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Jun 252015
 

Odessa (International) 4 Star Rating
Veemkade 259 (Amsterdam), 020 419 3010, website Book now

It was a bitterly cold night in January 2006; I was 26 years old and had lived in Amsterdam for precisely two weeks. Some friends from London were spending the weekend in the city, and had invited me to join them at Odessa – a restaurant on a boat that didn’t even make it onto the tourist map that was my constant companion at the time. I rode my newly purchased second-hand bike as far east as I’d ever been. I got so lost that I spent half an hour frozen-fingered on the phone to my friends, just trying to locate them. And I arrived so grateful to see them after a fortnight of knowing no one but my neurotic landlady that I immediately broke down in tears.

That was nine-and-a-half years ago, and I’d venture to say that Odessa has changed as much as I have during that time. I don’t remember much about the food that night – I don’t think it was anything special, but then again a) I wasn’t writing a food blog, and b) I was hungry more for company than for anything else. I feel like I recall dark wood, burgundy furnishings and low lighting – a 90s take on sophistication. But it was dark and wintry and I felt homesick for one of only a handful of times in my life – so don’t trust me on this one.

Odessa Amsterdam restaurant - interior

The interior of boat-restaurant Odessa

On the eve of my 35th birthday, I returned to Odessa and found a very different place from my memories. First of all, the head chef is now a guy I know who used to work at Brasserie Bark. It was total coincidence, as I’d had no idea he’d moved jobs, but I was happy to see him at such a tranquil, friendly restaurant. It’s an old boat, but the interior breathes a cool, contemporary feel that’s neither cold nor stiff, and it looks out over the calm of the IJ river. I liked the atmosphere immediately.

Odessa pizza - Amsterdam

Odessa’s white pizza came topped with mascarpone, courgette, artichoke and lemon

After a pre-birthday celebratory G&T, we kicked off with a loosely Italian set of starters to share: a simple plate of prosciutto followed by a white pizza topped with mascarpone, courgette, artichoke and preserved lemon. Possibly not one for the purists, but if you love lemon as much as I do, you can’t go wrong here.

Next, I ordered a simple steak with chimichurri, potatoes and salad. Odessa now calls itself a “pizza and grill” restaurant, so this makes more sense than it sounds like it would as a follow-up to the Italian starters. The steak was tender, flavoursome and perfectly cooked, and the chimichurri had a good hit of garlic. The salad was an interesting mix of tomatoes, watermelon and feta – I liked the flavour combination a lot, but the mixture was getting a little watery from sitting out for a while. I skipped dessert in favour of another glass of wine, but my chocoholic friend Nicola had only good things to say about her chocolate sundae.

Odessa grill - Amsterdam

Steak with chimichurri was next on the menu

The bill came to just over €50 each, which I was happy to pay for the quality of the food we ate and the service we enjoyed. But more than the food, I was happy to be back in this same spot – nearly a decade later – and this time with two of my best friends in the world, and another friend in the kitchen. All people I’ve met during my time in this gorgeous city I’m proud to call home. I know it’s a cliché, but times really have changed…

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Jun 172015
 

Best Coast Taqueria (Mexican) 5 Star Rating
Jan Pieter Heijestraat 137 (Oud-West), 06 55272427, website

Tacos. Without question, the most commented-on topic on this blog. Everyone has an opinion about where to get a decent taco in Amsterdam, and in most cases they’re opinions I’m more than happy to listen to. A few people had recommended Best Coast Taqueria to me over the past year or two (check out my reviews of Orale Taqueria,  Salsa Shop, Burrito Maker, Caramba, and the Original California Burrito Company – not only for what I thought of those places, but more importantly for all the other taco spots that people have mentioned in the comments) and you’ll see Best Coast pop up a few times. I’ve even had private Facebook messages telling me I need to get down to BarBrå on a Friday night to check out these legendary wraps.

So it was fortunate that one of my Oud-West friends is already a fan, and decided to celebrate her birthday there a couple of Fridays ago. It’s worth pointing out at this stage that Best Coast is still a pop-up, albeit one with quite some longevity. They’ve been appearing at Cafe Bedford Stuyvesant (in Oost) on Thursdays, and at BarBrå (in West) on Fridays and Saturdays for a while now, and I’m hoping that perhaps it’s a precursor to a permanent location?

