One type of post I love to make is about the food I eat when I travel. Since I took a trip to Amsterdam last week and did a lot of eating, I had to make sure it was well documented here.
If you want to read the non-food story of my trip, it's on my other blog. You can see a full set of photos here.
During a bus tour during my trip to Amsterdam, a guide said The Netherlands doesn't have many specialties in the way of cuisine. When I booked my vacation, my focus was not on food because I wasn't sure what to expect. However, like most cosmopolitan cities, Amsterdam has its share of fine dining. Even if I didn't have much of a clue about Dutch cuisine (other than herring and Gouda cheese), I knew there would be some special restaurants regardless. I was looking forward to seeing what I might find in the city. I was not disappointed by what I found both in Amsterdam and the surrounding area.
Day 1 - There was a lot of food served on the flight, so when I landed in Amsterdam mid-morning, I wasn't terribly hungry. When Kevin and I arrived at the hotel, the restaurant, Lotti's was still serving brunch. At first I didn't want anything, but I found myself tempted by the sight of all of those mimosas and decided to have one.
When I looked at the menu, I knew I wasn't having dessert. I saw an impressive list of homemade pasta dishes and I had to have one.
I chose spaghetti carbonara. I ordered the small portion. This photo makes it look as if it was indeed small, but this plate was deceptively deep. I was trying to eat light, but there was plenty of pasta here.
I think this was the best cabonara I ever ate. How many times have you been to an Italian restaurant and ordered the carbonara and found the chef cheated and used cream to avoid clumpy eggs? That happens to me all the time. This was not the case at Quattro Gatti. This chef knew how to stir his eggs into the sauce properly. Even though I thought it was a bit too salty, it was so rich and satisfying and expertly prepared, I will stand by my statement that it was superior to any other carbonara I have eaten.
Kevin ended up sticking to his plan of having dessert. He loved this chocolate almond cake. He did have his regrets about not having pasta despite the cake. We hoped to come back here, but they are only open to the public for lunch and we were never in the neighborhood at lunch time after this.
I will always regret not coming back here.
We stayed in the neighborhood for dinner. In fact, we didn't even leave our hotel. We had dinner at Lotti's.
I had my pasta later in the day and it was filling, so I wasn't terribly hungry at dinner. I avoided
appetizers and focused on the main course. I decided to make a radical change to my normal restaurant routine and had this dish of mixed roasted parsnips. Some were wrapped in filo dough and some were plain. They came on top of a radish salad. It was an unusual dish, but I thought it was also a fun deviation from stuff I normally eat. I just wish there was more filo involved. Only two large parsnips were wrapped in it. When I saw it on the menu, I had hoped it would be more like a strudel.
Day 2 - We always ate breakfast at our hotel and I tended to keep it simple with a cappuccino and a croissant with an occasional fruit salad so I have no breakfast photos. Lotti's served American pancakes, but I was more interested in trying traditional Dutch pancakes. After spending the morning touring the Anne Frank House, we met up with our friend Miriam (whom we met during our Italy trip six years ago) at Pancakes Amsterdam. I said at the beginning of this post I wasn't aware of many Dutch specialties, but I knew pancake houses were a popular lunch staple in the city and I was excited to try one. They serve the traditional, flat, crepe-like pancakes, American pancakes, and the traditional puffy poffertjes.
That evening I tried another Dutch tradition that isn't Dutch. I wanted to try the Indonesian rijstaffel (rice tables) that are a staple of the Amsterdam food scene. I did some searching online and found Sampurna was a popular option.
On the map it looked as if Sampurna was reasonably close to my hotel. It was less than a 10 minute walk according to Google maps. Unfortunately, it was raining steadily at dinner time and that made the walk more uncomfortable than expected. It's too bad because the stroll along the Singel canal looked interesting with plenty of beautiful shops. The restaurant is right alongside the famous flower market, but it was closing up when we arrived (and we wouldn't have wanted to hang out there in the rain anyway).
