Parking the car, we patiently waited for the seemingly endless bicycle traffic to pass as we wended our way into the farmer’s market stands. As Cantinetta chef and owner Deborah Mullin pointed out and discussed various herbs, the woman behind one table separated the leafy greens into sections, deftly wrapping them into brown paper cones with practiced care. A short summer rain shower made us huddle closer under the covered stalls, and the boyfriend and I waited for Deb and her wife Claudia to choose vegetables for the evening’s menu, packing them into bags to take to Cantinetta Wine & Pasta, their farm-to-table osteria in Amsterdam.
Visiting Holland, I had visions of constant fresh food (and tulips and cheeses and wooden shoes). Surely the healthy, tall, bike-riding denizens of a canal-filled city would prioritize organic, fresh food. The air was sucked from the windmills of my Netherlands dream as Claudia, Deb’s wife and partner at Cantinetta, described her favorite childhood breakfast from Holland, a piece of white bread toast smothered in sugar sprinkles. But that makes Deb & Claudia’s farm to table restaurant all the more critical. Yes, critical. I feel the need for hyperbole when discussing the delicious, simple food prepared and served with skill, flavor, and love that made up one of the best meals I’ve eaten.
Visiting Cantinetta on a busy Saturday night, the tables were crowded with regulars including a Dutch filmmaker and his actor wife celebrating a birthday, the conversation and food overflowing to the tables on the sidewalk outside, and we felt part of a family. Seated at a table along the brick wall, we were served a glass of Villa Doral, an organic prosecco. Claudia, my sister-in-law via marriage once-removed (it gets complicated, so I just call Deb and Claudia my sisters-in-law, as they feel like family), asked if we would like to order from the night’s menu, or allow Deb to craft a meal for us. We’re not dumb. We waited to be surprised by the chef’s choices.
We tried to slow ourselves to truly taste each bite of every dish that Deb sent our way, from the salad of mixed organic Knotwilg Farm salad greens grown in Beemster, organic Belgian endive, local, organic mint & parsley from Bellemarie, Drenthe, toasted hazelnuts, organic, local beets, pecorino romano cheese, red wine-lemon and thyme vinaigrette, with mozzarella from Buffalo Farm Twente.
That was just the SALAD. Our next course was roasted, organic cauliflower & broccoli, flavored with house-marinated fresh anchovy, sea salted capers, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and pepperoncini. Though I love reds, the courses were best paired with a delicious white wine, Monastero Suore Cistercensi Coenobium Lazio Bianco, made by nuns on an organic vineyard in Italy. Nuns. It’s like we were in a movie. (You can buy a bottle of Coenbobium in the U.S. here.)
The wine paired deliciously with our pasta (gluten-free for me, the Celiac traveler), which was the first time I’ve tried guanciale: pork cheek procured from italy via fumagalli salumi. Delicious.
Though I felt too full even to finish the wine, which is a first for me, I somehow managed to fit in the cheese and dessert course, a ricotta con fragola e grappa, with fresh ricotta from Buffalo Farm Twente, flower blossom honey from Beemster, a strawberry-grappa marmelatta, and toasted hazelnuts. We finished with a sparkling dessert wine, a Birbet Brachetto Lungo from the Roero.
We’d closed the place down and sat sipping our wine, watching the staff polish the wine glasses and set the tables for the following week. Deb carefully plated the “family” dinner for the staff to enjoy, and we left them sitting shoulder to shoulder at the bar, to their delicious meal. They’ve created a feeling of family at Cantinetta, breaking bread next to strangers who feel like friends as you wish them bon appetite or happy birthday, listening to people laugh together, forks laid on empty plates, wine glasses clinking in toasts to the good life.
If you’re visiting or live in Amsterdam, e-mail Cantinetta for a reservation at email@example.com or call them at +31 20 737 0149. And then tell me all about it! @RebeccaSnavely and @TheCityFarm.
What’s your favorite place to eat farm-to-table?
(Photo Collage by Rebecca Snavely – peonies were in season in Amsterdam.)