Tacos -  Best Coast Taqueria - Amsterdam

Fish tacos with red cabbage and spicy, creamy sauce

We kicked off the celebrations with some tortilla chips and just about all the toppings it was possible to order: there were black beans, guacamole, cool and crunchy radishes, that crumbly fresh Mexican cheese… you name it. When it came to taco-ordering time, you could mix and match – so obviously we did. I had the carnitas (akin to pulled pork) with raw pineapple and a smoky pineapple salsa, followed up with a deep-fried fish taco with red cabbage and a spicy-but-creamy sauce. Both were fabulous, and Best Coast’s salsas and sauces deserve a mention all of their own.

Quesadillas - Best Coast Taqueria - Amsterdam

Stuffed quesadillas with more excellent salsa

Next, we tried the quesadillas, which were packed full of melting, oozing cheese as well as plenty of slow-cooked meat. They were served with yet more delicious salsa, some sour cream and a coriander-heavy salad to freshen the palate.

Despite the fact that we were rather full by this point (we’d eaten some extra nachos mid-meal as well), the girls were intent on pressing on with dessert: tortilla chips topped with ice cream and chocolate. Well, you’ve had salted caramel before – why not chips and ice cream, eh?!

Dessert - Best Coast Taqueria - Amsterdam

Tortilla chips with ice cream and chocolate (the salted caramel of Mexican cuisine?!)

It wasn’t really my cup of tea (as we say on the island), but that probably has more to do with my general inability to eat a lot of processed sugar – especially at the end of a big, wine-fuelled meal. But the girls loved it, so I’d say give it a try…

My only criticism (and it’s not a deal breaker) would be that the service is a little confusing. It’s not that it’s bad – it’s just that because of the separation between the bar (which serves the drinks) and the pop-up (which serves the food), it’s not possible to order both drinks and food from the same person. If you knew who was who, it might be manageable, but as it was I felt like we spent a fair bit of time flagging down the wrong people.

I don’t know how much dinner cost because the birthday girl paid (if you’re reading this and thinking this is bonkers, I’d agree. But this is also Holland, where people pay on their own birthdays, not just for themselves but for everyone else too – go figure). However, the menu prices looked reasonable, and my friend’s loyalty to her Friday-Night-Taco-Nights makes me think the tab can’t be too bank-breaking.

And as for the search for the perfect taco: could it be that I’ve found two? Both Best Coast Taqueria and Orale Taqueria are serious contenders…

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Jun 092015
 
 June 9, 2015  Foodie travels No Responses »

Perhaps surprisingly, I didn’t have high expectations of Lisbon. Not that I thought I wouldn’t like it, mind you – I had just done zero research about the city. I’d not even googled photos of the place. I was over there for the wedding – everything else was just bonus material as far as I was concerned. And with no idea what Lisbon would look like, or even what the food scene would be over there, it was possibly the perfect starting point. I drank in the sights and sounds and scents of the City of the Seven Hills like a child – with rapt attention. Here’s what I learnt along the way…

10 Must-Try Dishes and Drinks in Lisbon

1. Pastel de Nata at Manteigaria – Ok, so this was possibly the only expectation I did have: those little custard tarts. And while everyone raves about them in Belém, the queues there are apparently round the block. So instead, and if you’re staying more centrally, go to Manteigaria for your custard tart fix: they bake them tirelessly for 16 hours a day, and ring a bell by the door every time a new batch comes out of the oven (which is roughly every 10 minutes). Needless to say, I tried a few different varieties while I was in Lisbon, and those from Manteigaria were by far the best.

Pastel de Nata at Manteigaria - Lisbon

The most amazing custard tarts in Lisbon – without the queues in Belem!

2. White port cocktails at the Portugal Wine Room – We loved this combo so much it’s become our new house cocktail Chez Amsterdam Foodie. This Portuguese wine shop/bar mixes a heavy pour of extra-dry white port with tonic water and a sliver of orange peel. It’s off-dry, refreshing and amazingly moreish. If you prefer the more traditional, sweeter, ruby and tawny ports, they’re of course available to taste and buy at the Portugual Wine Room, too.

Portugal Wine Room - Lisbon

The Portugal Wine Room – excellent for port purchases

3. Salt cod and eggs at Fabulas – the Portuguese seem to absolutely love their bacalhau (salt cod) and I’d never entirely understood the attraction. That is, until I tried a very simple dish at restaurant Fabulas, which is more or less a mixture of scrambled eggs, salt cod and potato. It’s buttery but not too rich, seasoned but not too salty, and ultimately comforting.

