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Where to Eat in Amsterdam

When I visited the Netherlands earlier this year, I wanted to carefully plan where to eat in Amsterdam. Sometimes I chose by location. Other times, I wanted to satisfy my inner foodie. Not familiar with Dutch cuisine, I had no idea what to expect. On my visit I discovered that while Dutch cuisine, even at a Michelin-starred restaurant, embraces different ingredients and styles than I’m used to, the food can be delicious.

You can’t go wrong with any of the below. From Michelin-starred restaurant to casual bar, each offers quintessentially Dutch ingredients prepared in a style unique to the establishment.

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Rosso Crudo in Florence: Review

Rosso Crudo in Florence: Review

During our last trip to Florence (Firenze), the staff at our hotel recommended that we try Rosso Crudo for dinner. The location suited us, being only a block from our hotel, the Domux Home Ricasoli, on a day when we hadn’t slept much the night before. We wanted something nearby but delicious as our culinary entry into the city.

Specialty: steak and pasta

Dress: Business casual

Price: antipasti 5-19 Euros; primi platti (pasta) 8-12 Euros; Steaks 17-24 Euros or, for premium cuts, 5-8 Euros per 100 grams.

What to order: steak, pappardelle cinghiale, proscuitto e melone

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Review: Vetri Cucina in Philadelphia

Vetri Cucina in Philadelphia:  Signature fork logo on a plate
Vetri Cucina in Philadelphia: Signature fork logo on a plate

I had wanted to try Vetri Cucina in Philadelphia for a long time, ever since a friend mentioned it. On a recent trip to the city to celebrate our wedding anniversary, my husband and I finally had our opportunity. For the average person, Vetri will be viewed as insanely expensive; however, for a foodie like me, it provides a whole evening of entertainment, with a price comparable to a ticket to a Broadway show.

We booked the first seating, at 6 pm. It took almost three full hours before we walked out, just in time to make room for the second seating. I loved the experience so much that I named Vetri Cucina as one of my top restaurants of 2019.

Recommended strategy: Let the chef choose for you unless some items turn you off.

Favorite dishes: Sweet onion crepe with truffle fondue; proscuitto cotto: almond tortellini with truffle sauce; fig caramelle with gorgonzola; porcelet chop; pistachio flan

Cuisine: Upscale Italian

Most surprising: The building once house the renowned Le Bec Fin.

Dress: Business casual to urban chic. No formal dress code.

Décor: Old World

Reservations: Required

Price: $165 per person, excluding alcohol and gratuity.

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Review of The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis

World Oyster Review of The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis
World Oyster Review of The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis

My review of The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis highlights an excellent farm-to-table restaurant. Don’t be fooled by the casual atmosphere. This trendy establishment, located in the Warehouse District, offers innovative dishes for carnivores and vegetarians alike. Its companion bar, Marvel Bar, hides around back and, in true speakeasy style, can be found by only those in the know.

Recommended dishes: Duck breast, housemade cheese with smoked honey, popovers.

Cuisine: Farm-to-Table

Most surprising: The “secret” Marvel bar and its back staircase into the restaurant

Dress: Business casual

Décor: Vintage warehouse combined with country

Price: $27-38 for entrées

Marvel Bar

While technically a separate establishment, any review of The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis should include Marvel Bar as a prelude to dinner. If you go around back of the restaurant and down a few stairs to what looks like a delivery entrance, you’ll find it. Unmarked, of course. Open the heavy metal door and step inside. You’ll likely have to blink a little to adjust to the dark, beamed interior. If you’re lucky, you can score one of the booths, but you can also cozy up to the bar or set your drink on one of the barrel tables.

Specialty cocktails are unusual and delicious. Of course, you can always order traditional cocktails. If you have reservations in the restaurant above, your server will show you to the back staircase after you settle your tab. You are free to carry your drinks upstairs.

