To eat a meal like this is to live like it’s worth never dying.
*quotation corrected, found the napkin on which I scribbled it.
And how. Diana recalled her father describing such exquisite meals thus, as we chomped our way through five courses over four and a half hours at Restaurant De Kas. They tried to give us a sixth, another round of delightful perenappelstroop-filled muffins, I think because my incessant picture-taking and absurdly detailed question-asking had given them the impression that I was some kind of Canadian food critic. Ha! No, kids, all of 20 people read my blog (and I love every one of you). But seriously, if you’re in Amsterdam and in the neighborhood of Frankendael Park and have a couple hundred euros to drop on the best meal you’ll have all year, go to Restaurant De Kas.
We arrived just at sunset, to discover that the storks on that huge chimney-thing in the park were in fact read, huge birds. We were still buzzing with appreciation of color, composition and emotion that are the requisite take-aways of the Van Gogh Museum.
We were also still giddy with freedom, leftover from our epic escape from Corporate Netherlands, ironically located in the bucolic Dutch countryside. But basically these culminated into bliss: sitting in a gigantic greenhouse lit by Chihuli-like jellyfish lamps and fireplaces was exactly where the cosmos meant us to be at that place and time. There’s a profound contentment that comes with that knowledge. It’s a taste that permeated the olives and crusty, not-to-be-triffled-with bread and the first few glasses of wine.
The starters were an exercise in vegetable firsts for me.
I’ve had chicory in all sorts of dried and powdered forms, but never in it’s bitter albino-endive-like form. It still tasted like chicory. Which is an acquired taste, which luckily I already possess.
The fact that it was wrapped in prosciutto didn’t so much change this taste as make the ham taste smoked. The other first was salsify, which I couldn’t even spell and went back and forth with the kitchen trying to figure out if it was related to burdock. (It’s not. Burdock is entirely East Asian in origin and Salsify and its cousin Scorzonera are native to the Mediterranean Basin, or so says Greens, Beans, Roots and Shoots, my definitive encyclopedia of vegetables.) It was delicious, unusually creamy for a root vegetable and indescribably awesome tasting with lemon-vinagrette and a mess of herbs from that greenhouse over there.
In fact, large parts of the restaurant building are functioning greenhouses and nurseries–the whole thing was converted from the city’s municipal nursery built in 1926. The chef saved it from demolition in 2001.
Then, there was lamb. Oh such imposing lamb for such a perfectly small piece of meat. Went well with the wine, too, which happened to be Rod’s favorite Zin all the way from Sonoma CA. Also mashed mixed root vegetables with mixed herbs, with a carrot sauce that made it all look like a painting, and a single salty bitty half artichoke on top. We grow better artichokes in Castroville. Then again, we grow better artichokes than anywhere else, in my humble opinion.
Someone remembered something and then we were on the topic of memory triggered by foods. Diana described the salads her grandfather would make from his garden villa outside Buenos Aires–great handfuls of vegetables that bespoke nurturance and respect for life. I read somewhere (citation forthcoming) that smell and taste are the most intense memory-triggers of the senses. It reminded me to return to the corner of food anthropology that deals with memory… for all the anthropology of memory stuff I recall reading was visual and narrative. Do any works come to mind?
But I digress. We talked ourselves into the cheeses, all varieties of Dutch cows-milk cheese and all delightful. I would give a tooth to have the recipe for the bread: walnuts and hazelnuts and figs, and some spice we couldn’t quite place. Cumin? Cinnamon? Yeah, it could have been either both or neither, it was that well blended. There were candied figs. And there was perenappelstroop.
Rod remembered this especially from his last visit and from other Dutch restaurants: a sweet syrup of pears and apples, brewed dark as molasses. It made the cheeses dance. That could also have been sugar high… we’d been eating for three hours at that point and I was already delirious.
And that was before desert. Desert consisted of stewed pears, the aforementioned perenappelstroop muffins, and truffle ice-cream that made me finally understand why truffles are a big deal. It tastes weird. Because 90% of experiencing it isn’t taste its… smell? Mouthfeel? The sensation of possibly being slightly allergic to it? (That last was Rod’s insight, and boy did it make sense.) It’s the kind of desert reasonable people (well, reasonable foodies) take 45 minutes to eat.
Then… we sat in a stupor for a while. We finally took our stupor to the tram stop, and then parked it in Cafe Kobalt at the recommendation of one, Neil. It was good. By 2 am, we were back at the hotel, and nothing would trouble us ever again. Until wakeup call at least.
Perfect meals make you invincible. Pass it on.