4. Oysters and ham at By the WineBy the Wine (which is – you’ve guessed it – a wine bar) has possibly the best social media management I’ve ever come across. On each of their paper placemats, they feature their wifi password, Facebook profile, Instagram account and even their own hashtag. That aside, they also serve delicious wines with oysters and Iberico ham (admittedly, this isn’t Portuguese – it is, however, delicious).

By the Wine - Lisbon

Oysters, ham, olives and wine – what more could you ask for?

5. Ginja de Óbidos na Ribeira Ginja (also known as ginjinha) is a sour cherry liqueur that reminded me a lot of the Polish cherry vodka. I tried it at a couple of other places and it tasted like cough medicine; but the Ginja de Óbidos na Ribeira (near the river) was fabulous and fruity – and is even served in tiny dark chocolate cups!

6. Tapas at Tagide – Despite a fairly ropey customer service experience (we had some moments in Lisbon that rivalled even Amsterdam for shoddy service), the tapas at Tagide was undeniably excellent. We tried the deep-fried runner beans, clams in white wine and garlic, black pudding with apple compote, and some incredible (and smelly!) cheese… Just make sure you reserve at the Tagide Wine & Tapas Bar (they have a more formal restaurant too, which is considerably more expensive).

Tapas at Tagide - Lisbon

Tasty tapas at Tagide Wine & Tapas Bar

7. Piri-piri chicken at Chicken All Around – I’d eaten wonderful piri-piri chicken in Silves in the Algarve last time I visited Portugal. And while the Lisbon area isn’t known for it (the focus is firmly on fish), you can get chicken that comes close in Lisbon’s answer to de Foodhallen. It’s a huge indoor market known as Mercado da Ribeira, and it’s home to dozens of stalls including Miguel Laffan’s Chicken All Around. A whole seasoned and grilled chicken, cut into pieces and served with chips, is enough for two people to share – especially if you order dessert from one of the many other gourmet stalls under the same roof.

Piri-Piri chicken at Chicken All Around - Lisbon

Piri-Piri chicken at Chicken All Around in the Mercado da Ribeira food hall

8. White sangria at Park – Along with the port cocktail I mentioned earlier, white sangria was the other major alcoholic find of my trip. Sure, I’d had red sangria dozens of times, but white sangria is a miracle waiting to be discovered. It’s sometimes made with sparkling wine, other times with regular white wine, and always with plenty of fruit, ice and mint. To drink yours with a view, head to Park – a bar on the roof of a carpark overlooking the river. Oh-so-hipster.

White sangria at Park - Lisbon

White sangria with a rooftop view at Park

9. Fado at Povo – Ok, so fado is a type of music, and not in fact a food or a drink. But you can listen to it while consuming both at Povo – a bar in the gentrified red-light district and now the hipster area of Lisbon. But get your tissues at the ready as these guys know how to strum a tear-jerker alright… (Note: Fado is more commonly associated with the Alfama area of the city, which is beautiful and worth a visit in its own right. We didn’t manage to make it there in the evening, so Povo is a good alternative if you’re out and about in the Cais do Sodré area.)

Fado at Povo - Lisbon

Fado is a real tear-jerker… (better eat and drink to cheer yourself up!)

10. Fine dining at Fortaleza do Guincho – Guincho is an Atlantic beach around a half-hour drive from Lisbon, but well worth the trip if you’re in the city for longer than just a weekend. While most of the restaurants around there are over-priced tourist traps, there’s one that’s worth a Michelin star. What’s stranger is that it’s in a hotel that looks like a Disney fortress. However, once inside Fortaleza do Guincho, you’ll be treated to a four-course tasting menu for €90 paired with some fine local wines. I could dedicate an entire blog post to this meal, which included foie gras with rhubarb, the most picture-perfect crayfish dish I’ve ever seen, sauce served in seashells (try saying that after a ginja or two), dozens of petit fours… not to mention the romantic sunset views over the ocean. Definitely one for the special-treat list!

