Archives for August 2013

Casual Elegant Fare at In De Waag

Amsterdam is one big eating fest – full meals, snacks, sit down places, on-the-go food, and everything in between. One of the nicest parts about this city is how relaxed dining is. aren’t looked down upon if you order an entree and nothing else or if you order a couple of appetizers and sit for hours at your table.

You are sort of ridiculed if you don’t drink beer, but that’s just the price you pay.

amsterdam day 3 042 In de Waag is a typical Dutch restaurant in that it is totally laid back. There is nothing homogeneous about it. At the same restaurant were a pre-fixe engagement dinner, a retired couple ordering dinner, some ladies out for girls night, and a family stopping for a snack.

And, of course, our rag-tag duo.

amsterdam day 3 046

This beautiful restaurant, located in a beautiful building from the 1400s (that’s right, kids…we aren’t in America any more). It’s huge and stark white with beautiful dark wooden beams. The space is reminiscent of an ancient convent with its circular candelabras and soaring ceilings. It’s really a great place for a casual dinner, though I would come here for a few drinks and snacks, too.

amsterdam day 3 044 Quick note – this is a disposable muddler that comes with every lime and lemon enhanced drink. When I order a lemon in my seltzer, I usually have to mash it around with my straw like a blind cavewoman. Why don’t’ we have disposable muddlers in NYC? This way, I got some lemon dispersed in every sip of fizzy water. Totally delightful.  amsterdam day 3 045 Smoked salmon and dill creme amuse bouche

Because everywhere in Amsterdam likes to feed you multiple courses. This salmon is very simple but excellent – slightly smoky, slightly salty, very buttery and rich. it’s actually lightened by the lemony dill mayonnaise. It’s an ideal way to whet the appetite.

amsterdam day 3 048 Crispy chicken salad

After a week of fried food, I needed a respite. Fresh, sweet lettuce. Crispy, juicy chicken that is both crunchy without and juicy within; redolent of thyme. And the salad itself was odd and wonderful – pickled onions, juicy olives, earthy lentils, a couple of the sweetest roasted tomatoes I have ever had, and a plethora of other items were in there. The mild vinaigrette was neither too bracing more insipid, and the warmth of the chicken wilting the lettuce made for a wonderfully satisfying yet light meal.

amsterdam day 3 049 Spring vegetable risotto with saffron aioli, feta, and a poached egg

The egg is woefully overcooked but other than that this is lovely. Thick, creamy risotto studded with fresh squash and tomatoes. Topped with arugula and piquant feta cheese, it’s a fresh and very bright take on the usually heavy rice dish. The rice is chewy but not hard, and the saffron aioli adds a wonderful richness to the vegetable based dish.

This is highly recommended. It’s reasonably priced (though everything is expensive in Europe), the service is lovely, and the food is really tasty.  Order a feast or order a nibble – you will be thrilled either way.

Burger Zaken – Okay Burgers, Awesome Fries

I broke the cardinal rule on this vacation.

I ate an all American food in a foreign country and expected to be impressed.

Americans don’t do everything well. We don’t have the greatest mass transit in the world. We are totally prudish on some things at which other countries barely bat an eye. But, we do a few things perfectly:

Baseball. Movies. Burgers.

So when I went to Burger Zaken in Amsterdam, I was just setting myself up for disappointment. To start off,the place is very nice – casual and bustling with both counter and waiter service and a straightforward menu filled with different burger options like Dutch beef, Kobe beef, chicken, and veggie. There are also a few salads and freshly made fries. come here looking for a casual meal – think jeans and sneakers.

amsterdam day 2 027 A burger calls for an ice cold Coke light.
amsterdam day 2 028 Dutch beef burger with fries

It’s kind of awesome that the burgers here come dressed similarly to In-n-Out. Some things are universal, and special sauce is one of them. The burger is well sized but not overwhelming and the fries are also well portioned. The burger is…

amsterdam day 2 030 Okay, at best. Mostly because the meat has to be cooked to medium. It is excellent beef – robust and really earthy. It tastes like it might be grass fed. However, that also means that it is less fatty and results in a slightly dry, bouncy burger. It’s too bad that it is packed so tightly, because the flavor really is excellent. The special sauce is tart, tangy, and creamy, but it isn’t enough to save the burger or the worst bun in the history of mankind. The bun is dry, leaned, and so hard that I almost chipped a tooth whilst trying to eat it. It was an okay burger but a better bun would have really improved it. Luckily, the veggies were all fresh and vibrant. It still isn’t something for which I would return.

amsterdam day 2 031 The fries – now, there is a special order. These are wonderful, as are most fries in Amsterdam. Crunchy, buttery, fluffy, and ideal iwth rich mayonnaise.

Fries with mayonnaise is perhaps the greatest invention since the wheel. 

