I enjoyed eating in Amsterdam. Pendergast, or Pendergast Smokehouse if you prefer, was great -– the best barbecue in Europe. We had a great breakfast at the hotel every day that included, in addition to the usual choices, Edam, Gouda and other Dutch cheeses (Leyden spiked with cumin seeds -– excellent!), good local pork sausages, smoked mackerel, and little pancakes (poffertjes). All good.
The Netherlands is known for great beer and cheese, and justifiably so, based on my extensive sampling. The country also is known for raw herring, which the locals love. I tried some from a stand, choosing to have it on a roll with chopped onions and one pickle slice.
It was fresh and tasted okay, although I could have used another pickle slice or two; and I kept thinking, “Why don’t they sear it and get a little caramelization?” and “I wish I had some soy sauce, ginger and wasabi.” Many traditional foods taste great if you were raised on them. I guess I lack that level of sophistication.
Perhaps it’s the raw herring that makes the Dutch humble about their cuisine. As I noted in the Pendergast review, even the Amsterdam Tourist website acknowledges that the Netherlands is “not known for its cuisine.” Given the over-the-top level of boosterism common to tourist board websites in the US, that’s a virtual skull and crossbones. Holland.com bravely tries to generate enthusiasm for traditional Dutch dishes like “grilled sugar bread sandwiches with duck liver terrine and apple syrup (‘appelstroop’),” which I presume is a hoax.
But very good food is to be had in Amsterdam beyond beer and cheese … and herring. As with most cities, the trick is to identify places you want to eat that are near places you will visit. You certainly will want to go to the two largest museums, the Rijksmuseum (Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, et al.) and the Van Gogh Museum. Both are wonderful. Although the two museums are on the same campus, each is large enough (and fine enough) that just to think of visiting both in a single day is exhausting. It would be barking madness, not to put too fine a point on it, to try that without a long, leisurely lunch, or perhaps a nap, in between. A better course is to visit them on separate days and have a long leisurely lunch after each. And there are very good options within a short walk on Van Baerlestraat.
After the Rijksmuseum, we went to The Seafood Bar at Van Baerlestraat 5. It was touted as one of the top seafood restaurants in Amsterdam, and lived up to its reputation. Nancy had a tasty fish soup, a salad and some fries, while I had a cold seafood plate with all kinds of unfamiliar shellfish such as cockles, periwinkles, and whelks (little ones, not the big ugly things in the Delaware Bay), as well as more familiar varieties.
I loved it. It’s a pretty restaurant, with lots of white tile appropriate to a seafood place. More formal was Brasserie van Baerle, at Van Baerlestraat 158, where we ate after visiting the Van Gogh Museum. I had a cod dish with carrots and a lemon-mustard sauce as a starter. It tasted as good as it looks.
My main course was a lamb shank over peas with crushed almonds, with roasted fennel on the side. It was beautifully presented, as you could have seen if I had photographed it before I dug into it. It was delicious.
Nancy had a nice tossed salad followed by the entrecôte with excellent frites, perhaps the best of many on the trip. She enjoyed the entrecôte but observed that it wasn’t as good as the steaks I cook on the Weber at home. I love that about her.
Don’t forget to go to Pendergast.
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