One of the perks of having a spouse that travels (and not currently working a regular job) is getting to hop on a cheap flight and end up piggy-backing on a trip to the Netherlands. Last Tuesday, I found myself on a flight to Amsterdam not quite knowing what I was in for, though I can tell you, I was least excited for the food.
Somewhere in my mind, I’d decided that because Amsterdam was Nordic-ish and Germanic-ish, I was just going to be surviving on meat and potatoes. Van Gogh himself even depicted the famous “Potato Eaters” in one of his earlier well-known works. I stashed some Lara bars in case I got really desperate. Boy was I wrong. I’ve done a little research since, and Amsterdam actually has a really great and modern food history.
Like many Germanic/Nordic nations, the Dutch relied on humble and frugal cooking methods dating back to the Golden Age (17th century). This was a time where the Dutch sat at the head of the global trade market and had many nations coming not only to trade, but to live in the Netherlands, and specifically, Amsterdam. This diverse trading post foreshadowed the direction and growth of the city we visit today. Currently, Amsterdam is one of, if not the most, diverse city in Europe, boasting over 170 different nationalities. Between its staggering amount of cultural influences, nouveau cooking methods like molecular gastronomy, and the strengthening farm to table movement, restaurants around the city offer sincere meals that put ingredients first.
I think the biggest surprise of all, is that Zach picked all of the restaurants (except the last one). I’ll only list the big three that we hit but I am delighted to tell you that Amsterdam truly has something for everyone. We saw countless Argentinian steakhouses, a multitude of Asian restaurants, loads of Vegan spots, and bowls. They love their bowls and I’m not talking about the ones you smoke out of, though there are plenty of those too.
Disclaimer: These are all pictures from my iPhone. It’s bad enough that I’m the person that records every meal I eat in public but it’ll be a cold day in hell when I pull out my giant Nikon to stand over a plate to get the perfect shot.
My Number 1: An absolute must-eat-at-while-you’re-in-Amsterdam-or you’ll-die is Zaza’s. It’s located about a 35 minute walk south of the city centre in a really chic little neighborhood, near the museum mile and Heineken Factory. It is owned and run by the cutest, friendliest Irish woman, Sophie, who ensures a personalized, relaxed experience for every guest. The restaurant seats 12 tables so be sure to make a reservation ahead of time and stick to it. We were given an amuse-bouche before proceeding with a 4-course meal. To start, we ordered the pan-seared scallops with a caramelized fennel tart and a tarragon beurre blanc sauce.
I had the raw oysters for my mid-course, and venison with creamed foie gras and truffle potatoes as my main. Zach had guinea fowl with garden vegetables and croquettes. Holy smokes./>
Everything was absolutely perfect and I’m still dreaming of the bread pudding accompanied by cream and homemade toffee sauce. It is Sophie’s grandmother’s recipe.
My Number 2: Brasserie Ambassade is a very close number two for us. It is located in a hotel adorned with fine art, trust me though, it is far from hotel food. This chic boutique spot is French inspired with a focus on lighter fair and white wine. To start we shared the steak tartare. We sipped on a South African Chenin Blanc, a grape you’d normally find in the Loire Valley of France. For our main course, I ordered the homemade mushroom ravioli and Zach got the Halibut. When I say this was the most perfectly cooked fish, this was the most perfectly cooked fish.
The ravioli was also an absolute delight and had a marsala sauce and fresh arugula. To finish off the night, we ordered the seasonal dessert; strained yogurt, homemade honey ice cream, and roasted fig. You’ll definitely want a glass of amaretto to polish off your night before your walk home. This restaurant is located in Jordaan, overlooking one of Amsterdam’s picturesque canals.
Number 3: A little north of the Heineken Factory, we found a hole-in-the-wall Italian dream called Segugio. If you blink you’ll miss it because it looks like a storefront.
However, inside you will find a quaint Italian restaurant run by an Italian family and a small staff; the chef was even running food to a couple tables. Be ready, they don’t speak English, but I think that makes the food taste better. We started with a huge charcuterie board. Just look how gorgeous.
Zach won the night with his entrée course of flank steak. It was served on a bed of arugula and had notes of rosemary and a balsamic reduction. I had a housemade pesto ravioli stuffed with burrata that was lovely and simple but unfortunately didn’t hold a candle to the ravioli served at Brasserie Ambassade.
A couple that I think are worth noting for other reasons are C (yes, it is actually called C), Pluk, and Restaurant Lucca.
C is for Celcius and sits outside of the city, about a 45 minute walk from the city centre. It is a small plates, super trendy restaurant. It focuses on how foods are cooked at different temperatures and offers a tasting menu to excite the palate based on that philosophy.
Pluk is a small chain that is dripping in estrogen. It serves desserts, coffees, smoothies, and juices in addition to a focused brunch menu with killer portion sizes. They also have a very cute and girly gift shop full of all things pink and glitter.
Restaurant Lucca is a neighborhood Italian secret and one of my favorite spots. I’m convinced that a little 70 year old Nona was in the back cooking all of the food. The neighborhood was quiet and residential, about a 15 minute walk east of the city centre. It’s cozy and inviting, the perfect place for an easy last meal in Amsterdam.