The Bachelor Farmer

The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis:  Housemade cheese with smoked honey, apricot "mostada," and pine nuts.  Background: popover with honey butter
The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis: Housemade cheese with smoked honey, apricot “mostada,” and pine nuts. Background: popover with honey butter

As much as I love to begin dinner with a cocktail from Marvel Bar, I look forward to the real attraction, dinner at The Bachelor Farmer. We almost always start out with one of the toasts. The housemade cow’s milk cheese with smoked honey, warm apricot “mostada,” and pine nuts makes a great appetizer to share or to keep for yourself. We always order popovers as starters as well. During my last dinner there, my husband and I shared a foie gras appetizer that came with a radish and peashoot salad.

The vegetarians who dined with us ordered the wild rice, soft-boiled egg, shiitake mushroom, and hazelnuts entrée. I’m not an egg person, so I take their word for it that it tasted delicious. The walleye with pancetta and argula cream and the grilled lamb with wilted greens were both excellent. Because the menu changes seasonally, you can’t always expect to see what you ordered the time before. On my first visit, I ordered duck breast, and it was the best duck breast I’ve ever had. The second time, I didn’t see duck breast on the menu.

The Verdict

In a city with many great dining options, The Bachelor Farmer remains one of the best. Its emphasis on local ingredients and “Northern food” makes it an apt restaurant for visitors and residents alike. Make sure to check out Marvel Bar either before or after dinner.

Debbie Lee Wesselmann

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World Oyster’s Review of Buddakan in Philadelphia

World Oyster's Review of Buddakan in Philadelphia: Giant Buddha
Review of Buddakan in Philadelphia: Giant Buddha

My review of Buddakan in Philadelphia, an Asian-inspired restaurant in the historic district, can be summed up in a single word: Yes! From the outside, Buddakan doesn’t appear to be anything special; however, as you step inside, you realize that it’s no ordinary Chinese restaurant. The dimly lit interior throbs with club music. The wooden tables are set with white plates, folded napkins, and lacquered chopsticks. And a giant golden Buddha overlooks it all. Not surprisingly, since the restaurant is part of the Starr group, the cuisine caters to foodies looking for unique takes on traditional dishes.

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World Oyster at the Easton Public Market

World Oyster at the Easton Public Market
World Oyster at the Easton Public Market

This week finds World Oyster at the Easton Public Market. Opened in 2015, the market is one of the newer attractions in this small eastern Pennsylvania city. It joins Lafayette College, the Crayola Experience, and the National Canal Museum as a local attraction.

Best Lunch: Mister Lee’s Noodles

Second-Best Lunch: Taylor Taco Shop

Decadent Treat to Go: Macarons from Chocodiem

Most surprising: The quality of the dining options

Most disappointing: The small size limits the number of stalls.

Parking: There’s a small parking lot at the back of the market, but it fills quickly. The best bet is to find street parking nearby.

Within easy driving distance from Bethlehem, Allentown, and New Jersey, the Easton Public Market is a fun way to spend an hour or so. Locals will grab a quick lunch or buy a few things for dinner that night. While the offerings are hardly expansive, the market does offer some gourmet options as well as more traditional fare.

Mister Lee’s Noodles

Chef Lee Chizmar is famous in the Lehigh Valley for his excellent farm-to-table French restaurant Bolete. A 2015 James Beard-nominee, Chizmar knows how to coax maximum flavor out of the simplest ingredients. The opening of Mister Lee’s Noodles in the Easton Public Market caused a lot of excitement. Despite knowing all that, I never would have guessed that ramen noodles could taste as rich and as flavorful as they do from this counter. Most hot bowls are topped with a “60-minute egg” — I assume sous-vide — but you can order your dish without one, as I did. Cold bowls tend to include hard boiled eggs.

World Oyster at the Easton Public Market: Hot and Spicy Ramen at Mister Lee's Noodles
Hot and Spicy Ramen, Without Egg, at Mister Lee’s Noodles

World Oyster at the Easton Public Market rates Mister Lee’s Noodles as the best food by a slim margin.

