De Kas Restaurant: A Hot Table in Amsterdam

May 24, 2011 § 3 Comments

More than a week after lunching at De Kas Restaurant in Amsterdam, I’m still dreaming of the meal. It’s one of the hottest tables in Amsterdam, and no wonder, given its fresh, bright flavors, dedication to locally grown foods and airy environment. And I mean airy environment: The restaurant is under glass in a state-of-the-art greenhouse.

Restaurant De Kas

De Kas is certainly in unique surroundings. The history of the property goes something like this: Back in the 1920s, the parcel of land was home to Amsterdam’s municipal nurseries. All of the plants and flowers used for Amsterdam’s municipal plantings were grown on these grounds and in greenhouses. Over the decades, the nurseries were shut down and the buildings and greenhouses became dilapidated—such a shame! About 10 years ago the greenhouses were scheduled for demolition, but a Michelin-rated chef, Gert Jan Hageman, came up with the idea of converting one of the greenhouses into a restaurant and growing area. The dining room was designed by renowned designer Piet Boon and is lovely. The kitchen is open, and there’s even a chef’s table, where guests can enjoy their meal just steps from the hot grill (honestly, not something on the top of my list to do). And the bar area, while open and visible, is tucked away and is just shady enough for any self-respecting bar fly.

The Piet Boon-designed dining room, with the just-shady-enough bar in the background.

As I mentioned, they believe in fresh, local food. And it can’t get more local than the greenhouse adjacent to the kitchen and the gardens that surround the restaurant. The team also has a farm that produced a great deal of their produce. What they don’t grow and raise themselves is sourced from nearby farms and the North Sea.

The veggie gardens outside De Kas.

The growing area inside De Kas's greenhouse, adjacent to the kitchen.

Enough about that, let’s move on to the food. The three-course menu is fixed; i.e. you are served what they are preparing that day (they do ask if the chef should take into account for any dietary restrictions). And they do offer a wine pairing, which I eagerly agreed to. Can’t recall the first wine, but the second was an unoaked chardonnay from Spain. Tasty!

The meal was fabulous, that’s a given. And beautiful – not something every restaurant gets right. Instead of attempting to describe the meal, I’ll just leave you to enjoy the photos.

First of two first-course salads: Roasted beets and steamed rhubarb over baby beet (?) greens with a pea puree and nasturium flowers.

Second of two first-course salads: White asparagus, turnip and a boiled quail's egg over young lettuce greens with a sauce of some kind (sorry, whatever it was, it was delicious) and sweetpea blossoms.

Second course: Lobster with a bechamel sauce topped with a light frisee salad.

Third course: Pollack over roasted eggplant and cauliflower with a North Sea-shrimp and caper brown butter sauce. (Oh man, was this good.)

First dessert: Pistachio meringue with salt-touched white chocolate ice cream and pansy petals.

Second dessert: Platter of three cheeses with fruit and nut brown bread and a dot of apple-pear stroop (syrup) to the right and a candied cherry (?). Translation of cheese on right is "cheese that sticks to your knife."

While  the municipal nurseries are long gone, the remainder of the property has retained its “municipalness”—it’s now a public park enjoyed by people and wildlife alike.

Children's play area below, and a stork nest with baby on top of the smoke stack.

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Clover Food Lab

March 24, 2011 § 3 Comments

Guys, I’d love for today’s post to be more of a discussion. I don’t know much about Clover and I’d love for you to chime in.

I met friends at the Clover Food Lab in Harvard Square for lunch yesterday. Like I said, I don’t know much about it—except these two things:

  1. This particular brick-and-mortar location developed from a wheels-and-engine business. Am I right about that? Clover was originally a food truck, I take it, and there are a herd of them now in the Cambridge/Boston area.
  2. They serve all (or mainly?) vegetarian food.

Food trucks are on fire right now. And to see that a nomadic business can settle in and put down roots seems pretty cool. I mean, that’s how “civilization” started. (Hey, I used air quotes, and I’m not saying that today’s nomadic societies aren’t civilized.) I would have loved to try the Clover food truck experience first.

My friend Deb, on the other hand, had tried the food truck first. Raved about it. Loved the food. And when she saw that I’m eating “veganish” she suggested we meet up with friend Sonya to try out the steady digs.

What did we think? Here are my quick impressions as a first-timer, and an observation from Deb as a food truck customer:

The electronic “sandwich boards” as you walk in: Interesting technology there. It’s a vertical flat screen. Rather than erasing and re-writing a sign, they erase and rewrite something on their computer in the back (?) and reload or whatever. What’s the point? Not sure, except when you don’t need two “menus,” you can switch one of the screens to whatever it is you want. When we walked in both boards were menus. When we walked out, one was a menu, one was Clover’s website/blog.

