Like a lot of Northern European countries, the Netherlands is known for simple food. Heavy on vegetables and light on the spices, it has earned a reputation as a bland cuisine. However, when the fresh, regional ingredients are placed in skillful hands, they come to life. Hearty, flavorful hotpots, handmade sausages, local cheeses and decadent desserts: it would be a shame to miss these provincial specialties on your trip to Amsterdam. The following three Amsterdam restaurants are known for serving up traditional Dutch dishes that are anything but mundane.
#1) Brasserie De Poort
Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 176-180
Conveniently located directly across the street from the Royal Palace, this cozy spot with dark, polished wood and white linen napkins has been serving traditional Dutch dishes to tourists and locals since 1870. The restaurant is housed in what was once a tavern, and though it has been beautifully renovated, it still has the charm (and the roof beams) of an Old World pub. The centerpiece of the menu would have to be the steaks, fresh from the grill in 6.5 or 9 oz portions, with your choice of sauce. The traditional choices include a Port van Cleve sauce (bacon, pan-fried mushrooms, and onions) and a classic Stroganoff.
The Dutch take their pea soup quite seriously, and the Brasserie de Poort serves up a choice version, from a vintage recipe, which comes with rye bread and streaky bacon on the side for a light meal in itself. Other local treats include three different kinds of savory potato mashes, crispy beef-filled Bitterballen, and smoked eel on toast. The desserts are also decidedly Dutch, and you have several choices. You can keep it classic by choosing Dutch pancakes with Advocaat, or a small plate of local cheeses and fruit.
#2) De Prins
Located just across the canal from the Anne Frank House, De Prins is known for high-quality Dutch dishes with a French influence, served in a friendly atmosphere with prices that are much lower than the high quality cuisine deserves. While the restaurant is less than fancy, the atmosphere is convivial and inviting. Students, artists, locals and tourists all intermingle in a spot that used to be a coffee and tea shop, and still retains some of the coffee shop feel and friendliness.
The best bets for starters at De Prins are the soups (which change regularly) and the smoked ragout of deer served with mushrooms on toast. The main dishes also vary depending on local availability, and for the best seasonal Dutch dishes, you can check the board for daily specials. Always on the menu is a heavenly fondue with a combination of several regional cheeses, served with airy fresh-baked bread. After dinner, sample the crepes with a glass of fruity Muscat, and strike up a conversation with the folks at a nearby table to truly experience De Prins.
#3) D'Vijff Vlieghen
The name is Dutch for "Five Flies," but you definitely won't see a single fly at this distinctive restaurant that is a true visual and culinary gem. The space is almost a labyrinth, with nine separate dining rooms that provide a cozy feel that belies the actual size of the place. D'Vijff Vlieghen is almost a museum-in-a-restaurant, with bric-a-brac, antiques, and artwork (including four original Rembrandts) crammed into every available nook and cranny. Each room has a different theme, from the already-mentioned Rembrandt room, to the glassware room which is filled with delicately beautiful glass pieces.
The real standout, though, is the food. The restaurant prides itself on its modern Dutch cuisine made with fresh ingredients which are frequently organic. For the fullest experience, you can try one of the seasonal fixed price menus, which offer several "surprise" courses at one price. You can request vegetarian or special diet options if you like. High points include a slow-cooked venison, a suckling pig with caramelized apples, and a traditional pea soup that is refreshingly minty. For dessert there are a variety of decadently sweet choices, but the cheese sampler is one of the best around: several exotic cheeses served with a selection of handmade fruit compotes.