Recommended: Hot & Spicy Ramen, cold Korean BBQ Beef noodles, whatever the daily special is.

Taylor Taco Shop

I love spicy food, one reason why I love the Hot and Spicy Ramen at Mister Lee’s, but that’s not the only spicy option at the Easton Public Market. Taylor Taco Shop offers customized tacos, burritos, and bowls. Although it’s modeled after Chipotle, the fillings are much more distinctive and delicious. You can customize or order one of their combinations. When I last visited, the options included two vegetarian (The Taza with falafel and the Fried Sweet Potato) and one meat (Roast Duck.) You can also dictate exactly what you want. Bowls with seared mahi-mahi and pork carnitas were excellent.

Chocodiem

For those with a sweet tooth, World Oyster at the Easton Public Market must note Chocodiem. The glass cases display a fabulous array of Belgian chocolates and macarons, and everything tastes as good as it looks. Since I’m partial to French macarons, I can’t leave the market without a box of these. Yes, they are expensive, but oh-so-worth-it!

Macarons at Chocodiem: World Oyster at the Easton Public Market
Macarons at Chocodiem

Chocodiem has two other locations, one in Clinton, NJ, and the other in the Bourse in Philadelphia.

Olive With a Twist

Olive With a Twist offers a selection of cheeses, olives oils, vinegars, and other gourmet items. The cheese selection is more limited than I’d like and offers nothing beyond what I can get at Wegman’s. Regardless, it makes a good stop if you are already in the Public Market.

Dundore and Heister

Although I haven’t shopped at Dundore and Heister myself, people rave about the meats sold here. It offers local, pasture-raised, and organic meats.

Highmark Farmstand

Full of Crepe, foreground, and Highmark Farmstand, background
Full of Crepe, foreground, and Highmark Farmstand, background

This small grocery store brims with produce and gourmet items such as local honey. The Highmark Farmstand‘s produce is pricey, but the display of it looks inviting enough to convince you to “strive for five” — or maybe six or seven. Pick up a jar of butterscotch peanut butter for a treat!

The Kitchen

I’ve have never seen The Kitchen’s space used. As I understand it, you can watch cooking demonstrations, take classes, or attend a food-related education workshop. All I know is that I’d love to cook behind those glass windows.

Other Shops of Note

Silvershell Counter + Kitchen is another Lee Chizmar/Erin Shea venture. On my last visit, it had just opened and looked a little . . . not quite open. They offer freshly shucked oysters, fried clams, and lobster rolls as well as foods-to-go.

Eight Oaks Craft Distillers sells small-batch craft spirits from Lehigh County.

Full of Crepe (my favorite Easton Public Market name!) is a popular stop. You can get made-to-order sweet or savory crepes, plus salads.

Scratch uses a brick pizza oven, and it serves its own beer. I was annoyed when I tried to get pizza there during its supposedly open hours and found a “be back soon” sign. Not good on a Saturday. It did open about 30 minutes later, a little after noon.

The Verdict

Although I wish the Easton Public Market were larger, I still found the stop interesting enough to repeat. The dining options offer something for everyone, from traditionalist to gourmet.

Debbie Lee Wesselmann

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Dining in Auckland New Zealand

Dining in Auckland New Zealand: amuse-bouche at the Sugar Club
“Snack” at the Sugar Club

On a brief trip to Auckland, New Zealand, my husband and I dined at some of the city’s best restaurants, from casual to upscale. Not surprisingly, we discovered that dining in Auckland New Zealand can rival that of any major international city. I named two of the restaurants below, The Grove and The Sugar Club, as two of the best restaurants I visited in 2019.

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Cascade The Restaurant: Review

Filet of beef at Cascade The Restaurant
Filet of beef with chimicurri, sweet potato, oyster mushrooms, and goat cheese purée

If a friend had not told me about Cascade The Restaurant at Durham Springs, I would have never tried it. Without this recommendation, I would have missed out on the finest dining available in upper Bucks County, PA. Located in the country amid rolling hills, this restaurant offers innovative dishes that change weekly, perhaps even nightly.

