Friday, September 7, 2012

Restaurant De Kas

It was Friday night, and you had just cashed your paycheck. You were in the mood to dine out when you overheard a friend talking about De Kas, a quaint restaurant that offers fine dining at a hefty price. However, it wasn’t until you friend told you that the restaurant is housed in a greenhouse that you decided to give the place a try.  
Restaurant De Kas was located in a former nursery building that once belonged to the Amsterdam municipality. It was founded in 2001 by chef Gert Jan Hageman, with the mission of offering sustainable dining in an environment that facilitates interactions between man and nature. De Kas offers one set of courses daily, using only seasonal ingredients grown and raised by the restaurant, such as herbs from the herb garden and livestock from a nearby ranch.  Housed in a stunningly transparent greenhouse near the tranquil Frankendael Park, a few minutes away from Rembrandt Tower, De Kas provided an enjoyable social experience due to the standard of transparency that was evident in the interactions regarding the food and how it was prepared.
De Kas had one of the friendliest cohorts of servers that I ever interacted with. At no time during the meal were we rushed and interrupted unnecessarily by dining service. After spending a generous time in the outdoor garden, sipping on wine and snacking on giant Italian olives, we were led to a long table right by the open kitchen. Due to its commitment to sustainability, menus were not offered; instead, the waiters informed us of the courses by word of mouth. The experience was very interesting because it felt as if I was being invited into the kitchen, and allowed to interact with my food by learning about the ingredients which went into it. In fact, it was almost as exciting as listening to a magician divulge his secrets.  
In the spirit of not keeping anything too private, De Kas conveniently packed most of the diners into a moderately sized main dining hall, creating a relatively rowdy atmosphere that lightened the more serene mood imposed by the faded yellow and light blue lighting. Sitting at the table, I was able to eavesdrop on the conversation at the next table if I wanted to. Interestingly, the table was shaped in such a way that I had to lean very far forward to hear the person sitting across from me. While I was at times skeptical of the awkwardness of the overall setup—what with the almost cafeteria feel of the positioning of tables, it was extremely refreshing because the crowdedness and the constant travels of sound from the kitchen made me hyper-aware of the motion of bodies and thoughts in the physical space, and gave me a sense of awe that I had never felt while eating in a restaurant. Perhaps the icing on the cake was the fact that low-hanging wall mirrors were strategically placed in the dining hall such that everyone was able to see the faces of the people who faced away from them. While I half-jokingly told my friend that the experience felt Big-Brother-esque, I did feel as if I was “on my toes” the entire time because I sensed that there were always several waiters around me, watching and readying to attend to my requests.
While the food was definitely worthwhile in its own right, I was more fascinated with how the food was prepared and presented to the table. Sitting in my seat, I watched the chef prepare the vegetables and place them on the plates. There was confidence but no hurry in his movements, which was a calming reassurance that he was very experienced in his cooking. Moreover, in the spirit of sustainability, we were asked to share a few large plates of appetizers. The appetizers consisted of various preparations of duck meat, soft feta cheese, and fresh tomatoes. Immediately, food became a medium with which people interacted verbally and non-verbally. In particular, I found in the act of passing a plate of tomato salad to my friend a strange nostalgia for a home-cooked meal. Perhaps one blemish in the program was the fact that some of the plates were inconsistently prepared. For example, I had no raspberries and only half of a blackberry on my desert plate, whereas my neighbor had abundant berries. In addition, I received a much bigger piece of fish than my friend, who found his piece to be too small. Perhaps all this asymmetry was part of the plan; however, as a diner, it was surprising to find such variations in individual courses.
While De Kas offered an exciting alternative on conventional fine dining, it is not the place to go to on your daily lunch break. Moreover, reservations must be made far in advance due to the popularity of the location. However, for those who are willing to plan ahead, and do not mind dishing out a few more papers for a good night’s meal, De Kas is the place to go.

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