Clover's Chickpea Fritter with a side of Brothy Barley & Spinach Soup. (See the indentation where my falafel ball once sat?)

I ordered the Chickpea Fritter – aka, falafel – in a pita. It came highly recommended by Deb. It was awesome. The slaw was tasty, as was whatever Mediterranean-esque sauce that was in it. The falafel was nicely done, still moist inside. There were a lot of things inside my pita I couldn’t quite pinpoint, but that was okay because I loved it all. Especially the pickle slices. BUT, folks, DO NOT put a falafel ball right on top of the stuffed pita. Mine did an “On Top of Old Smokey” thing and rolled onto the floor. Sad face.

Deb ordered the Egg & Eggplant pita. She loved that, too. Looked good. Can you get that without the egg? Next time.

We all ordered the Brothy Barley and Spinach Soup. Do you know what the word “brothy” brings to mind? Broth. A clear, flavorful liquid. No broth in this soup. If you want to be alliterative, try Burly Barley. Because it was a burly soup—any soup in which a spoon can stand straight up in (without assistance) is burly. As for taste … I’m a barley lover, and I did enjoy it. Add a touch of salt. My companions weren’t very fond of it. Oh, and where was that spinach? (Add more.)

Rosemary fries for the three of us. Yum. Dude, they were awesome.

I love that “city water” was on the menu and listed as $0.

Deb was a bit disappointed that the restaurant menu was the same as the food truck. I think she was expecting a few other choices.

If you’re going to serve pitas that are hefty and stuffed, maybe provide “holding docks” at each table—things like the U-shaped diner napkin holders. So, when you’re settling down into your seat, taking off your coat, etc., this thing can hold your pita without the food falling out (and rolling onto the floor). Just a thought.

The space needs a living wall either in the front windows above, or on that back wall. I know there’s those supports on the back wall and it looks like there’s grape ivy being training on them. Long, slow process. Clover may be looking into this—but, I do know a little something about living walls and know people in the biz. It doesn’t have to be complicated. AND, how cool would it be if they grew their own herbs and salad greens right there on location? It’s possible. Plus, as you may not know, plants “clean” the air, provide oxygen, and also help regulate temperature. Like I said, I know a little somethin’ somethin’ ’bout the topic.

Dainty Rates: 3 out of 5 Dots.

Scott Conant’s Scarpetta in South Beach

March 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

Where’s Dainty been these last few days? Not blogging, obviously. It think it’s a misdemeanor to blog while in the big warm world of South Beach. We jetted away last week to find some relief from this lagging winter.

While down there, I had to make good on a bet. Thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers, I owed Jennifer a meal at the Fountainebleau Hotel – a fabulous haven for the young and rich who want to be seen. We just wanted to check out the glitz.

After a little research, we found that Scott Conant had a restaurant in the compound call Scarpetta. Scott Conant – he’s one of the judges on Chopped, the one who practically had someone cuffed and thrown into jail for including cheese with a fish dish, apparently a big Italian food no-no. You don’t know me if you don’t know how I feel about such restrictions. Wanting to learn more about the man’s culinary viewpoint—and secretly wanting to put cheese on fish while on the guy’s turf—we decided that Scarpetta would be it.

The restaurant  – dimly lit, private, modernly comfortable. The front-of-house girls – Jennifer even called them vacuous to their faces and they giggled. The waitstaff – well-trained. Although our guy looked vaguely like a thin Charlie Sheen. We were seated on the veranda, which typically has ocean and pool views but was enclosed due to high winds. Maybe our seating had something to do with 50 Cent and his entourage dining inside. Who knows.

Anyway … I’m not going to tell you about our entire meal – I’m sure there are enough reviews out there for your reading pleasure. You can assume it was great. If it wasn’t, I’d write all about it. What I’m going to tell you about is my appetizer, which – and I’m not kidding – may be the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life.

Burrata atop heirloom tomatoes. I will forever remember this dish, and here’s why.

A burrata is a fresh cheese creation consisting of a solid mozzarella shell and mozzarella and cream interior, served at room temperature. It takes a caprese salad and makes it look like McNuggets. The burrata is like a pillow of dairy with a creamy dairy filling. This topped a thick slice or two of fresh heirloom tomatoes, perhaps lightly tossed in evoo – it was a little hard to tell after I cut into the burrata, but more about that later. When I ordered, I was skeptical of the “fresh heirloom tomato” bit, but silly Northerner that I am, Florida can grow fresh produce during the winter. I do wish they had specified which tomato variety they used. I know they’d have to change out the menu frequently if they did that. Perhaps the waitstaff could relay that info as the “heirloom tomato of the day” like the “fish of the day.”