Sadly, this burger place is not where it’s at. It’s cheap and serviceable, but it can’t hold a candle to most burgers I am used to.

But that’s okay. Because the fries here often taste like soggy salt licks, and I would currently crawl over broken glass for just one of Burger Zaken’s frites.

Febo – Amsterdam’s Automat

Amsterdam isn’t all hoity toity sausage and world class fries.

Some of the stuff there is just quick grub that the locals eat. It’s as familiar as McDonald’s but to me, it’s like a gastronomic sociological study.

Yeah, I use big words when I discuss fast food. 

amsterdam day 3 017 Febo is an automat – you know, an inexpensive eatery filled with those automated windows that dispense food when you drop a coin in the slot.

amsterdam day 3 018 It’s a very casual affair – we saw kids coming in after school, adults looking for a late night drunk snack, and then a couple of tourists, like us. Don’t expect to be able to sit down to eat – it’s strictly stand and scarf.

amsterdam day 3 020 There is a plethora of items including many different kinds of croquettes, a hamburger, and French fries (at the cash register, not the automat windows), but if you are smart, you will go for the specialburger.

amsterdam day 3 021 This specialburger is one of a kind. A loosely packed meat patty with beef and pork, fried in a thick crust and served on a standard bun with zesty sauce. It’s fried and crunchy and soft and greasy – the way that all fast food burgers are. The main difference here, besides its croquette form, is that really zesty sauce. It’s peppery, garlicky, and tangy – almost like something you would pay good money for on the side of poached salmon in a sit down restaurant.

amsterdam day 3 022 Fried satee, anyone?

amsterdam day 3 023 A big ole log of fried Thai style bbq beef and peanut sauce.
amsterdam day 3 024 Not the most nuanced Asian food I have ever eaten, but nicely spiced with ginger and coriander and served at a perfect temperature.

Febo locations are all over Amsterdam and I highly recommend you go. It’s cheap, it’s tasty, and its really where the locals go!

Because after all the canals and the Van Gogh museum and the tulips…

You really need to trash it up with some fast food. 

Watching the World Go by at Cafe Luxembourg

When you go to Europe, the first thing that you do isn’t go to a museum.

It isn’t go to your hotel room (because that won’t be ready for hours…you know I’m right).

You go to a cafe. 

You indulge in the truly glorious ritual of having a cup of cappuccino or a glass of wine and people watching. Don’t expect the check to come the minute that you pick up the last bite of your burger. Don’t expect service that is so downright familiar that it might as well be your proctologist. Expect to sit and relax. To get a little tipsy and a lot relaxed.

I have rarely been to a cafe that more perfectly exemplifies this aspect of the European culture than Cafe Luxembourg

amsterdam day 2 010 This charming brasserie is an infant in the Amsterdam dining scene, having been around only since the 1980s, but its prime location, all day fare, and excellent service set it apart.
amsterdam day 2 013 Sauvignon Blanc

From France, with a relatively low alcohol content in relation to American wines. Very soft with a light lemony scent and taste. Ideal for the afternoon as you…

amsterdam day 2 012 people watch. Sit in what my fiance calls “stadium seating.” You sit beside your dining partner, not across from him/her. This lets you talk or sit quietly and just look at the people on bicycles, young lovers strolling lazily, and busy people hurrying home to take off their pinchy shoes. They want to join you at the cafe. And this is why:
amsterdam day 2 016 Taste of Amsterdam Plate

Well, hello land of a kajillion canals.

Hello soft, spicy, buttery uncured sausage known as Amsterdam ossenworst.
amsterdam day 2 017 Hello, tiny fried croquette.

Oh what is beneath your thick, nicely crunchy crust?

amsterdam day 2 020

OH, it’s an incredibly awesome creamy, meaty filling that is like shephard’s pie gone Dutch. With some piquant grainy mustard, it’s the ideal bar food.

amsterdam day 2 019 Don’t miss the liverwurst either, which is a bit firm but not too bouncy, and is as mild as chicken liver pate without any of the mineral-y aftertaste.

Don’t worry, there are also 2 kinds of cheese, cornichons, and a few other tasty nibbles on this plate.

This plate is much like the restaurant – quintessentially Amsterdam. It’s quirky, it’s specific to the city, and it’s unapologetically laid back. No fussy utensils or molecular gastronomy. Just tasty nibbles and freshly draughted beers while you watch the world go by. This casual stop is ideal for lunch but really…

It’s so relaxing, you might as well find yourself staying there straight through dinner.  

The Best Fries in the World – Vleminckx

I am back from Amsterdam and I am here to spread the gospel, my foodie friends.

The gospel of fries.

Because I have eaten the world’s most perfect French fry. 

There is no way to top it – trust me, I have tried.

