Should You Order the Tasting Menu?
We’re living in a cultural moment in which diversity is valued. Diverse voices. Diverse races. Diverse genders. So why not diverse menus?
That’s our definition of a tasting menu: a slew of little dishes—at one sitting—that deliver elegant big flavors.
Think of a twelve-course meal that includes an astonishing fish soup. And a salad of asparagus and barley, with “lacquered” lobster. And Dutch beef with crispy wine leaf. And, and, and, and, and. The whole experience topped off by a tiny chocolate-covered caramel-and-sea-salt bonbon, compliments of the chef.
This is one version of a tasting menu. But, like the eternal chicken dish served at a wedding, the tasting menu can take many forms.
In fact, modern tasting menus have been around since the 1980s. But boy, are they hip right now—especially in Amsterdam. That’s what we learned by talking with our friend, food professional Rex Enderman, a graduate of the Food Academy Amsterdam and Chef de partie at a local restaurant called Meneer Nieges (Westerdoksdijk 40H). On a recent afternoon, Rex told us there are tons of restaurants and cafés with tasting menus opening in Amsterdam now—and plenty that have been around for a while.
The Dutch version of the tasting menu includes “four to infinity dishes,” according to Rex. And before you order yours, here’s a key word you’ll need to know: “amuse”—a French word (pronounced ah-MOOZE), short for amuse bouche (ah-mooze BO-O-OSH), meaning a bite-sized appetizer. These days, it’s trendy to serve an amuse bouche—say, a shot-glass filled with a delicate cucumber foam that tastes exactly like the sea—and not charge you for it. Two amuses—one to start the meal and one as a coda—is in vogue right now. Rex adds, “Those two amuses add a couple of courses—and a flavor explosion!”
Where can you find a tasting menu in and around Amsterdam, beside at Meneer Nieges? Consider the restaurant called Sinne (Ceintuurbaan 342), where the stellar food quality has earned the place a Michelin star. And then there’s Aan de Poel, the two-star Michelin establishment in neighboring Amstelveen. This month, they’re serving yellowfin tuna and an oyster with miso, watermelon and a spicy vinaigrette….
So, what’s stopping you from indulging in this fancy fare? If you’re worried it’s too pricey for you, consider this: while a Michelin-starred chef’s dinner can fetch sky-high prices, an equally elaborate lunch costs far less. Creative chefs want you to try their tasting menus: it’s an opportunity to show you the magic they can do.
You can also explore restaurants before they earn their stars. Who knows which eateries are destined to be worthy? We asked Anne Zoutendijk, the Head of Catering at the historic Beurs van Berlage Conference Centre. Anne earned her chops at the Amsterdam Hotel School (now the ROC), and at the Cordon Bleu in London, where she specialized in pastry. Her pick for one of the best restaurants for tasting menus in the city: restaurant Envy (Prinsengracht 381-IV). Anne loves the way a menu with imagination can make her feel “inspired, motivated, surprised.” And Restaurant Envy was her top choice for achieving that altered state while eating.
Not everyone is inclined to order an expansive range of dishes, though. Another foodie friend of ours, Ann Cassano, confessed to us that tasting menus aren’t even on her radar, despite having a restauranteur for a father. Ann told us, “I’m not a risk-taker,” referring to her distaste for the surprise element of the tasting experience. When pressed, however, Ann told us she’d had a wonderful dinner during Amsterdam’s Restaurant Week at The French Connection (Singel 460). Turns out she and her husband ordered the four-course option.
“Did you by any chance have the Codfish in Onion Broth with Vadouvan [a blend of French spices—super-trendy now] and Celeriac?” we asked her. “I did,” she said, amazed we knew. “And the cheese plate?” we asked. She’d had that, too, and it included not one, not two, but five adventurous cheeses.
Which just goes to show that even if you order “just” the four-course meal, you’re likely to be rewarded for your risk-taking.