Now, about that burrata – this was a mozzarella that must have just begun to form and was immediately served to us, it was that fresh. And delicate. So, so delicate. Cutting into the burrata released a small dose of warm cream, coating the ripe yet firm tomato. Someone’s Italian grandmother was in the back making this. I just know it. So, there was this small bite of rich and creamy cheese contrasting with the bright light tang and texture of the thick slab of tomato. The taste and texture could make me believe angels exist, it was that good.

I had wanted to save a small corner of the burrata to put on my turbot entree, but I just could not leave a drop of it for later. I must learn to make burrata.

Dainty Rates: The burrata – off the charts.

Twitter, Union and Craft Beers

January 25, 2011 § 3 Comments

I work from home. Alone. All day. My interactions with in-the-flesh people are minimal. E-mail, Facebook, Twitter – those are the check-ins I have during my daylight hours. Needless to say, it’s good to get out.

And I do make it a point to get out during the day. I signed up for a 1/2 marathon in March, which is compelling me to get to the gym on a regular basis. But the confines of home were a bit much last week—think it was the weather?—and by 8 a.m. on Friday I was already planning ahead to post-5 o’clock. I tweeted something like “I know it’s early, but already thinking of grabbing a drink @UnionBoston.”

Now, I follow a few restaurants on Twitter. Neighborhood joints are the ones I pay particular attention to, definitely if they are within walking distance. If I can find a local place that tweets, I’m definitely following for menu updates, specials, news, etc.

So, last Friday—remember last Friday with that 7 in. of snow?—so last Friday, post 3.5-mile run, I call Jennifer to make sure she can meet me at Union, then tweet to the world that I’m on my way over to grab a drink.

“Hi! Welcome!,” the host says.

“Hi,” I say. “I’m just gonna grab a drink at the bar.” I make to walk in that direction.

“Be sure you tweet about it!” the host says.

I stopped in my snow-boot tracks. “That’s funny, because I just …”

“I know,” the smiling host says. “I’m in charge of Union’s tweets. I recognized your photo.”

Because I follow @UnionBoston, I learned they are big into craft beers, so I chatted with Justin about that while I settled in. He recommended a few he seemed very excited about, and I ordered up a Bear Republic Racer IPA. Excellent recommendation. And yes, I did tweet about it.

By the way, do try Union’s bluefish pate. Bluefish too fishy, you say? Don’t even say that until you try this. Seriously good stuff. And it goes great with IPA.

Union’s Craft Beer Event

Now, I do enjoy craft beer, although I typically order a Heineken or Amstel Light – what can I say? I love the Dutch. I’m hoping to gain an even finer appreciation for craft beer during Union’s Craft Beer Meetup on February 1st from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Is there a better way to spend a Tuesday?

Who’s going? What are you guys looking forward to? Justin, what craft beers can we expect to see in frosty mugs lined up along Union’s famous bar?

Hope to see you there, folks. And do please leave a comment!

The Goose and The Gallows

January 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

I grew up on a farm. A real, working farm—one where my parents and us kids poured everything we had into coaxing things to grow from the soil, and cared for our 4-legged and feathered creatures until they were fat enough to fill our chest freezers. On a farm like this, you were clucking back at a chicken one day, and basting it the next.

The big guys—the beef and pork animals—we kept penned up, either in the barn or in the field next to it. Chickens, too, were kept in the barn lest some malevolent creature pay them a visit. The ducks, however, were allowed to roam outside the barn and through our yard. Why? Not sure, really. They weren’t a flight risk—quite literally. They could fly up to the lower branches of a tree if their lives were in peril. But, as for wanting to leave the farm, that was just plain silly—they were quite happy where they were.

Also, the ducks were really more of an accident than a part of our farm’s business model. We happened to find them—a half-dozen little ducklings—trapped in some viney, brambly undergrowth one day near our grandmother’s bungalow. It was a bit of a mystery how they ended up there, especially so when they matured and it turned out they were Muscovy ducks and not some random water fowl. That’s right, we were eating Muscovy duck in the 1970s, long before it became the culinary king.

As will happen when genders mix, we found viable duck eggs, incubated them, and had a nice little gangs of Muscovys wandering our yard for many years.

Now, one summer my mother wished to add a goose to the duck gang. We had never had a goose before, not in the barn nor on our plates. Goose for Christmas, Mom said. A little gosling was added to the bunch.

My mother named her Willeeta. As in, “We’ll eat her.”

Despite the moniker, we never had a chance to eat Willeeta. The curious goose, who was full of personality and quite a delight to have roaming the yard, met her end not by means of an axe. One day we were repaving our driveway with asphalt, and little Willeeta decided to have herself a taste of the hot and gooey black stuff. Within minutes she was foaming at the bill and not long after she was gone.