There is no way to improve upon it.

And there is nowhere to get it besides Amsterdam.

amsterdam day 3 025 The  Friethuis Vlemincx has been around since 1957 serving frites (fries) and nothing but frites. Except, of course, for the dozens of dipping sauces that accompany the fries.

Just don’t ask for the sauces on the side. They don’t do that here.

amsterdam day 3 026 When we went, there was a VERY short line, but the crowds can mean an hour or so of waiting.

Suck it up, grab a beer, and wait. It is worth it.

amsterdam day 3 027 This place literally defines “hole in the wall.” It’s down a small, quaint alleyway and is a simple storefront. No seats – no inside, even – just a window, a menu board, and you.

amsterdam day 3 028 And these. Piles of freshly peeled potatoes are right in the window, systematically being cut and fried to golden perfection before being lightly salted, tipped into a leak-proof paper cone (don’t know how they do it), and slathered with the sauce(s) of your choice.

amsterdam day 3 029 Frites

These frites are…magnificent. Impossibly light. Crunchy but not hard. Fluffy, airy, and incredibly earthy. Not one limp nor burnt. Barely salted so the pure, buttery potato taste shines through. Addictive in every sense of the word – meaning you can’t stop, you think about it when you aren’t with it, and using it just makes you want more of it. There is no way to make the right choice with sauces  there are too many and they are all too delicious. However, the ultra-rich mayonnaise and the zesty German style curry sauce are good places to start.
amsterdam day 3 032 There are many other fries in the world, but there are none that can even kiss these fries’ boots. These are the pinnacle of midnight munchies, the Prada gown that every burger wants to wear.

I only regret not going back for more. 

Paris Must Eats

There are a few things that I have to do in Paris.

Yes, they all revolve around food.

Yes, I am at this point using a rubber band to close the button on my jeans.

What’s your point?

france day 1 and 2 021 I must go to Pierre Herme and get my favorite dessert on the planet.
france day 1 and 2 040 I must eat a crepe that is crispy on the edges, tender in the middle, and totally smothered with nutty, chocolaty Nutella. Ice cream optional but highly recommended.

france day 1 and 2 055 I absolutely MUST go to Angelina for what is the best hot chocolate…period. No one ever disagrees with this. It’s like saying Einstein was. smart. It’s not opinion. It’s just fact. It’s so rich it comes with a side of powdered sugar in case you need to dilute all of that super rich creamy milk.

france day 1 and 2 063 And, of course, I visit Maille. Because I don’t turn my back on old friends.

Next week, some in depth reviews on the best eats of my trip!

Get Ready for Some Wedding Cake…

…because I’m getting hitched!

That’s right, my fiance and I got engaged last night in Paris. Since then, it has been all love and gratitude and so much champagne that I may have to take the day off today!

Tomorrow I will resume my normal posting, but today is all about planning the best part of the engagement…wedding cake tasting!

See you tomorrow for more European eats and treats!

Eating in Amsterdam

Well, I’ve just been stuffing my face with the most delicious foods. Like what, you may ask?

amsterdam day 2 015 How about raw beef sausage? Not smoked, not cured, just raw sausage. Like steak tartare but with a very peppery kick.

amsterdam day 2 031 Oh, and a few frites with – what else? – rich, eggy mayonnaise.

amsterdam day 2 035 Like this Smurfden ice cream. Yes, it’s really called that. Yes, this is a real language. And no, no Smurfs were harmed in the making of this dessert. It’s bubblegum meets cotton candy – sugar overload for me.

amsterdam day 2 132 Like this Indonesian feast of 22 tiny dishes that arrive at your table, sit on burners, and slowly fill you from mild to spicy with fragrant, familiar yet totally new flavors.

The only question now is…what pants will fit me tomorrow?

Where in the World is Carmen Fritos Foie Gras?

What have I been up to the past few days? Well, let’s take a look, shall we?

first 2 days trip 057 I have eaten a croissant sandwich that looks positively frightening but makes an incredible midnight-early afternoon snack.
first 2 days trip 012 I drank one plastic glass of champagne and grew positively tipsy.

first 2 days trip 006 I packed carry on luggage so thoroughly that it looked more pregnant than the Octomom. And that was using those space saver bags that vacuum all of the air out of your clothes.

first 2 days trip 083 I have a bedroom that is beautiful and looks at picturesque canals…
first 2 days trip 065 And my bathroom last night had a tv in the mirror. 

A tv. In. The mirror. 

Guess I’m on vacay! Look forward to mostly pictoral reviews this week with nice, long, juicy gossip about where to eat in Amsterdam and Paris in weeks to come!

Jean Georges – The Best Birthday Gift

I got the BEST birthday present.

No, it wasn’t  a pony.

