The Grand – Amsterdam’s Luxury Hotel Experience

On my rather epic European vacation last summer, my time traveling was about more than stuffing my face until I had to go up a pants size.

it was also about staying in some awesome hotels,the most memorable of which was The Grand in Amsterdam.

This ancient hotel (really,the oldest in Amsterdam, where the royalty used to host their guests) was recently taken over by the Sofitel hotel brand. Sofitel has made it whir European flagship for their ultra high end Legend line.

The hotel is a triumph. It seamlessly blends old and new, luxury and warmth, and attention to detail with the modern amenities you might expect at home.

The location is unbeatable – a stones throw from Dam Square, the Jordaan District, the Red Light District,and even walkable to The Nine Streets and the Ann Frank House.
first 2 days trip 081 The hotel’s inner courtyard is the ideal place to relax with a glass of wine or a cappuccino. It is all exposed brick and modern glass.The flowers for which Holland is so famous are abundant,there is a weekend jazz quartet, and the service is attentive but not overly so.  first 2 days trip 083 Every room in the hotel is different – whether you choose a smaller, more basic room, or one of the ultra luxurious suites, you can expect a bathtub, shower, air conditioning, wifi, and an espresso maker.  first 2 days trip 090 The savior after many a long night.  amsterdam day 2 037 Even the smallest rooms are well laid out,with bright, saturated jewel tones decor and luxurious amenities.
amsterdam day 2 044 Of course, should you choose to spring for an insanely luxurious canal apartment suite, you will stay in the oldest part of the hotel, which is outfitted with the most luxurious accouterments. We are talking a kitchenette, a view of the canal, a sitting room,  a bathroom with a standing tub and modern shower fit for a queen, and a lush bedroom.
amsterdam day 2 047 The rooms are all different, but the richly saturated tones echo throughout the hotel.  amsterdam day 2 053 The hotel is also home to an award wining florist (the flowers in Amsterdam are actually unbelievable…they are both ubiquitous and beautiful). amsterdam day 2 054 The hotel is also filled with remnants of its long history, including hidden ancient documents that were found inside the hotel’s walls when the canal rooms were being redone.

amsterdam day 2 061

Or this guest book, on this day showcasing an autograph from Andre Agassi.

amsterdam day 2 062

Or this dining room mural, covered by a fake wall right after WWII because it depicts hungry children. It was only recently discovered when the Sofitel took over the Grand.

amsterdam day 2 057 Don’t forget to take a moment to have a cup of coffee or plan your dy in the ever so inviting library, just off the elegant lobby. amsterdam day 2 059 There are little nooks all over the place, ideal for realizing after your dogs are barking from walking all over the city. 

amsterdam day 2 066 And you already know about the wonderful buffet breakfast.

This doesn’t even begin to describe the minute but beautifully outfitted spa, the hotel tour given each and every week, and the out-of-this-world staff. They will bring you an ironing board in 10 minutes if you need one, write down their favorite restaurants in Paris, or walk you out the door to personally show you where the nearest haberdashery is.

I can’t say enough about this hotel. It is fairly priced (to say, expensive but worth it) and the experience and location are wonderful.

Don’t pass up The Grand…it’s really an only-in-Amsterdam luxury hotel.

I stayed at this hotel at a media rate. I was not required to write about my experiences, and all of my opinions are my own and unbiased. 

Breakfast at The Grand in Amsterdam

A lot of people don’t eat breakfast in the hotel on vacation.

They think it’s expensive – they are right.

They think it’s going to take away some of their appetit for lunch – they are right.

They think they won’t  get their money or stomach space’s worth – they are USUALLY right.

However, when it comes to Bridges in The Grand hotel in Amsterdam…yeah, you get your time and calories’ worth.

amsterdam day 2 066 The moment that you walk into the large, modern space, you are greeted with displays of fruit and vegetables in tiny glasses. Not the normal under ripe melons here. No, instead you will have to make do with half globes of tart passion fruit, cubes of freshly cut pineapple, and salads made of the sweetest gem lettuce known to man. The creamy vinaigrette for the salad is especially addictive.  amsterdam day 2 067

Don’t miss the cheese board – the Dutch DO, after all, love their cheese! Everything from hard, nutty gouda to logs of creamy, rich,  boucheron are on offer. Help yourself to a fresh baguette while you’re at it.  amsterdam day 2 068 Who knew that Holland was so filled with carnivores? The meat trays are sights to behold – row after row of prosciutto, ham, bresaola, and velvety smoked salmon. Way in the back you can see trays of yet more cheese – don’t miss the cumin flecked one. It’s a favorite in Amsterdam and was on many lunchtime sandwiches. It’s smoky and savory – a huge flavor punch in a Swiss cheese-like package. I can’t recommend it enough!
amsterdam day 2 071 Hello, pastries. If you just want toast, don’t worry – the buffet also has little sprinkles. That’s right, Dutch kids grow up eating buttered bread covered in sprinkles each morning.

