our meat cooked, but the venison was exactly how I like it – medium rare with a pink inside and juicy through out. My theory is that anyone who complains that venison is tough or too gamey has just not ever had it done well. As with the pigeon, I would definitely send anyone who needed to be educated on how amazing this meat can be to Marius. Furthermore, the roasted carrots and potatoes on the side of the venison were so good that I almost asked if I could have another portion. Seeing as how we still hadn’t had dessert and how I still wanted to fit into my jeans tomorrow, I wisely restrained myself.

We were starting to feel pretty full by the end of the third course so we passed on the cheese course and decided to share a dessert. There were two options for dessert – a flourless chocolate cake and an almond nectarine tart with homemade vanilla ice cream. Since I can never seem to pass up fruit desserts, I successfully argued for us to order the tart. However, debating was a waste of time because Kaas graciously sent us out a slice of his chocolate cake as well. Both desserts were phenomenal and I was thoroughly impressed that Kaas could turn out pastry just as amazing as his savory courses. The tart was a textural medley of crisp, flakey pastry, soft almost paste, and sweet juicy nectarines that were lightly caramelized on top. I was also so thankful that he had brought us a slice of the chocolate cake. The chocolate was obviously very high quality because even with out the addition of any spices, the cake was deeply and complexly flavored and made me wonder how in the world he could make a standard flourless chocolate cake into a unique, special dessert. And of course, the vanilla ice cream complimented everything beautifully as it generally does! Obviously, dessert did not put my admission into the clean plate club in jeopardy!

In my experience dinners in Amsterdam move at a very leisurely pace, and Marius was no exception. The difference at Marius was that I never wanted the meal to end. The atmosphere was warm and magical; everyone seemed happy, friendly, and cheerful. And simply put: the food was incredible! I’ve eaten more than my fair share of amazing food and frequented a number of great spots across the world- from small cafés on the coast of Turkey, to three stars in France and Italy, to taco trucks in Oakland, California. I’ve even spent a brief 5 weeks interning as an assistant pastry chef at Chez Panisse. After all those very different experiences I don’t like to try and choose favorites, but if pressured, I just might have to say that my dinner at Marius was the best meal I have ever had.

I’ll definitely be back to Amsterdam, if only to return to Marius! I hope anyone else who is fortunate enough to visit has as wonderful an experience as I had!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

***September 14, 2006: Tempo Doeloe***

Tempo Doeloe
Utrechtsestraat 75
I’d never had Indonesian food before coming to Amsterdam, so I was extremely excited to get to taste this new cuisine. After lots of debating between the various restaurants the city had to offer, I took my concierge’s advice and booked a table at Tempo Doeloe. I was happy to see that this cutely decorated compact place was filled to the brim, and I didn’t mind our 20 minute wait at the bar for our table (I hate empty restaurants)! The only thing that slightly worried me were how many of the conversations I overheard were in English; I am afraid that this place might be slightly tourist overrun, although that does not necessarily mean a loss in quality!
After a set menu the previous night at De Kas, I was happy to get the opportunity to order my own dinner. However – the menu is huge! It’s important to realize that by discussing what sounds appealing with your waitress, she can mix and match dishes from the al a carte and set menus in order to create a meal that includes everything you want to try. Needless to say our waitress was very friendly and very accommodating; it makes sense why tourists feel comfortable coming here!
From Chowhound recommendations I knew I had to start with the goat skewers and that I should be cautious about how much spice I asked for. While the goat skewers were quite good, the portion was small and I would not suggest ordering them 'mild' because they had basically no heat (almost to the point of being bland). I’d love to go back and try them medium or even fully spicy! We also started with crispy dough wrapped beef. They were basically crepes filled with minced beef and while there were some interesting spices and we finished them off quickly – it was once again a small portion and I wasn’t blown away with the flavors.
Our main course definitely made up for the small portion sizes of the first courses. My main was four shrimp – 2 cooked in a tomato ginger sauce and 2 cooked in a coconut based curry.

I found the shrimp to be tasty and fresh, but slightly over cooked (they were a little dry) and once again slightly bland. However, I wasn't particularly hungry that night and they were exactly the light main course I had in mind when I ordered. Our other main course was called the meat trio and you were allowed to pick three meat preparations off the menu. They came in separate little dishes, with a collection of vegetables such as green beans and salad, and a big bowl of saffron rice. It was almost like a small rice table. The three meats were a coconut-cream and chili chicken (very spicy- finally!), slow cooked pork, and beef with a light curry. I was very satisfied with all three of the flavorful, moist meats and I was so happy to finally have some spice! I think these three meat preparations were probably the best part of the meal. My favorite was definitely the beef and I tried to sneak as much onto my plate as possible while my dinner companion wasn’t looking! Our mains made me think that maybe we should have ordered the rice table after all!