It wasn’t a diamond necklace.

It wasn’t a shopping date with Andy Cohen.

Okay…maybe I got the SECOND best birthday present.

I was gifted dinner at Jean Georges.

From the moment I walked in, it was special. You are sitting in plush seats, looking out the window at the Starbucks across the street and the people hailing cabs, but they can’t see you. It’s like being in a limo. The dining room is small and pretty modern – it doesn’t scream “3 Michelin star.”

Then the service begins.

Our server was impeccable – always there when we wanted him, NEVER there when we didn’t. He didn’t’ try to upsell us on pricier menus or wine pairings. He was well-informed but not a know it all – charming but not overly friendly. He and his team made sure our water glasses were never empty, dishes never sat too long, and conversations were never interrupted. I literally can’t say enough about him. He single handedly made the meal worthwhile.

Well, him and the food.

montmartre 030

Amuse Bouche

Because every Michelin meal should begin with an amuse bouche. Of course, not all of them are an amuse bouche like this. A corn fritter that is so light and airy that it seems like a corn-scented cloud punctuated with sweet, juicy kernels. It’s served on a swath of tangy sour cream that provides a counterpart to that sweet, vibrant corn. The raspberry gazpacho is the ideal mixture of sweet and spicy, with nary a seed nor solid left in the bright broth. And the salmon, cured in a sticky-sweet syrup, is so soft, so mild, and so clean that it barely tastes like fish – somewhere between a marshmallow and a piece of filet mignon. These amuse bouches set the right tone for the night to follow – inventive, pure, and intense flavors and textures.

montmartre 031 Santa Barbara sea urchin with black bread, jalapeno, and yuzu

The best sea urchin I have ever had. Better than 15 East. This is the uni for which I have waited. Creamy, firm, and buttery. It has just the slightest hint of saltwater and absolutely no sliminess or odd dark parts. Some uni is fluffy – this is dense. It’s decadent and almost meaty. Its inherent richness is cut by the liberal sprinkling of acidic yuzu and the miniscule jalapeno slice is slightly pickled by the yuzu. It is a touch of heat but nothing distracting. The thick, tangy sourdough bread provides yet another layer of flavor and texture to counteract the rich sea urchin. This was my favorite bite of the night and, perhaps, even the year. montmartre 033 Steamed turbot with potato leek puree and clams with green chile

A perfect piece of fish. Beautifully filleted with no unsightly bloodlines or pin bones. Perfectly poaches to that it is entirely cooked but not for a moment too long. Firm but not overly bouncy and tender enough to cut with a spoon. The puree is mild and none too buttery – it doesn’t take away from the delicate, clean flavor of the fish with too much onion or cream flavor. The chervil atop adds a light, barely sweet note to the broth, which is filled with sweet, briny clams and enough chili flavor to make me sit up and take notice. This is more than just a little spicy…it really delivers in the heat department. I loved it. The most apt way I can describe this dish is “true.” Nothing competed, everything complimented, and every taste is  crystal clear.

montmartre 035 Char grilled squab with crushed sweet peas and nasturtium vinaigrette

Expertly cooked to a juicy medium, where there is no blood or tough meat, but there is a rosiness throughout. It’s juicy and lightly gamy and grassy – you can tell this ain’t beef or chicken. It’s coated in a wonderfully spicy, fragrant rub that is reminiscent of peppercorn and coriander. I love how bright and in-your-face the flavors are. So often, fancy French restaurants in the US shy away from really POW flavors. Not so, here! The nasturtium vinaigrette isn’t at all too floral and the peas are a sweet, juicy counterpart. They gave me an extremely generous portion – I had to take half of it home. In keeping with the excellent service, they actually offered to wrap it up for me, without making me feel like a beggar at the feast.

montmartre 039 Stone fruit

The dessert. Unique and varied and wonderful. Creamy, vanilla scented tofu pudding? Torched, sticky, marshmallow-y meringue surrounding positively ethereal apricot sorbet? And – my favorite – the peach and lavender tart on PERFECTLY flaky crust with the sweetest, corniest corn ice cream on the planet? Jean Georges comes through on desserts in a big way.

montmartre 040 Oh, and also a deep, fudgy, chocolate and raspberry cake covered in ganache.  montmartre 041 And marshmallows, cut to order, that are so light that they threaten to float away.

I didn’t even cover the homemade chocolates or the sorbets served in thimble sized tuiles.

This meal is a fairy tale in the middle of midtown. It’s 3 servers per table, chocolates to take home, and a meal that is, conservatively speaking, a million times better in taste than it is in description. It is the epitome of fine dining, where the customer is made to feel like the king of the castle. It is as if I was doing them the favor, when the opposite was clearly true.

It is only improved upon by excellent company.

And the uni…that helped too.