The Dutch Sake Samurai

I have written twice about sake in Amsterdam recently, reporting about some good bottles of sake I discovered first at Meidi Ya on Beethovenstraat and later also at Ton Overmars on Hoofddorpplein.

While sake is still a new trend in Amsterdam, there has been a big improvement in availability and selection recently. We are actually at the point where you can get a decent bottle at mainstream liquor stores like Dirk III.

sake europe

A large part of that improvement is fueled by Dutch Sake Samurai Simon Hofstra and his distribution business Sake Europe. Simon is a specialist in all things Sake and has been doing a great job promoting sake amongst wine stores and restaurants. He has great connections with the sake breweries, an amazing selection (pdf) for Dutch standards, knows a lot about sake and is more than happy to help out with his wealth of knowledge.

I had been looking for a bottle of sake made according to the Yamahai method in Amsterdam for quite a while. When I shot Simon an email he was quick to hook me up with wine store De Gouden Ton where I managed to find a the coveted Yamahai sake!

Thanks, Simon!

Great Deal Italian Take Away – Pasta di Pino

Update: Vino di Pino had to close around mid July 2011. Apparently a disagreement with the landlord forced him to leave the location on Haarlemmermeerstraat. Pino is currently looking for a new location where he can reopen shop.

The area around Hoofddorpplein has a great new Italian take away option. Italian wine store Vino di Pino started offering pasta dishes a few weeks ago and has been cooking up a storm since then!

The pasta is prepared fresh in the kitchen of the store and very good. It started out with a daily dish and has grown into a full-fledged menu with several starters, pasta dishes and desserts. The menu changes with daily specials and classics like lasagna, parmigiana alle melanzane or penne all’arrabbiata. There were some great truffle specials and recently also main courses like osso buco.

The food is very good and a great deal at € 5,= per portion. What’s really special is the warm and friendly atmosphere that owner Pino creates. He welcomes all regulars and new visitors with a big smile and a fun story. After explaining the menu and specials of the day, Pino quickly moves the conversation to other topics, taking a personal interest in his customers, talking about recent developments in the neighborhood or showing videos of the latest local food and wine events that Pino is organizing with some of the other cafe and shop owners on Hoofddorpplein. While chatting, Pino loves to break out a bottle of wine from the store and offer a taste to shorten the wait for the take away food.

I’ve been a frequent visitor recently, enjoying great take away pasta at an attractive price and catching up with Pino and other neighbors over a glass of wine. As an additional benefit you can purchase the wine at 50% off for the second bottle.

pasta take away vino di pino

Sake in Amsterdam

Even though there is a fairly large Japanese community in Amsterdam, it is hard to come by good sake. Sure, people know about sake and the Japanese restaurants have it on the menu. But there is never any choice – you either have the house sake or no sake. And few shops carry sake and the ones that do only have a single option, the rather average Gekkeikan.

I wish we had a more vibrant sake culture like in New York where Asian restaurants have a sake list much like the customary wine list. And wine stores frequently have an entire aisle of sake, kept cool in a large fridge and with detailed descriptions for you to choose and then take to one of the many bring your own bottle restaurants.

There is hope though and I recently discovered two shops and one restaurant with at least somewhat of a sake selection!

sake in amsterdam

Meidi Ya on Beethovenstraat, Amsterdam outpost of the Japanese retailer with the same name, has the most impressive selection and is also able to provide good advice. Meidi Ya has more than 20 types of sake on offer, complete with an explanatory chart rating the available sake by their classification and dryness. We tried a medium dry Yukidoke Ginjou (Japanese), which was quite good and fairly priced at € 20,=. We liked its smoothness and subtle flavor and will try for a similar but dryer sake next time.

Then there is Roppongi on new hip neighborhood IJburg. Roppongi is a self-proclaimed Japanese lifestyle store that among other things sells sushi and sake. They even have a web shop where you can order sake online for Amsterdam delivery. We tried their Kizan (Japanese), a nama (unpasteurized) Junmai (pure) sake from the Nagano prefecture. We didn’t like it as much as the Yukidoke and thought it was expensive at € 27,50.

The restaurant that lets you pick your preferred sake is Kaiko, a very traditional Japanese restaurant in the Rivierenbuurt that is popular with the Japanese business crowd and has four or five kinds available. It seems that sake importer Yoigokochi is facilitating some of the improved availability.

The picture above shows the two sake bottles described above – the blue color is pure coincidental… I hope sake catches on a lot more in Amsterdam!

Amsterdam Closed for Vacation…

I thought I would post a brief warning for unsuspecting visitors. Many restaurants and cafes in Amsterdam close for summer vacation. Around the time of late July and early August, it’s better to check to avoid disappointments.

I have heard of a few vacations including De Witte Uyl, one of dutchgrub’s Best Amsterdam Restaurants, and Yam Yam, makers of one of dutchgrub’s Best Amsterdam Pizzas. Both will be closed until 16 August 2009. During the same period recently opened Italian l’Ozio will be closed for lunch, but remain open for dinner.

amsterdam closed for vacation
Omnipresent bikes and closed for vacation signs in Amsterdam

Big Score at Le Fournil de Sebastien

Yesterday we scored big time at Le Fournil de Sebastien on our regular Saturday food shopping trip. Le Fournil is a French artisan bakery on Olympiaplein in Amsterdam Zuid. It’s a small shop with adjacent bakery behind a large window. There is an incredible smell of fresh bread and pastry that always makes me want to buy the entire range of products.

We went to Fournil to buy bread to have with a Portuguese sheep cheese and found La Faluche to be just perfect, a white sourdough bread with a thick but not too hard crust. Predictably, that was only the beginning. And inspired by the amazing smell, we also got three michettes, a pain au chocolat, a pain aux raisins and a bag of freshly made madeleines.

Le Fournil de Sebastien Amsterdam - Faluche, Michette, Pain au Chocolat and Madeleines
Le Fournil de Sebastien Amsterdam - Faluche, Michette, Pain au Chocolat and Madeleines

Le Fournil has a large selection of typical French bread and pastry – sweet and savoury, traditional and unusual. There are croissants and baguettes, little tartelettes with strawberries and crème brûlée, brioches, and all sorts of bread – white, dark, whole grain, with figs and much more.

Service is efficient with five or six people making the often long lines of customers move along quickly. The personnel is friendly, clad in white baker uniforms and mostly French. Opening hours are long – Monday through Saturday from 7:00 to 19:00 – almost unheard of for Amsterdam. And prices are reasonable, around € 1,= for croissant or pain au chocolat.

It’s great to have Le Fournil in Amsterdam. The quality and selection are much better than those of the standard Dutch bakeries. And opening hours are much longer and prices much lower at Le Fournil than at high-end bakeries like Simon Meijssen, Bakken met Passie or De Bakkerswinkel.

le-fournil-de-sebastien-amsterdam-store-frontle-fournil-de-sebastien-amsterdam-store-inside Delivery

In January I attended a wine tasting of Dutch wine e-tailer The wine tasting was fun and I also liked the web site of vindict, which presents color, intensity, nose, aroma, smell, flavors, taste, body, alcohol, sweetness, acidity and tannin of each wine.

Delivery is free for orders above € 70,=. You choose your wines from their site, indicate which evening you would like them delivered and then just wait for the bottles to arrive in vindict’s trademark purple piaggio ape pick-up.

vindict's purple delivery ape
vindict's purple piaggio ape pick-up