Recommended dishes: Everything. No kidding.

Most surprising: The location, seemingly in the middle of nowhere

Cuisine: Innovative American

Dress: Business casual to dressy

Décor: Modern rustic

Price: Expensive for the area

Under New Ownership, in rural Bucks County

View from a table at Cascade the Restaurant
View from a table at Cascade the Restaurant

I’m shocked that such a fabulous restaurant exists only a few minutes from my home, in the country no less. I’ve had comparable meals in major cities such as San Francisco, Auckland, and New York at higher prices. Of course, the rent/property costs are much more expensive in those areas. That’s not to say that Cascade the Restaurant is cheap.

Many local residents know the building as the Cascade Lodge; however, new ownership has transformed it and stepped it up to a new level. Its new name, Cascade the Restaurant at Durham Springs, evokes the past while signaling the change. Owners Dan and Ian are hands-on management. Chances are, one of them will stop by your table to inquire about your experience. Kudos to them for hiring chef de cuisine Jon McCain, who has a palate for interesting flavors and an artistic eye. After all, when you’re paying for an upscale meal, you want the food to look as beautiful as it tastes.

Service is unpretentious, attentive, but sometimes awkward. I attribute that the newness of the restaurant. Still, the wait staff could use some better instruction on the menu items.

Seasonal Ingredients, With Artistic Flare

Wild-caught sockeye salmon at Cascade the Restaurant at Durham Springs.
Wild-caught sockeye salmon with rhubarb and blood orange sauce, yellow tomatoes

We’ve been to Cascade the Restaurant several times now, and each time the menu has been different. Chef Jon McCain uses seasonal ingredients to highlight the freshest flavors available. For instance, at one visit, I had a blow-me-away sweet corn risotto with crabmeat and shrimp, topped with fiddlehead ferns. At another visit, my husband ordered seasonal wild-caught sockeye salmon with late spring’s rhubarb underneath. My beef filet was adorned with a pansy flower for an edible pop of color.

Burrata appetizer, Cascade the Restaurant at Durham Springs.
Burrata cheese on a bed of rosemary sugar, with beets

Although I’d recommend ordering anything on a given menu, some dishes don’t rise to the level of others. For example, on a Wednesday night pris fixe menu, my scallops were slightly overdone. The rosemary sugar under a full burrata didn’t add as much interest as I had hoped. Despite those disappointments, everything else over four visits has been delicious and perfect.

The Events Center

Owners Dan and Ian have preserved and updated the events center for weddings and parties. Just outside the doors and next to the brook, they have graded a two-tier lawn area that extends to the duck pond.

Although I have not been in the events center itself, I’ve looked into it via the windows in the dining room. It carries over the same décor theme from the restaurant in a larger, open area.

Extras

Cascade the Restaurant at Durham Springs offers free valet parking in a gravel lot just across the road. Recently, they’ve announced the upcoming opening of a roof top café with lighter fare and more casual atmosphere.

The restaurant has a full bar. Although the cocktails are excellent, the wine list is limited, particularly in the by-the-glass offerings. Given the caliber of the restaurant, I wish they’d employ a Coravin to offer better wines by the glass. A Coravin allows restaurants to serve wines at per-bottle prices (that is, bottle price divided by five) without risk of a wine going bad over time. Even without a Coravin, however, the bottle list should be larger.

Recommendations

Make a reservation. Although the dining room hasn’t been completely sold out on our visits, accolades and word-of-mouth might change that. You don’t want to drive into the country, only to find out that you cannot get a table. Most of all, though, prepare yourself for an elegant and unpretentious dining experience.

