April 3-7: Leerdam-Buren
April 7-11: Buren-Ochten
April 11-15: Ochten-Wyler
April 15-18: Beek, Apeldoorn, Amsterdam
April 20-21: Leidsenveen, Amsterdam, Hardewijk
Apeldoorn, April 22--
More restaurants to note:
Toscanini Ristorante, Lindengracht 75, Amsterdam, tel. +31 0206.232813. A big open spacious room with white walls, high ceiling, and lots of light; another similar room off to one side; a huge open kitchen; a menu that makes you think you're in the north Italian countryside; fine ingredients and attentive cooking with a touch of enterprise. Last Saturday we had a fine risotto with green asparagus and a discreet but fresh, springlike presence of mint; our roast pork was right out of Italy.
Restaurant As, Prinses Irenestraat 19, Amsterdam; www. restaurantas.nl
We visited this brand-new restaurant for an open house party, with wine (and picolit) flowing like water, and trays of finger food passed around -- not a good way to judge a restaurant, but that's not my purpose here. Sander worked at Chez Panisse for a stint, many years ago, and has since opened the huge Elf on the eleventh floor of the temporary Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, where quick sandwiches and the like are served from eleven or so on, lunch and dinner, and the bar continues into the wee hours.
As, in the city's Oude Zuid district, is a polar opposite in almost every way: on the ground floor but mostly outside; technologically minimal; relaxed. The kitchen is open not only to viewing but to the elements, centered on wood-burning ovens providing most of the cooking. There are chickens out back, and Sander promises pigs to come: the neighbors are an art space and a professional cooking school, so maybe they won't mind. Clearly a place to watch.
Ratatouille, Vischmarkt 6, Harderwijk, tel. +31 0341.431256. Contemporary, ethical, aware; careful, impeccable cooking for comfortable tables in a 17th-century house completely updated, with an extensive herb garden on the upstairs deck and a vegetable garden out back. Lindsey said her risotto, with small prawns, was even better than Toscanini's: creamy and fragrant. My slice of roast lamb, with succulent green beans and a small roasted potato stuffed with mushrooms, was excellent; and the dessert was one of those marvels: complex, with you'd think too many ingredients, all combining in perfect logic and delicious flavor: Strawberries, rhubarb, lace cookies, and rhubarb-white chocolate ice cream, with a sprinkling of chopped nuts.
We visited Toscanini and As with Kees, who took the day off from his own restaurant Marius (see many references to Marius in previous blogs); without him along we wouldn't have got into Toscanini on short notice on Saturday evening. Saturday was spent in a suburb of Den Haag, enjoying lunch and conversation on a back-yard deck right on a canal, a white swan at our fingertips; and then driving to Amsterdam for the restaurant evening.
After an hour at church in Apeldoorn, Sunday was also dedicated to the delights of the palate, beginning with the poffertjeskraam De Haan in Laren. A kraam is a temporary pavilion; in the old days many Dutch towns enjoyed these summer-houses, gilt and crystal and mirrors -- I imagine they were inspired by visions of Oriental luxury in the Netherlands East Indies. De Haan stood for decades in Apeldoorn, or made Apeldoorn one of its two or three stops on its annual trek in search of customers.
Years ago, however, a stingy city councilman held out for higher rent from the kraam, which stood on municipal property, and the owner took his business elsewhere -- to the upscale and touristy town of Laren, to be precise. So we go, when we can, to Laren, to sit in splendor for an hour and a few dollars, and to eat delicious poffertjes.
At the front of the building stands the stove, its vast cast-iron griddle dimpled in an array of circular depressions a couple of inches in diameter. An enormous block of butter stands nearby. The cook brushes butter over the griddle, pours the batter in a steady stream back and forth, lets the little cakes puff up and brown on one side, then takes a fork and deftly turns them one by one, very quickly, to cook on the other side.
In no time at all they're done. An assistant forks a dozen or more up and arranges them on your plate, adds a generous dollop or two of butter, and shakes a cloud of powdered sugar over the whole. I drink a glass of cold fresh milk with these things; nothing is much better.
From Laren we drove through the polder country to see what Spakenburg looked like. Calm and peaceful, is what, to a great extent because it's Sunday; this is part of Holland's Bible Belt; the mayor has just decreed that there be no drinking in the afternoon. The sun was low as we walked the quays, bringing out a special glow from the red brick buildings.
Spakenburg was an important port in its day, when the Zuider Zee was still salt water, full of herring and other fish; but the port is now mostly given to improbable recreational boats, those shallow-bottomed, wide, wooden scows with the sideboards that can be lowered to lever against the wind when tacking -- Frisian boats, I always think of them as, but characteristic of the entire Zuider Zee.
We drove on then to Harderwijk, another formerly important port on the Zuider Zee, now facing instead the broad, boring Flevoland polder created fifty years ago, when the Zee was finally completely cut off from the North Sea, and converted to fresh water.
Harderwijk is bustling, though, with a long strand, a long row of cafés and restaurants behind it; and behind them a surprisingly big town -- another Hanseatic port, I suppose, with rows of graceful 17th-century houses, fine churches, extensive pleins, and fine trees. Again, that light: the soft new green of the elm and chestnut leaves; the rose brick; the darkly glittering green enamel on shutters, doors, benches.
And Ratatouille. It's not the only restaurant in town: there's even one with a Michelin star. But it was the one that called us, Sunday night, and I think I'll be back.