Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Greenhouse Cuisine: De Kas Restaurant

Although only ten-minutes from downtown Amsterdam, stepping off the tram to the De Kas restaurant feels like traveling back to a time when it wouldn’t be all too weird to be invited over to your neighbor’s farmhouse for a friendly evening get-together. Surrounded by lush green gardens, a rectangle of shimmering water, and a colorful tower topped with a birds’ nest, the greenhouse that constitutes De Kas fits in perfectly among the plants but also stands out with its elegance.
After ogling at the structure’s exterior for a slightly-longer-than-appropriate amount of time, my friends and I proceeded indoors. Stylish lamps, an ajar door leading to a room of tomatoes still on the vines, and a hostess greeted us, the last of which took our jackets and whisked us into the backyard for drinks and snacks. Once seated, we learned that the restaurant grows its own vegetables in several greenhouses and gets all meats and other ingredients from establishments with a similar “respect for nature”. In addition, the chef decided the night’s menu so, save for any allergies, we would all consume the same dishes.
I was quickly faced with bowls of freshly pickled cucumber and olives, both foods that I find especially revolting. Surrounded by exclamations of wonder, I decided to at least try the pickle, which tasted less like salty brine than like a fresh cucumber topped with mustard vinaigrette. As any true fresh food fiend would do, I forced myself to shove an olive into my mouth as well. As with every aspect of De Kas, I had no regrets; the freshness of the fruit immediately made up for all of my initial hesitations about taste.
Our culinary adventure began with fresh rolls and basil olive oil with a pesto-esqe flavor. This eventually transitioned into three-part appetizer course. First to arrive was the soft duck with sweet sesame crackers, fresh zucchini blossoms, and tangy, roasted zucchini and squash. This was closely followed by cannelloni filled with a cheese that must have been ricotta, garnished with sautéed broccoli, resting on a river of sweet red and creamy white sauces and topped with an chopped apple salad. The final member of the trio was a sweet heirloom tomato salad, replete with fennel, onions, and roasted capers. I washed all of this down with a glass of buttery, fruity chardonnay, resetting my palate for the next course.
The fixed menu style necessitated an immediate sense of trust between patron and chef, leading to a more natural, dinner-party type of feel. The continuity of dishes across the table meant that everybody was experiencing the same flavors simultaneously, and conversation naturally flowed about the food. The waiters further buoyed the conversation by seamlessly delivering and removing plates in a synchronized dance, pausing us only to introduce fancy names for the gustatory sensations we were sharing.
The main course arrived next: a tender white fish called place served on a bed of roasted vegetables—one of which turned out to be a sardine, to my surprise. Nested in some bright red pickled onions was half of an egg that had been poached and then fried. Carefully adorning the meal were two fluffy mounds of a cream-colored, gentle-tasting sauce, not to be confused with the tangy orange dressing that surrounded the vegetables. Conversation, for the first time in the meal, completely ceased as the entire table surrendered to the chef’s creations.
I have found that the bathroom of a restaurant often represents its vibe in a condensed form, and make a point of visiting it during most meals, if only to expand my impression of the premises. I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that the bathroom of De Kas lived up to—if not exceeded—expectations. The neat lighting and wallpaper completed the vibe of the outside dining room: airy and welcoming, with a silver and white theme.
By this point my expectations for dessert had grown quite large, but De Kas, as usual, did not disappoint. We soon each received a rectangular chocolate mousse, coated in a chocolate-peanut ganache and a scoop of slowly melting salted caramel ice cream. Of course, glazed berries adorned the top and sides. The sweet and salty flavors blended together nicely, as did the variety of textures.   
Any lingering regrets about the hefty price of the meal were swept away when a bowl containing organic apples materialized as we neared the door. The hostess quickly encouraged us, “Please! Take one to enjoy later tonight, or tomorrow,” an invitation we couldn’t refuse. I felt exactly as if I were leaving the home of a dear friend for a journey, but we both knew that I would eventually be back. 

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