Lucky little Dutch kids.
amsterdam day 2 075 Orange juice is something that I don’t usually consume in the morning.  Just because come on…why would I spend the time and calories to squeeze myself a fresh glass of orange juice? Oh, because it tastes like the first cloudless day after a long winter…that’s right.  amsterdam day 2 076 The champagne is the good stuff – tight bubbles with a clean, mineral-y taste – but I wouldn’t get it again. I can’t help it – it makes me way too tipsy so early in the morning.

IMG_20130820_084306 With your breakfast buffet, you get the choice of a cooked item. You can get an omelette or pancakes, but don’t be a chump. Go for the soft boiled eggs. And eat them a la Londoner.

And don’t forget to take your Lipitor. 

IMG_20130820_084825_648 If you need a little something virtuous, ask for a fresh juice at the smoothie station. If nothing you like is in the glasses in front of you, the incredibly accommodating staff will make you whatever your heart desires – like, for example – a virgin raspberry mojito over crushed ice.

This isn’t a cheap breakfast but it is so luxurious and enjoyable that you will get your fill and be able to feel full right through lunch. And that makes it reasonable, right?  The surroundings are lovely, the staff is excellent, and the food is so delicious.

I think I have to start checking out more hotel breakfasts!

I was offered breakfast at a media rate. I was not required to write about my experiences, and all of my opinions are my own and unbiased. 

Experience Indonesia at Tempoe Doeloe

I know that European Imperialism gets a bad rap. Manifest destiny and all that jazz, you know the drill.

However…putting aside all social responsibility and serious discussion…

It led to some pretty banging food in other parts of the world. Think afternoon tea in Hong Kong. Indian food in London. And – one of my favorites – Indonesian food in Amsterdam.

During the time that the Dutch occupied Indonesia, these cheese-centric Europeans learned how to makes some of my favorite Asian food.

Indonesian food’s intricate spices and layers of texture remind me of other favorite Asian foods of mine, especially Thai and Indian. If you like garlic, coconut, and layers of flavor, you will totally be into Indonesian food.

Oh yeah, and if you order rijsttafel, you also get to try it all. Because this traditional “rice table” means that you get 18 dishes delivered to your table.

That’s right…it’s a buffet at your seat.

My dream.

amsterdam day 2 123 Tempoe Doeloe is one one of Amsterdam’s most highly regarded Indonesian restaurants. It is a small, very crowded restaurant that is decorated with a few mirrors, some colonial Indonesian furniture, and so many tables that you will become best friends with your neighbors whether you want to or not.  amsterdam day 2 125

Where the magic happens.  amsterdam day 2 126

Don’t even look at the menu. Go for the biggest rijstaffel that they have. You want to try it all.

amsterdam day 2 127

These tabletop burners are brought to your table to keep the many small dishes warm. As your stomach starts grumbling, you are brought some tender pork satay swathed in a nutty, tangy peanut sauce. It’s tender and savory – like Indonesia’s answer to hot wings. Just be sure to save some room for… amsterdam day 2 129 Coconut turmeric ricCreamy and strewn with crispy fried shallots. The perfect accompaniment for the many fiery, creamy sauces that are to come.