I was glad I made reservations for the restaurant a couple of weeks prior to the trip. The place was as crowded and they asked if we had reservations as soon as we walked in. During the course of the night there was a constant stream of people coming in and out. They managed to keep the service consistent and friendly despite the crowds, so I give them a lot of credit.
There were a la carte options, but I wanted to try the full rice table meal. They had three options to choose from. We could order extra spicy, spicy, or vegetarian. I went for the spicy meal for two.
They gave us shrimp crackers and dipping sauces to start. The sauces were quite fiery, but they were delicious. For our appetizer we could have soup or fried chicken dumplings. We were on vacation and fried food is always fair game on vacation, so we had the dumplings. They came with a sweet-spicy dipping sauce. They were good if you like fried food (obviously I do) but anyone looking for a more unique flavor, would have found them ordinary.
My dessert was the standout. It was described as a light fruit pudding on the menu. I don't know how else to describe it. It had a burnt sugar topping like creme brulee`. Underneath were layers of fluffy cream with flavors of pistachio and a fruit whose flavor I couldn't put my finger on. The contrasts in textures and the creaminess and the unusual flavors surprised me in the best way possible.
On our last night in Amsterdam I discovered there was an Indonesian restaurant just a few doors down from our hotel. It was in the opposite direction from which we usually walked, so I never saw it until it was too late. Maybe it would have been less crowded than Sampurna and Kevin would have liked the food better.
Day 3 - We took a day trip to the countryside today. We started out in the windmill village of Zaanse Schaans. The village looked like it had a few specialty food shops (or more likely just tourist trap shots), but our time was limited and we were there to see the windmills. We went inside one of the mills and had a demo on the process of grinding linseed oil. That particular mill was right next to a hot chocolate shop. I could smell that hot chocolate everywhere in the vicinity of the mill. I was dying for a cup of it by the time we left.
Our next stop on the tour was to the lakeside village of Volendam. There were a couple of local specialties here. The first one is cheese. We went to The Cheese Factory (major tourist trap). It's not really a factory. The cheese itself is made elsewhere, but they have a demo room and some equipment to show how traditional Gouda is made. We sat in on the demo and let's just put the emphasis on CHEEZE.
We had lunch at a recommended restaurant called De Lunch. I don't know if it was the best restaurant in town, but our time in Volendam was limited and our guide said that restaurant would have the fastest service.
This was where Kevin sampled the other culinary specialty of Volendam - a local cod fish called kibbeling. De Lunch makes it into fish and chips.
Het Paleis, a restaurant that was kitty-corner to our hotel. We could see it from the window in our room, which helped pique our curiosity. It is named The Palace because it is on Paleistraat, the street that eventually leads to Dam Square and the Royal Palace.
After such a filling lunch I wasn't in the mood for anything heavy. I started with some tomato soup.
My main course was a portobello and goat cheese sandwich. I ruined the idea of eating light when I thoughtlessly agreed to have fries on the side.
Did I say I wanted to eat light? Maybe we shouldn't have shared the apple pie. But how can you be in the Netherlands and not have apple pie? Look at all these apples.
Day 4 - We spent an intense day visiting the van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum. We ate our lunch in the van Gogh museum cafe`, Le Tambourin. My lunch was not particularly interesting (just a decent caprese sandwich), but I give the place credit for the name. One of the paintings in the museum is of the owner of a cafe` called Tambourin who was once van Gogh's lover. She is seated at a table shaped like a giant tambourine. I liked the way the museum cafe` paid tribute to that painting.
We shifted gears again for dinner that night. Even though I didn't know much about traditional Dutch food, I was looking for some kind of kitschy, semi-authentic experience for one of my meals. I wanted to eat at a restaurant that would recall another era. In short I was looking for the Dutch version of a restaurant like Plzenska from my Prague trip.
I found what I was looking for in Haesje Claes. This was another place I found online that seemed popular and well-loved (or just another tourist trap). Once again I was smart enough to make reservations a week or two before the trip. There were so many people coming in here, the host had to turn away anyone without a reservation.
I got my desire for some over-the-top, old fashioned décor. We had a great table.
