Restaurant Week March 2010: The College Hotel

“My favourite YouTube video is the one of a monkey sticking his finger in his butt, smelling his finger, and then passing out and falling off the branch of a tree,” piped up Tom during dinner at The College Hotel near the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. It’s Restaurant Week, the biannual chance for otherwise elegant restaurants to open their doors and offer three course meals for 25 euros to people who…well…people who like talking about monkeys.

“Shall I see if I can find the YouTube clip on my phone?” asked Marjolein enthusiastically, as she ate her delicate risotto with spinach main dish. When she’d told the restaurant earlier that she could not eat the mackerel in the first course, they somehow interpreted that as being vegetarian, so Marjolein did not get the hoender, lage temperatuur gegaard, met vergeten groenten en eigen jus (slow-cooked chicken with “forgotten” vegetables of beets, boerkool, and turnip in what the waiter called “chicken sauce”). When I asked what sort of chicken hoender was anyway, she explained it was fancy chicken. Is kip jealous of hoender?

She entered the right keywords: monkey finger butt. And as soon as the video loaded, we were howling at the table every time the monkey fell off the tree. How ironic that the diners were less mature than the staff, who were barely voting and drinking age. The entire College Hotel staff are hotel/hospitality school students managed by professionals. Our server was 17, Marjolein gracefully found out by asking the general age of the people working there.

Tom, Jocelyn, and Benoit were smart not to call Marjolein and I cougars. We just found the charming staff so conscientious of perfecting Restaurant Week.

Sure, unused place settings and wine glasses were not removed, and my pinot noir was poured in front of Benoit, and at times the servers stepped on each other’s toes while one was serving the College Canape’s and the other was explaining it: sorbet of red cabbage and apple, a sauerkraut bitterbal, and a shot of snert: classic Dutch split pea soup.  It was an amuse that captures the normal menu: a modern take on Dutch cuisine in a renovated 19th century brick school building with brick archways above the corridors and a snaking lounge of velvet seating and dark lighting. While imperfect, service was completely attentive. I often opt to have a drink at this school of hospitality for this effort, for the ambiance and style.

“Do you know D Sixty Six?” asked Jocelyn.

Marjolein was puzzled at this question. Is he asking what I think he is?

I read it on her face. “No, he’s not talking about positions. He he means D66, the political party,” I said. Municipal elections were today. It was civilized at least to mention them during our dessert of gestampte muisjes met brulee, suikerbrood ijs en hopjes stroop (smashed little mice, a shot of creme brulee, and sugar bread ice cream drizzled in coffee candy sauce).

“Um. Did she say little mice?” Benoit asked.

To clarify, muisjes are candy-covered anise seeds that take on the shape of a mouse because of the little stem of the seed. They are coloured blue or pink and eaten on beschuit, a round sort of toast, to celebrate the birth of a baby. In the middle ages, it was thought anise helped the mother produce milk, aided in the uterus returning to normal, and chased evil spirits away. And here I thought Smashed Mice was some punk band I somehow missed in the 80s.

Between the mackerel-topped veal salad and smashed mice with a dash of sugar bread, the College Hotel’s Chef Pepijn Schut celebrates Dutch food with flair. Even the finish, an extra coffee or tea with three samples from their famous patisserie: cookies, a sort of amandelkoek, and bokkepoot.

All that with a side of gran marnier. The Dutch know how to send off we uncivilized folk in exactly the right way.

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