— Debbie Lee Wesselmann

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Dining in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia

Fresh bread and house-made butter at Vermillion
Fresh Bread and House-made Butter at Vermillion

Two and a half days in Alexandria, Virginia? For me, that’s about perfect, especially when it comes to dining in Old Town. Since the DC metro stops right at the end of King St., you can easily combine visits to both Alexandria and Washington. Below I’ve reviewed some of my favorite restaurants in Alexandria, VA. The historic section may be small, but it has plenty of dining options. We stayed at the Kimpton Lorien Hotel & Spa, and everything below was within walking distance.

Vermillion

My favorite meal, hands down, was at Vermillion, a small, cozy restaurant on King Street. You won’t find white tablecloths here, although the food certainly deserves them. The chef creates dishes that sound simple but are really a complex melding of flavors and textures. Even the butter is house-made.

The menu changes with the season, so you can’t expect everything to be the same; however, you just know from the first bite that you can’t go wrong with anything.

Cocktails are excellent, and they have a wide selection of draft beer. The wine list is limited.

Recommended: roasted Wellfleet oysters; anchovy toasts (two tiny pieces); prime New York strip steak; Skuna Bay Salmon; Marcona almond tart.

Hank’s Oyster Bar

Hank's Oyster Bar
Window seat at Hank’s Oyster Bar

We lunched at Hank’s Oyster Bar, also on King St. and my second favorite dining experience in Alexandria. The restaurant has a typical long, dark bar in one room and a small, bright dining room in the other. You can eat in either room.This casual restaurant has a large selection of oysters — 7, the day I ate there — so of course we had to start with oysters on the half shell. (My favorites were Glacier Point and Salty Wolf. )

Neither one of us could resist the Maine lobster roll with Old Bay-seasoned fries. Yum! Stuffed with sweet Maine lobster meat, easy on the mayo, they were worth every penny.

Lobster roll at Hank's Oyster Bar
Lobster roll at Hank’s Oyster Bar

In a distinctive touch, Hank’s serves a small bowl of chocolate chunks when the bill arrives.

Recommended: oysters any way you like them; Maine lobster roll.

Brabo

We stayed at the Kimpton Lorien Hotel and Spa on King St. Their brasserie, Brabo, is a hopping place. For convenience, we ate there twice, for Happy Hour and for dinner before we left for home. We thoroughly enjoyed both the food and the drinks. My husband was a huge fan of Le Burger, a hamburger topped with gruyere, black truffle aoili, and pickles. The only dish I wasn’t wild about was the roasted cauliflower with capers. The flavors just didn’t meld.

Recommended: mussels mariniere; cheese and charcuterie board; Bartlett pear and goat cheese salad; Le Burger.

The Wharf

Sidewalk seating at The Wharf
Sidewalk seating at The Wharf

After a full morning and early afternoon of sightseeing, I turned once again to King St., this time closer to the waterfront. I had wanted to try The Warehouse because of its excellent reviews; however, the day was so gorgeous that I couldn’t bring myself to enter the darkened interior. Instead, I opted for The Wharf and its sidewalk seating area. (They also serve inside, in a dark and clubby space.)

I ordered a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc and a crab cake. The food and service were competent, good without being excellent. Of course, what I really wanted was to enjoy the day, and The Wharf gave me that.

Recommended: Sidewalk seating for lunch.

Crabcake at The Wharf
Crabcake at The Wharf

Bastille

One of my favorite restaurants from past visits to Alexandria was Bastille. I had high expectations, and I was disappointed. The restaurant has located to a more traditional building that makes it feel somewhat staid and like any other French restaurant. Gone are the exciting, modern vibes of a farm-to-table restaurant.

The chef offers a Monday pris fixe bistro menu of three courses for only $29. They also offer $29 bottles of wine. Both are great deals. Still, the waiter actually asked me how I would like my duck confit cooked. (Duck confit is a dish slow-cooked in fat to preserve it.) The dishes were flavorful and artfully plated, but all far too salty, as if prepared by a smoker.

Recommended (if you don’t mind salty food): duck confit with roasted pear, greens, and potato chunks; filet of beef with fries; arugula salad with salmon rillette, radishes, and cucumber

Debbie Lee Wesselmann