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

La Oliva Amsterdam – No, Really, Don’t Bother

About a year ago I stumbled upon La Oliva, a then brand new tapas and pintxos bar in the Jordaan. I tried it out and posted about my disappointment. La Oliva is perfectly located on a pretty corner smack in the middle of the Jordaan. And the restaurant looks great with its stylish decor and display of cured hams, wine bottles and pintxos. Unfortunately the food is average and high-priced and the service pretentious.

Over the last few months I had heard several positive reviews of La Oliva and some dutchgrub readers left comments saying that the food was delicious and the service nice and helpful. So I decided to try again and did a few days ago when I was in the area.

Unfortunately I must say that I was right. I wanted to like La Oliva, because it looks great and Amsterdam needs a good tapas bar. But I didn’t because it’s all about appearance and not about food.

la oliva amsterdam - pintxos

The pintxos were lukewarm and stale, especially the tortilla. And the ingredients were of inferior quality, which really ruined the Serrano ham appetizer. And to add insult to injury, the little tart with tomato sauce actually seemed to be deep freezer quality. Then we had some tapas and a dish from the main menu, which were small and rather bland. The wine was ok but very expensive at € 40,= for an average bottle of tempranillo.

All in all we paid more than € 150,= between the three of us for average food and wine and left as disappointed as the first time. So, no, don’t bother about La Oliva. Really.

More Sake in Amsterdam

Two weeks ago I wrote about two great sake resources I discovered in Amsterdam. Places with a selection of different quality sakes, where you can get advice and pick up a good bottle of sake according to your own preferences. Turns out there is more good sake available in Amsterdam!

The first source came up in the comments of the previous post: Restaurant Yamazato in the Okura hotel has an extensive sake list (pdf), including an organic junmai ginjo and several daiginjo. The Okura is also planning to offer sake tasting workshops as part of its Taste of Okura cooking classes, although no dates have been announced yet.

And I got even more excited when I discovered that my favorite wine shop, Ton Overmars, had started carrying a selection of sakes! I went there last weekend to pick up some bottles of Tempus Two and immediately spotted the new sake section above the port and cognac. Ton now has 15 kinds of sake available, complete with classification and some descriptions.

choko sake at ton overmars amsterdamWhat was even better was that Ton spotted me checking out the sake and was nice enough to not only help me make a selection but let me taste five kinds right on the spot! Apparently I had just missed one of his memorable tasting evenings in the neighborhood church. And luckily there were some bottles of sake left open and ready to be tried.

I settled for a bottle of Sake Nabeshima Chõko,which is an unpasteurized junmai with a complex aroma and a very smooth structure from aging. Ton also has the Kizan I got some time ago at the Pure Markt, as well as some specialties like a reddish colored sake, a bottle with active yeasts and a 31 year vintage sake!

If you are into sake, you should definitely check out Ton Overmars on Hoofddorpplein in Amsterdam!

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!

Taste of Okura – Culinary Workshops

TheAmsterdam Okura hotel, home of Michelin star restaurants Ciel Bleu and Yamazota is launching an exciting new concept for foodies. “Taste of Okura” is a series of workshops in Japanese, French and International cooking. The workshops will be held in a brand new kitchen and wine room.

The workshops take place in the evening or on the weekend. Price varies according to theme, from € 45 for a wine or sake tasting to € 130 for a Ciel Bleu inspired Michelin style cook off.

Sign up quickly as several of the workshops are already fully booked!