Bye Bye Marius (for now)
So, this is Meatless Week. But as I already mentioned, I was forced (or I should say, I allowed myself ) to cheat for just one dinner.
I know, this sort of defeats the purpose of going meatfree for a week. I'm actually thinking of adding another week, just to challenge myself a bit more. But for now, lets focus on the how and why of yesterdays meal.
When I learned that one of my favorite Amsterdam restaurants, Marius, was going to close for a couple of months, and that this week was my last chance to eat there before the closure, I knew that that was an opportunity I had to seize.
Those of you who read my blog on a regular basis know I don't do restaurant reviews. At least not the type of review many bloggers and critics pretend to write: balanced, unbiased reports with advice on why you should or should not eat somewhere. When I write about a restaurant it is because I love it, because I had a good experience there, and yes, everyone who reads it should acknowledge that my opinion will be influenced by the wonderful conversation I had, or the way the waitress smiled at me when taking my order, or the prospect of after dinner plans. So consider this, not a review, just a biased, personal write up about a place I happen to love.
The food at Marius is a very special kind of food. Dennis and I were talking last night about how hard it would be to find similar food in any restaurant in Amsterdam. The word I came up with as I tried to describe its characteristics: inevitable. The food Kees Elfring cooks (because the chef's name is not Marius - the restaurant takes its name from Marcel Pagnol's work, just like Alice Waters' much heralded Chez Panisse in Berkely California, where Elfring worked for a couple of years in the eighties) is never contrived, complicated or cerebral. That does not mean it's simple or easy - there's always a lot going on on your plate. But everything he cooks feels and tastes as if it comes from true inspiration and passion. Like it is simply, inevitably, the only thing he felt like cooking that day, and he cooked it for you.
This is how he works - there's a 4 course market menu that's different everyday, although return visitors will see Elfring's favorite ingredients making a regular appearance. Besides that menu, he serves 'specials' that hardly ever change: bouillabaisse, vitello tonnato, chocolate cake.
There are no foams here, no essences of anything. Ingredients aren't stacked in towers but neither are they spaced far apart on huge plates. The flavors and textures are bold enough to keep you interested thoughout the meal, but not weird, confusing, or clashing. These aren't the kind of specific flavors you will remember tomorrow. What you will remember is the overall feel of the meal. It's superior comfort food, home cooking like you would want to find in many homes (but hardly ever do).
I guess what I keep trying to say that at this little restaurant, everything just seems to make perfect sense. From the food and wine to the attentive service, the checkered tablecloths and the chef who comes out to talk to the guests whenever he has a moment, it all works together to make you feel completely at ease, pampered and at home. When we were there, I spotted some tourists, 2 guys discussing their recent dinners at Noma and Alinea, and a couple with a toddler in a stroller. Everyone seemed to be equally comfortable, enjoying their food and wine.
So goodbye Marius, see you in the fall. I can't wait to see what you come up with - I'm sure it will be wonderful.
See here for the report on my first visit to Marius, written on eGullet by my friend Mark.