We both had stroopwafels (waffle wafer cookies filled with sweet syrup) with a giant wedge of nougat ice cream and caramel sauce for dessert. I love syrup waffles. They're not easy to get in the US. The ice cream was excellent too. It's hard to describe the flavor, but it's not as vanilla as it looks.
drank in Montenegro, although not quite as strong.
Day 5 - We took another bus tour today. We went to Brussels and Antwerp. If you check out my other blog, you will see it was not the best day of my vacation. Foodwise it started out poorly, but improved tremendously.
We were in Antwerp at lunch time. We had little time to grab lunch before heading to Brussels. We ended up in a fast food joint. We were trying to avoid McDonald's (there were two of them within two blocks of each other), but we might as well have eaten there. We had burgers and fries that were not too different.
Toward the end of the day in Brussels we tried a bakery with table service called Maison Dandoy.
This is where I was finally able to eat a liege waffle in Belgium. It was topped with strawberry sauce and ice cream. I had a rich cup of hot chocolate to go with it. This was the best part of my day. Kevin had never tried a liege waffle before, so he was in for quite a treat.
It was late when we returned to Amsterdam. It was also King's Day. The party was ending, but we had to fight a lot of crowds who were heading in the same direction we were heading away from. We ate dinner in our hotel.
I stuck with an appetizer and tried the Lotti's steak tartare appetizer. I didn't have my camera with me, so I had no photos. It wasn't as good as the waffle in Brussels, but it was a tasty end to the day.
Day 5 - For the final day of our trip we took one last bus tour. This time we went to Bruges. It was a much better trip than our Brussels and Antwerp tour. Our guide for the day made a point of saying frites, chocolate, and beer are a major part of Belgian culture (Belgians are bigger pleasure seekers than the Dutch.)and we would have plenty of opportunities to sample all of them.
We went to the recommended restaurant Old Bruges. Once again the guide recommended this because they would serve us quickly. Social media posts all say this is a pretty lackluster tourist trap. This is the problem with bus tour meals. The places the tour companies steer you to are often not great, but you don't want to take the risk that service elsewhere will be too slow to enjoy the rest of the day.
I tried the traditional Flemish beef stew with fries. It was nothing special. I thought both dishes could have used a bit more salt. The stew was kind of bland. Dutch and Belgian fries are way less salty than American fries. It's too bad I like salty fries.
Would another restaurant have done it better? Who knows?
It could have been worse, but if I had to do it over, I might have tried to find another restaurant.
Our next food stop was Galler chocolates. We knew we wanted to take home some Belgian chocolate from Bruges, but there are so many shops we weren't sure which one to pick. Galler was the one our guide recommended. We bought a box of pralines and truffles (all exquisite). Kevin didn't just want truffles and pralines though. He wanted some bark. We found it in another store called Mary. We bought white and dark chocolate bark studded with hazelnuts, almonds, and pistachios.
There was a waffle truck conveniently parked next to our bus when we left Bruges, so we made sure to stop for a last waffle drizzled with Belgian chocolate sauce.
Once again it was quite late when we returned to Amsterdam. We could have eaten at our hotel, but I wanted to try something new for our last night. We asked the front desk for some late-night recommendations. He suggested Cafe Libertine. That was certainly an appropriate name for a restaurant in a city where prostitution is legal.
This was a place for young hipsters. At first I didn't mind. I loved the décor and the open kitchen.
The menu was a bit limited, but the pizza sounded interesting, so I ordered one with speck and some kind of cheese I can't remember. Kevin had one with spinach and egg. Tasty, but the crust on mine could have been a bit crispier.
One more breakfast and it was time to go. My overall impression is that when it comes to food, there isn't much you can't get in Amsterdam. The restaurant options are endless. Except for the glitch at the end of our dinner at Libertine, we never had bad service. Everyone was friendly and almost everyone spoke perfect English. Some meals were better than others, but I never had a bad meal. Amsterdam is a wonderful place to visit even without the food, but the food definitely made it that much better.