Fortaleza do Guincho - Portugal

Crayfish at Fortaleza do Guincho – highly Instagrammable as well as highly delicious

In the end, I have my new Portuguese foodie friend Celia Pedroso to thank for almost all of these. Not only did she take us on an amazing tour of Lisbon’s Chiado/Baixa area (which we paid for – this isn’t a sponsored post); she also wrote down a bunch of recommendations, all of which turned out to be the bee’s very knees. Thank you, Celia – I will be back!

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May 202015
 

Eetbar Wilde Zwijnen (European) 5 Star Rating
Javaplein 25 (Oost/Watergraafsmeer), 020 354 4000, website

Last night I was at Tales & Spirits, which was just as good as I remembered it being when I reviewed it back in November 2012. Tales & Spirits, like many of its ilk, have eschewed the usual starter vs. main course split in favour of small “in-between” courses that encourage people to taste more dishes, share with friends, and generally relax their attitude towards traditional dining. And, in general, I love it.

The same concept applied when I went to Eetbar Wilde Zwijnen a couple of weeks ago. Taking a less formal approach than their sister restaurant (the regular Wilde Zwijnen, next door), they serve small tasting/sharing plates that just keep on coming for as long as you want them to. In both restaurants, the menus are mercifully short, with the focus instead on what’s in season locally. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not new (in essence, eating with the seasons is the “old” way). But these kinds of restaurants have paved the way for what’s become a very Dutch kind of dining: simple and unfussy, casual and contemporary, creative without being pretentious.

So here’s (some of) what I ate at Eetbar Wilde Zwijnen – no need for the flowery descriptions because everything tasted just as it should: of itself.

Salad Eetbar Wilde Zwijnen Amsterdam

Radish and watercress salad (much more exciting than it sounds!)

Lamb Eetbar Wilde Zwijnen Amsterdam

Belly of lamb with white asparagus and peas

Bavette steak Eetbar Wilde Zwijnen Amsterdam

Bavette steak with a sort of salsa verde/pesto thing

Terrine Eetbar Wilde Zwijnen Amsterdam

Rabbit paté with a kohlrabi salad

With the exception of some kind of issue with the wine glasses (there weren’t enough, so we had to have another prosecco instead – #luxuryproblems if ever there was one), the service was pretty decent too. And we even scored a free limoncello to make up for the wine situ. Dinner came to €50 each, including plenty of drinks (you know me by now) and enough food to fill even the hungriest of foodies. I thought I’d got off pretty lightly, all things being considered – until I went outside to find my bike had a flat tire. Cursing my decision to dine 6km east of my house, I buckled in for a €20 cab ride. Yep – typical Dutch dining!

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May 142015
 

Pinch (pop-up at Tunnel37) (International) 5 Star Rating
Tussen de Bogen 37 (Westerpark), 06 39233223, website

Just when I was starting to think pop-ups had had their day, along came one that blew me away. Ok, it’s been a long day, and when a copywriter gets to that tired-and-slightly-hysterical stage, they start doing alliterating headlines and rhyming introductions. Enough already.

So a nice American lady called Megan Vasko invited me to her pop-up the other week. She said she knew a friend of mine who’d worked at MegaCorp, and she’d run into the Honey Badger at a Beer Meet-Up group a couple of years ago (Beer Meet-Up? Isn’t that just drinking?), and she’d spent some time at the same university as me… There were so many connections, I had to say yes.

Pinch sum - spring rolls

Pinch’s fresh spring rolls – my favourite being the Buffalo Chicken!

The pop-up was held at Tunnel37, which is a great little space for foodie entrepreneurs (take note, aspiring pop-up chefs!) – I’d been there before for pho from the Banh Mi Girls, and this time it had been transformed into a veritable dumpling factory. Megan’s concept, known as Pinch because of her propensity to pinch a bit of this and a bit of that from various cultures, essentially serves up two things: fresh spring rolls and dumplings. Fusion-style.

Pinch sum - traditional pork dumpling

Classic Asian-style pork dumplings

When I say fusion-style… think spring rolls filled with smoked salmon, asparagus and dill. Or my favourite: the “Buffalo Chicken FSR” stuffed with chicken in hot-wing sauce and ranch dressing, served with blue cheese on the side. A classic vege Pad Thai was on the menu too, which was also delicious but wasn’t the reason I was there. Everything came with a range of sauces – from the green ‘n garlicky “Crocodile” sauce to a sweet ‘n spicy mango chutney.