amsterdam day 2 131 Though you are advised to eat the trays from mild to spicy, let’s start with the medium spicy tray. The small ramekins are filled with shrimp in a garlicky butter sauce, tofu in a coconut chile stew, and green beans cooked with yet more garlic, red peppers, and fragrant lemongrass. The beef in the back is crisp and on the sweeter side, while the chicken has a more fiery taste. The spices in Indonesian food are lip-tingling and zesty, so be sure that you can handle the heat. 
amsterdam day 2 132 The mild buffet is tasty too, from the coriander-spiked beef stew to the warm cabbage salad. The warm cucumber in its vinaigrette is a little weird, but hey…when in Indonesia, right? These dishes are all great for kids or adults who are adventurous but don’t love super spicy or garlicky food. They are similar to Thai food but with way less fish sauce or salty flavors.  amsterdam day 2 133 Whoa, Nelly. It’s getting hot in here. From pretty hot to the absolutely fiery and fearsome  daging rendang, this plate is not for criers. This is for people who love the slow burn from your tongue to your forehead. Who relish dabbing heir heads with napkins. Nothing here is as punishing as phaal, but it gets pretty darned close. However, the subtle nuances of flavors like coconut, cilantro, and caramelized onions to shine through.

amsterdam day 2 134 That daging rendang is a beast, though. It doesn’t taste hot, then as you continue to take bites, you realize that your lips have slightly swelled. That your temples are sweating. And that your ears have the faintest ringing sound echoing through them The tender beef is wonderful and earthy in that spicy, faintly sweet coconut and chile paste. And yes, your lips will be stained red for the next 24 hours.

But what you take away from this meal isn’t just heartburn, a rather sizeable bill, and the memory of a great meal. It’s the experience of eating a food that is rarely seen in this country. It’s the realization that there is a whole new cuisine that you want to explore. It’s Amsterdam’s history in the tastiest way possible. 

Pieminister – Merry Olde England in Amsterdam

You know how you can’t get a decent burger in Amsterdam to save your life?

Well, as it turns out, you can get a meat pie so perfect that Katie M herself might mistake it for one of her country’s own.

amsterdam day 2 093 Indeed, Pieminister is a UK based company, but its outlet in Amsterdam exactly follows the model that you might see in merry olde England. Choose your pie filling, choose your toppings, and choose your side (if any).
amsterdam day 2 095 Then, sit at one of the modern tables and wait for your food to be delivered. As you can see from the decor, it’s a modern, hip place that has taken the British classic and updated it with local, seasonal ingredients that come almost entirely from Great Britain.

amsterdam day 2 097 I especially appreciate the rather English accompaniments of nasal-searing Coleman’s mustard and pungent Worcestershire sauce. And, of course, the not-so-English inclusion of Tabasco.
amsterdam day 2 098 The Motherlode Chicken of Aragon pie with tarragon, smoked bacon, and free range British chicken

So good that it made me sit up and remember tarragon. Why don’t I use it more often? Its faint, sweet, licorice-y taste goes so well with tender chicken. Especially in this rich sauce, loaded with crispy smoky bacon, creamy potatoes, and fork tender chicken. If you get it Motherlode style, it comes topped with mashed potatoes, gravy, cheese, minted mushy peas, and fried shallots.

And if you don’t get it Motherlode style, you must be certifiably insane.

amsterdam day 2 101

She isn’t the prettiest girl in town, but wow is this dish tasty! Salty gravy, tangy cheese, crispy shallots, and lightly minted peas (no mouthwash overload here) add brightness and texture to an otherwise rather heavy, creamy pie. I also recommend adding a shot of Tabasco to uplift the flavor profile.

Oh, and there were just-like-mom’s mashed potatoes, too. Because one can never have to many potatoes.

amsterdam day 2 100 Heidi Pie with Somerset goat cheese, sweet potatoes, spinach, and red onion

 Dare I say that I enjoyed this pie even more? It is a totally out-of-left-field flavor combination. Goat cheese and sweet potatoes? Wouldn’t’ that be too heavy or sweet?

No, it’s pretty much perfect. It’s creamy and earthy, with a hearty minerality from the spinach and the sweet tang of red onion. The caramelized onion highlights the more savory taste of the sweet potato and the warming the  goat cheese mellows  it from grassy to buttery. This I got plain, though I would get it with gravy next time.

When in doubt, go with gravy. 
amsterdam day 2 103
Spicy sausage roll

Simply a zesty, vaguely spicy sausage that is so soft it almost melts in your mouth. Oh, and it’s wrapped in an impossibly flaky dough that is so light that it has no calories.

That’s what I told myself.

Pieminister may not be the most Dutch establishment, but it’s one of the tastiest. The price is fair, the service is helpful but not overbearing, and the food is so delicious that it is worth losing an hour in the afternoon when you sink into a food coma.

Just remember…it’s Motherlode all the way or I will have to pretend that I don’t know you.

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. 

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?