(one visit, November 2005)
You may see the entire meal on my flickr account.
de bokkedoorns (Dutch for “the goat horns”) is a little out of the way, but if you’re willing to take a ride out to the Dutch coastal town of Overveen (a few kilometers north of Haarlem), you’ll be treated to a nice meal in the dunes. The restaurant is tucked away in what appears, from the outside, to be an old VFW club-like building from the sixties (I’m not kidding). The entrance, with a fish-bowl round window is the only exterior evidence of the very modern interior. Inside, diners are treated an astonishingly classy interior, with sleek dark grey, black and chrome Art Deco lines.
Michelin two-starred Chef John Bereen runs this Alliance restaurant. Alliance is a regional restaurant association (mostly in the Netherlands, with a few members in Belgium) that focuses on high quality products and good service. They include a number of Michelin starred restaurants, as well as non-starred establishment. Regardless of style or market, all of their members offer an Alliance three-course “Lunch Menu” for 45 € (Netherlands – 52 € in Belgium), a four-course “Alliance menu” for 65 € (Netherlands – 74,50 € in Belgium) in addition to their own degustations and a la carte menus. I opted for the Alliance “Lunch Menu.”
Amuses bouche included a buttery warm blini with brined cod sashimi with a small dab of crème fraiche and lemon. The blini was melt-in-your mouth while the fish provided a slightly chewy, but nice texture. Next came smoked eel cream with diced celeriac served in a martini glass. The smoky/creamy eel puree was pillowy and full of air – like whipped cream. At the bottom were finely diced celeriac bits that lent a toothsome texture. As well – crispy Parmesan biscuits and a black olive on a small skewer.
It was a hard decision between the Irish beef steak tartare with sardines with mushrooms or marinated salmon and tuna with salad of local white beans for a starter. I decided to try the latter, and was happy with the result.
Very fresh sashimi of brined salmon came with two round cutlets of magenta-red tuna topped with horseradish-mint crème fraiche. Small white beans, a bit smaller than Italian white beans, (in Dutch, “citroenbroontjes”) from a local Dutch farm enrobed in a mayonnaise-dill dressing dotted the plate and added a surprisingly welcomed addition – especially for the dill, which I found clever of the chef to tuck away in an unsuspecting place. Sesame seeds swam in the shallow pools of olive oil and balsamic vinegar that ran around the plate. The fish was excitingly fresh, especially after my disappointingly fishy tuna earlier that week at Beluga, in Maastricht.
I never cared much for pigeon (and after my last disappointment at Le Cinq, I would have thought I’d never order it in a non-Chinese restaurant again) – but I didn’t regret my choice (cod, the other choice, just didn’t sound exciting to me at the time). Two modest liver-coloured bare pigeon breasts came sided with thin strips of salsify. The server sauced the plate at the table with red beet sauce, a splash of magenta and just a hint of earthy sweetness. The pigeon meat was expertly done – still tender and a bit red on the inside. Although it had been dusted with licorice candy – the famous Dutch lauriardrops, the gamey, almost livery taste of the pigeon figured prominently. Very fresh… and for once, I actually appreciated pigeon!! Although it came dusted with a few flakes of Maldon sea salt, I helped myself to some more.
Like the beans in the first course, the salsify was covered in a mayonnaise-based dressing and dusted with the same laurierdrops licorice used on the pigeon. Discs of beets sat on equally thin discs of potato, also dressed in a mayonnaise dressing.
The creative note on the plate (besides the use of licorice) was a tangle of floss-thin cooked cabbage topped with sections of pink grapefruit. The grapefruit had been slightly denuded of its moisture, and were somewhat “wilted.” This was all very good – but the cabbage floss did do just that – get between the teeth… it also made for a very complicated “untangling” procedure with the knife and fork and chewing.
The sweet-teeth will be disappointed to know that I passed up a white chocolate tarte with pineapple and vanilla ice cream for a plate of cheese – even though I found it slightly sketchy that they charge an extra 6€ if you wanted to choose from the cart yourself… what have they got to hide??? I left it to the server and got a selection of five cheese, most of which were the usual French suspects: Pouligny, Brin d’Amour, and very in-season Vacherin Mont d’Or served on a spoon, and two welcomed Dutch cheeses: Brabant Blue (slightly sweet, similar to Gorgonzola, but not as offensive as the Australian dessert-like blue, Roaring Forties) and a Oud something-or-another. The Oud (meaning “old” or “aged”) cheese was like an aged cheddar, was deep golden yellow and had specks of crystallized salt running throughout.
As I learned quickly in the Netherlands, after-meal treats are issued as stingily as pre-meal amuses are doled out generously. No coffee meant no petite fours or mignardises… and for this I hold a grudge against Dutch establishments (even though I’m not a sweet-tooth). I find it a little rude, actually… Service was the highlight of this meal – polite, very professional and personable. The setting was really great, once you’re inside looking out at the idyllic dune-bound pond. The food was also very good – solid and high quality. Really, I couldn’t complain… despite lacking a “wow” quality, this experience was solid. If anything – he made me like pigeon!
de bokkedoorns ***
Wethouder van Gelukpark
2051 EB, Overveen
– Miserable: What else do you want to know?
* Okay: Go there if you want edible food, you won’t die, but disappointment is possible.
** Decent: Average food. Nothing to write home about.
*** Good: Memorable. Quality food and service. Would measure up to most standards…
**** Outstanding: Charmed. A jewel of a find and hard to beat.
***** Excellent: Flawless. Seamless, ie. must be very finicky to find something wrong…
****** Speechless: ‘nough said.