We never did eat Willeeta. The irony. And, we never did raise another goose and never had goose on our table.

Fast forward 30-some years to last Friday night. Jennifer and I stop in at The Gallows, the fairly new restaurant in the South End. The menu is meat-heavy, and not eating red meat, we’ve not made it a priority to dine there. There’s a bit of a Middle Ages feel to the menu, with mead and boar and such on listings. Drinks with dark-sounding names. Apps called “boards” and served up on small cutting boards. Wenches behind the bar. Men in furs bringing out the meals. Okay, I jest, but you get the idea.

So, considering the story of Willeeta, you’ll understand that when the boards of the day were detailed to us, the goose board did have an appeal to me. Goose prepared three ways: pate, sliced cured breast, and something I didn’t quite catch the name of but it was a type of confit (but drier). Jennifer didn’t feel the same draw as I did to this goose board—having had a horrible experience with duck once, she stays away from fowl other than chicken. But, after relating the Willeeta story to our server, she gladly served up a small serving of the goose three ways. Pate: not for me. Sliced cured breast: very good. the confit-like dish: delicious. Would I have good again? Yes, but hold the pate.

Jennifer and I did share the Ploughman’s Board, which was fish three ways. Smoked salmon – awesome. Cured trout – awesome. And some sort of lobster and red pepper pate was the best of the bunch. Was it lobster or tuna? I don’t recall, but whatever it was, I’ll gladly order it again. The board was accompanied with (not enough) hearty sourdough, a nice robust mustard and something that tasted like the beginnings of tartar sauce but was way more mayo-ey than I think they intended. Stick with the mustard.

As I said, we only really stopped in to check out the atmosphere, grab a drink and quickly peruse the bar menu. We were pleasantly surprised at the non-red meat opportunities, both on the apps and the main entrees. Next time, we’ll do a bit more dining and let you know how it goes.

Dainty Rates Sel de la Terre

January 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

“Half off bar menu tonight at Sel de la Terre.”

That tweet convinced me get out of my sweats and into some real clothes after a snow day that shut down the City of Boston. I love the French-inspired menu – absolutely. But put a deal on it like 50% off and I’ll push old ladies over to … well, yeah, I guess I’m a bit of a frugal person.

Boots on, Jennifer and I trudged through the gloppy banks of slush in the South End to SDLT’s Back Bay location.

In My Glass:

Fig Manhattan

Sel de la Terre's Fig Manhattan

Fig Manhattan: fig-infused bourbon and sweet vermouth. I’m a big Manhattan fan but drink them sparingly (can’t have as much of the hard stuff as I used to …). I made an exception for this savory-sweet version of the classic leather-chairs-and-wood-paneled cocktail.

First Up:

A half-dozen moon shoal oysters served with a garnish of red onion and … couldn’t really tell you. Maybe some champagne vinegar in there? Jennifer thought the oysters were terrific. Me? “Meh,” I think is the latest fashionable grunt for “not that impressed.” Maybe the tiny bits of oyster shell left in my mouth had something to do with it. I could have used another accompaniment option.

On Our Plates:

Grilled flatbread pizza with smoked chicken, feta, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms and sage. That’s A LOT to put on a pizza that’s about 5 inches in diameter—and that’s only okay when the result is as AWESOME as this. One of the best flatbread restaurant pizzas we’ve had in quite some time. Was it lightly touched with balsamic vinegar? There was a sweet tang to the flavor that went nicely with the feta. Mmmmm feta …. love it on pizza. Big thumbs up on this plate.

Panko crusted yellowfin tuna with citrus salad, honey and chili sauce. If you order this, bypass the chili sauce: 1) it’s way too hot and 2) it covers the natural flavor of a wonderful hunk of tuna and the nice touch of the somewhat spicy panko covering. Tuna was cooked perfectly – meaning barely at all. Panko played the perfect second fiddle. And the citrus salad – there were a couple of tiny hunks of red grapefruit I think but the real stars were the spattering of dried fruits. Love dried fruit in my salad. Lightly dressed with something – not sure what – again, it let the flavors of the salad and fruit come out big rather than weigh it down with oiliness.

Bread basket and butter: An assortment of breads – all done well – came with a sweetened butter. Was that honey? There were little flecks of something in there – not sure what. If you know, please give me a shout out in the comments section and let me know. To me, sweetened butter belongs with brunch. On pancakes.

Just realized, I need to eat breakfast …

Dainty Rates Sel de la Terre: 4 Dots

(Dainty Rates perfect score is 5 dots)

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