For dessert we ordered the mango dish (mango slices, mango sauce, and mango ice cream) and the cinnamon ice cream. The desserts come overly decorated (imo) on huge plates. Be aware that the coconut ice cream, while really good, is not just a bowl of ice cream – but two scoops of ice cream along with quite a collection of tropical fruits. I also received a complimentary slice of the Indonesian layered cake because I had simply asked what it was. Both desserts were quite good, I actually really appreciated the unexpected fruit – I love fresh fruit – and I could have eaten an entire pint of that cinnamon ice cream.
Overall I we enjoyed our dinner and have already recommended it to others. The atmosphere was lively, the staff couldn’t have been friendlier, and the food was good. I have a hard time rating the quality of the meal because I have no other experience with Indonesian cuisine to compare it to. I’ve also heard Indonesian food described as blander Thai food – so maybe the lack of spice was actually authentic. I’m also not sure we did the best job at ordering. I would definitely be more than happy to (and I plan to) try Indonesian food both here and anywhere else I can find it!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

***September 13, 2006: De Kas***

De Kas
Kamerlingh Onneslaan 3
After all the glowing reviews it received, I decided that De Kas was a good way to start my Amsterdam visit off right. Immediately upon entering the restaurant I knew I had been right. Appearance wise – De Kas is basically my ideal restaurant. It is set just outside of the city (still easy to get to) in a large, well lit, greenhouse. There is actually a garden immediately to your left as you walk in the entrance and the glass walls allow the dinners not only to see out into the beautiful surrounding park but also into the busy kitchen (and I love being able to watch the chef’s as they work)! The atmosphere was lively and trendy in casual way with large wooden tables and people dressed in everything from jeans to suits and ties. There is no way to tell for sure – but I felt like although the scene was great, most of the dinners were there because they appreciated well prepared organic food.

The accepted pace of meals in Amsterdam seems to be slower than in the US. Personally I think this change is great because it allows for more time to relax and really enjoy your food and the company your with. Furthermore, I never felt abandoned by our friendly waitress who quickly delivered our first nibbles of the night just after we sat down - a bowl of olives and a round loaf of bread with a delicious crunchy crust. Overall the bread I had in Amsterdam was all pretty great, but De Kas definitely had one of the best versions (just behind Marius).

The menu is set (although I’m sure alterations can be made) and is most composed of ingredients that the Marius owners grow/raise themselves. We started with a three part first course that was composed of a salmon dish, a shrimp pastry, and a salad. I’m sorry to say that I ate the salad so quickly that I forgot to take a picture of it and cannot remember what it was (maybe something with tomatoes?). However, it was one of my favorite parts of the first course. The salmon was great, very fresh and flakey and well complimented by a little squash puree and a couple sprigs of greens.

The shrimp pastry, on the other hand, was probably my least favorite part of the entire meal. Personally, I’m never a big fan of the tiny shrimps (except in risotto) and in this particular preparation I thought there was far too much puff pastry and the dish ended up tasting bland and slightly soggy.

The main course was a very large piece of steak with a side of sautéed greens, lentils, beets, and chanterelles. The vegetables were the highlight – not too salty, or buttery, or soft. I can be quite finicky with how vegetables are prepared and I usually think that outside of California they are over cooked (blanched is my motto). These vegetables tasted healthy and flavorful and I loved the addition of the filling lentils. There was no question that the steak was expertly cooked and seasoned – but the portion was just so large that I felt slightly overwhelmed and I’ve been spoiled with so much good meat in my life that I wasn’t too excited by the steak. My father on the other hand devoured his entire cut and the waitress seemed concerned that there was food left on my plate – but they both understood by desire to save room for dessert.

And I'm SO happy I did! Dessert put the entire meal on a whole new level. Obviously dinner had been going along just fine; (with the exception of the shrimp tart) I had loved everything I had eaten, would recommend the restaurant to anyone I know, and had no doubt that all the chef’s in the kitchen were highly skilled. There really were no complaints, but at the same time nothing had been too inspiring either. Dessert was a flourless chocolate cake paired with a plum compote and fennel (yes fennel) ice cream. The combination was absolutely phenomenal. The chocolate cake was dark and rich and creamy and it was infinitely brightened by the tangy plum compote (only very lightly sugared and obviously made using perfect fruit) and the interesting fennel ice cream. I’d never had fennel ice cream before, or thought it would be good with chocolate and fruit, but I am definitely going to try this dessert as soon as I get home!


The night ended with some small sweets (I LOVE when restaurants bring these out!), cappuccinos, and happy, full customers. Before leaving I took a quick peak into the kitchen to check out the chef’s table and talk to the waitress about the lunch menu. Next time I’m in Amsterdam I’d love to come back to De Kas during the day so that I can enjoy the food again and get a better chance to enjoy the grounds around this beautiful restaurant!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

***September 3, 2006: Sushi Ran***

With the bridge closed this weekend I decided to try out one of the non-downtown restaurants that I've been meaning to go to forever- Sushi Ran.

Right off the back I was pleasantly surprised by the casual warmth and friendly service. My table decided to order and assortment of sushi and a few cooked dishes. The sushi was all very high quality (Japanese Mackerel, Toro, and sweet fish were the stand outs) and the rolls (Dragon and citrus salmon) were both interesting and delicious.

However, I ended up wishing that we had ordered more of the special menu items because they were FANTASTIC. Maybe my taste buds just aren’t refined enough but at a certain point high quality sushi is indistinguishable from restaurant to restaurant. The creative, fresh specials on the other hand set Sushi Ran apart. The beef carpaccio with some sort of spicy dressing and greens was amazing, as was the black peppered seared hamachi, and the vegetable tasting. The vegetable tasting actually might have been my favorite of the night and it came with shaved green beans in an amazing curry sauce, asparagus and radishes in a light vinaigrette, spicy stir fried eggplant, and a seaweed salad.

After such a great meal, dessert was slightly disappointing. However, I have never had a great dessert at a Japanese restaurant. I had the mascarpone ice cream with fruit and found the mascarpone flavor to be far too subtle; it might as well have been vanilla. The best dessert with the bananas foster with ginger ice cream and toasted coconut - a classic made better!

All in all I'm definitely returning to Sushi Ran. It's such a comfortable, friendly place that I could almost see myself returning weekly (if it wasn't quite so far away . . .). Next time I probably won't save room for dessert and I'll just order more the specials!