THE EDITOR’S DESK :: A Saturday (and a Sunday call back) in Amsterdam

by Harvey Gold on May 22, 2012

I’m not wasting valuable eating, drinking, or foreign immersion time writing this, as we’re on the Thalys from Amsterdam to Paris. A little over three hours, we’ll travel through Belgium with no stops, so I’ll frequently look out the windows and should I see anything really interesting, like the ruins of castles and other structures from the Middle Ages along with 16th and 17th century houses clearly still occupied, randomly rising up in otherwise modern farm country, as I’ve seen on the Paris to Rhimes or the Fast Train to London, I’ll report in.

Slept in and got a slow start to our first full day in Amsterdam, but it was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the Joordan section of the city (sort of a fusion of Times Square and Chelsea with canals…kind of…but more…and very cool). We grabbed a map and just headed out walking, looking, photographing, and…walking.

By the time we stopped for a brunch of sorts, it was around 4PM (still moving forward from a 10AM body clock), so what to do to accommodate all things?

Of course! We walked into The Pancake Bakery. Dolli loves her some pancakes, and the claim of Best Baked Pancakes in Holland is pretty compelling advertising.

These are single full plated pancakes, generally served with toppings, kind of a crepe made of pancake batter. Dolli’s was a breakfast/treat version with apples and raisins, cooked up in their own sweet goo. In addition to a couple of bottles of what appeared to be standard issue pancake syrup, there was a giant ceramic honey pot on each table with a wooden spoon, containing, we think, molasses based syrup, a fabulous thick dark confection.

I opted to try to satisfy all my needs in one, so I started by ordering up a chorizo and cheese pancake (savory and sweet), accompanied by a cup of coffee (European and strong, always served here with a biscuit, truffle or some other sweet), and a Palm Speciale Ale, serving as something of a “local” brew. I know there are some local beers other than Heineken and Amstel, the former with a presence in Amsterdam much like Coke in Atlanta. I’d refer to Amstel, then, as Pepsi, but bringing Pepsi into even modern Atlanta is akin to most of the action found at the end of a Farmer’s Daughter joke. I learned of a local craft brewer not too far from our hotel, but this was while in Hoorn, and there was no time left to seek it out. So Palm it was.

In the states I’ve had some spectacular Belgian “style” beers brewed by really skillful brewers, and tasted a few “local” ones up in Edam. What I’m getting to meet, thus far, are brews from Belgium that are simply drinking beers, such as this from Palm, a 5.4% ABV Belgian Pale Ale. Just as there are table wines—just as there are the standard issue American Lagers most people who read these pages loathe—this was a Belgian version of same. The difference here is that, for the most part, the common stuff here offers something of interest. The Palm, not so much, but if given the choice of a Bud, Coors, Heineken, or Palm, I’d rock the Palm every day of the week!

Oh, and my pancake was fine. The chorizo, actually cooked into the pancake, was more like a thin sliced mild Pepperoni, and the cheese likely a grated version of the local Edam, more orange than yellow, in places crisping up like a cheddar that met the pan for a moment. Nothing spectacular, but tasty.

We walked on, through one of the “Brown Bar” areas of Amsterdam. I’ll assume they have more “districts” where the herb can be had, as this was on a narrow street over a long couple of blocks, but I’ve been told they do not use the term “blocks” in determing city distances in Holland, but “streets,” as in, “To get to Billy’s mom’s brothel, go five streets, then make a right, go two more streets and there you are.” Something like that but, more often than not, spoken in Dutch.

Doing serious walking along the canals and further, we covered a terrific  amount of territory, ultimately getting hungry and thirsty for dinner as we approached 9-9:30PM, opting for a place about 2 minutes by foot from the apartment we were renting. Manzano turned out to be a great small plate (Tapas) and big plate (though we tried none) restaurant. More tables were set up out front in an outdoor streetside courtyard than inside, something found all over Rio. We took a table inside as everyone outside, just as in Rio, were comfortably smoking while eating and drinking, and Dolli is allergic to tobacco smoke.

I decided to ease my way back into alcohol (still recovering, with a nice glow, from all the fine beer we drank in Edam) by having ONE Caiparina, which was overly iced, but very tasty. Then came the food. We split 5 dishes. Some got devoured or defaced before we took the picture. The most succulent was the steak on nice toasted bread (2 on a plate) with a red port vanilla sauce. Wonderful sweet and savory combo. We also had a salad, which was nice, including a couple blanched asparagus spears, but mostly a guilt course on my part, and not spectacular. Pictured (going left to right), was the most wonderful hard boiled eggs turned into a tuna mousse topped with wasabi caviar. The coolest deviled eggs ever! Next was the roasted potatoes covered in a spicy Brava sauce, a creamy sauce with paprika, garlic, and a bit of cayenne pepper. For this sauce, some bother to cook down tomatoes, others add mayo and ketchup. The end result this night was the best sauce poured over the best butter roasted potatoes, chewy and crunchy on the outside, tender and steaming inside. This made it feel (as I’m a big spuds guy) more like a meal and less a grazing session. Last in the picture was what turned out to be chicken wing drum sticks in a garlic oil with spring onion. This was good—very good, in fact—but not great. Still, nothing was a disappointment, and the percentage of exceptional dishes, drawn from an extensive menu, was reason to rate this restaurant choice a winner.

At evening’s end, planning to take our full, happy bellies on a smooth course to bed, my bandmate came roaring in and told me I just had to join him for a wonderful beer he discovered, so we made our way about half a “street” down to a pub where everyone was watching a soccer match between Chelsea and someone else. Football is very big here, pseudo hooligans all over the city sitting outside bars, shattering the quiet with occasional loud and unintelligable clusters of mono syllabic outbursts, like passionate grunting.

The beer in question, Westmalle Abbey Tripel at 9.5% alcohol, and considered by many to be one of the finer beers in the world, was yet another of these Belgians, this a big one, that didn’t have great spice and fruit taste rolling out, but offered a good mouthfeel, a nice satisfying drink based on bread and yeast, with just a touch of sweetness—chewy enough to be a satisfying nitecap. This was the bar where we learned that the traditional Dutch liquor, Jenever, is made from juniper, by the way.

The next day we played a gig in Hoorn where we worked hard to figure out that the Brei soup was leek, and I had my first taste of peat monster, Ardbeg, shared with our host Henk, a fine fellow and good guitar player. A welcome jolt of peat in a very smooth whiskey on a more beer soaked journey.

Following our gig, we again visited Manzano, this time subtracting the chicken drumettes and salad, replacing them with homemade meatballs, good enough, and little lamb sausages in white wine sauce. None of us recognized the spices that went into these little treats, but they were, to be sure, very present. Our bandmate, a pescetarian, had some great looking mushrooms in pesto and Parmesan, marinated anchovies, and King Prawns in garlic oil. Still the big winners were, for us, the steak with vanilla sauce, the roasted potatos with Brava sauce, and the tuna mousse hard boiled eggs.

The computer battery is going and we’ll be in Paris within the hour. The trip through Belgium offered a few cute sites, but nothing special, compared to the train going from Paris to points south. The I-95 of train rides? Not quite, but it turned out to be an OK time to write this.

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