Pinch sum - Thai green curry chicken wonton

Megan’s Thai green curry chicken wontons

The dumplings that were up next were even more exciting. While we started with a classic Asian-style pork dumpling, things quickly moved onto steamed parcels of saag paneer. Two crispy wonton-style dishes appeared: one filled with Thai green curry-marinated chicken; the other stuffed with a spicy chicken and corn barbacoa mixture. Each new plate of dumplings took the flavour levels up another notch (kind of a like a wine tasting?!), and I finished by stuffing my face with a spicy, dried-fruit-heavy, South African-inspired, meaty bobotie number.

Pinch sum - chicken barbacoa wonton

Despite the blur, I love this food pic…

So here’s the thing: if you’re a purist, steer clear. But if you’re feeling open-minded about your singular spring rolls and daring dumplings (there I go with that alliteration again), then don’t miss out on potential Pinch pleasure.

Pinch sum - bobotie dumpling

Pinch’s sweet ‘n spicy South-African bobotie dumplings

Megan regularly pops up at Restaurant Day, the monthly Neighbourfood Market, and Tunnel37, but you can also hire the Pinch team for catering gigs. A pop-up dinner (excluding BYOB) would usually cost €25, and individual portions of three spring rolls with sweetcorn salad cost €6.

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May 072015
 

Bardot (European) 2 Star Rating
Van Limburg Stirumstraat 14A (Westerpark), 06 54255004, website

I’ve got this vague, unwritten rule in my head not to visit restaurants within their first six months of opening: there are enough bloggers out there covering the latest “hotspots” as it is, and it’s rarely a true reflection of how a place will fare in the long term. Will someone tattoo that rule on my forehead, please? You’ll see why…

It was Westerpark, there were drinks involved, I was hungry – so far, so Friday night. My colleague had spotted newly opened Bardot in the Staatsliedenbuurt while biking past a week earlier, so we decided to give it a go. Mostly because I’m lazy, and trying to find new places to review (by which I mean places that have been open for longer than six months, but which I haven’t already reviewed) is getting harder and harder.

We ordered a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet. The wine, along with the fabulous service, was the best bit about dinner. Things were about to go downhill rapidly.

Bardot Amsterdam - cat food tin

The Curious Incident of the Cat Food in My Starter

Our starters came, and I’d ordered the intriguing-sounding schelvislever, mostly because I didn’t think I’d ever eaten the liver of a fish before. That’s when the tin of cat food appeared. I kid you not – just take a look at the photo. I’m not sure whether the livers came in a tin from the supplier and the chefs figured they’d just leave it there, or whether someone took the active decision to serve my starter in a can. Either way, no one wants to feel like they’re eating cat food for dinner – especially when the texture and taste were as feline-friendly as the presentation. At this point, some bright spark will no doubt ask, “But how do you know what cat food tastes like?” to which I respond: I don’t, of course, but I honestly now I feel like I do.

The sad part is it could all have been avoided: if the livers had been blitzed up with some butter, lemon juice, nutmeg and a few herbs, and “potted” in a small ramekin (they could have even chosen some hipster jam-jar vessel if they’d preferred), it would have worked just like the fishy version of a chicken liver pâté. But they didn’t.

Bardot Amsterdam - chiperones

Chiperones without much evidence of the plancha

My colleague’s starter was chiperones a la plancha, which were baby squid – although I didn’t see or taste much evidence of that plancha. They were wet and rubbery, and I avoided most of them in favour of the bread with aioli instead.

For mains, we thought we’d play it safe with sea bass. It came with a warm salad of pearl barley, celery and some sort of lettuce (I think) that formed a wilted replacement for the promised lamsoor (which is sometimes translated as sea lavender). Remarkably, it managed to be too salty and too bland at the same time. It should have been freshened up and offset by the salsa verde it was served with, which instead wafted grassily of compost heap.

Bardot Amsterdam - sea bass

Sea bass with compost-heap salsa verde

We skipped dessert and instead enjoyed an extra glass of wine. It should be noted that the wine was on the house because we complained about the lack of lamshoor. The service, as I mentioned at the beginning, was impeccable – which is the only thing lifting Bardot from one star to two. But with dishes that resemble cat food and compost, the kitchen lags a long, long way behind.

I don’t think I can face returning to Bardot in six months’ time… If you do, please report back!

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