Posts Tagged ‘eating out’

Mid-Week Thoughts

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If you didn’t notice, last Sunday I skipped my usual ‘Lunch Date’ review. I did go out to lunch with hubby, to Chez Alexander in Almere, but I felt I desperately needed a break from writing. A day to do absolutely nothing (kind of) and just enjoy the newly-decorated house and my family. It felt great. It sounds strange to say I needed a “break” from writing, which is something I love doing and how I earn my living, but believe me, at a certain point, your brain is just fried. Especially when you write about such a broad variety of subjects as I do.
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Lunch Date Saturday: Allegria

Allegria BussumItalian. That’s what I was craving when I woke up yesterday morning, still clueless as to where our Saturday lunch date adventure would take us. I wanted simple, authentic Italian food. Nothing fancy, no frills. Just a perfectly cooked pasta perhaps, or a good risotto. And a proper Italian wine to match, of course. But the cure for my craving needed to go beyond pure gustatory satisfaction this time, because in fact, I wasn’t just craving Italian food — I was craving Italy.
After narrowing down my choices, purely based on menus and photos of restaurant interiors, I decided on Allegria in Bussum, a town in the province of North Holland and one I’ve visited many times before.
Part shop and part restaurant, Allegria (meaning ‘happiness’ or ‘joy’) is pretty much a one-stop location for those who love all things Italian. Located in the front is the shop part where you will immediately be welcomed (not to mention helplessly lured) by a broad variety of Italianess: cookbooks, kitchenware, watches, handbags, vintage knick-knacks, wines, pastas, oils, canned tomatoes, sauces, vinegars, pizza ovens, percolators, sweets, and more, and more and more! It’s not just the products that make the heart flutter, but also the way they are beautifully displayed. Every corner of the shop oozes Italian passion. Tastefulness. Definitely pure joy.
Allegria Bussum
A little further on, is the deli section, which also supplies the restaurant with its antipasti and sandwich toppings. There are cheeses, cured meats, olives, pestos and more. I could have easily spent hours here, but it was the restaurant, found at the back of the establishment, that I was most interested in.
Entering the room immediately felt familiar and warm. Plain tables and sturdy black chairs; religious paraphernalia; an attractive buffet cabinet elegantly displaying a collection of wine glasses, above it a framed map of Rome; a row of cookbooks; paintings, priced and offered for sale; and in the middle, a drinks cabinet sumptuously stocked with wines, liqueurs and other spirits. It didn’t feel like being at a restaurant, it felt as though I was visiting an Italian friend.
And the food…
The lunch menu mainly offers a large variety of sandwiches, but there are also antipasti, four pizzas, one soup and one pasta. There is no wine list. Instead, there is wine advice. All you have to do is ask.
We started with the antipasti. I ordered a mixed plate that came with a variety of deliciousness including coppa di parma, taleggio, provolone, gorgonzola (probably one of the best I’ve ever had) and fragrant pesto. Hubby chose the plate with three crostini: one topped with spicy prawns, the other with basil pesto, gorgonzola and a sundried tomato, and the last with red pesto and prosciutto. In a tiny dish, the waitress prepared a flavorful oil for us to dip our bread and breadsticks in. Paired with a glass of Prosecco, we shared the two dishes before moving on to the main.

Allegria BussumMy choice was the ravioli filled with ricotta and black truffle and topped with rocket lettuce and pine nuts. I missed more truffle in the ravioli filling and think the dish could’ve done with a good drizzle of oil, something I could luckily correct myself since there was a bottle of fabulously grassy olive oil on our table. For Hans the pizza ‘Salumi’ was satisfying and uncomplicated: a decent crust (though we suspected not freshly made), tomato sauce and sliced meats. The wine choice was left up to our waitress, who recommended a Nero d’Avola, chock-full of juicy raspberries with a hint of chocolate and a long, smooth finish for Hans, and for me a crisp, minerally Pecorino, a wine that immediately made me think of summer. And in case you’re wondering, yes, the wine pairs beautifully with the cheese that goes by the same name.
Allegria Bussumbonnetje-allegriaNo room for dessert this time, unfortunately, though our espresso and cappuccino arrived with a too-tempting-to-pass-up dish of Italian sweets.
The service was flawless and adept, the food and wine quite satisfactory and the atmosphere precisely what I was looking for when I envisioned an afternoon escape to Italy that morning. I will be back for dinner in the near future — and will definitely drop in anytime I’m lusting after la dolce vita, which in my case, is incredibly often…

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A ‘Ridiculous’ Price to Pay

Last Saturday as hubby and I were driving to Haarlem for our lunch date (have you read the review yet?), we were talking about my experience at the recently opened Proeflokaal Bregje in Almere (read that review, too?). Was I too harsh, I asked? Was I expecting miracles for such a price? I mean, seriously. What the heck did I think I was going to get for €12,50? For three courses, that price is just plain ‘ridiculous’, so chill it there girlfriend! Right?? Well, actually, he reminded — wrong.
Let’s rewind back to a rainy August afternoon in France in 2013. Just as an example, because believe me, I could give you more. We were on our way to further explore the Médoc wine region and had agreed to stop along the way at a restaurant recommended by one of my favorite Dutch wine growers (and cheeky devil of a writer) Ilja Gort. This particular restaurant, called La Fontaine, supposedly served a pretty awesome lunch menu for the mere price of €13,00. I knew I had to check it out, not because I thought this couldn’t be done, but because it was recommended by Mr. Gort. A good lunch (with what I call ‘stick-to-the-ribs’ food) for almost next to nothing is not that uncommon in France, a country that takes its lunch breaks (and its food, but that goes without saying) very seriously.
But alas, when we arrived, on a Monday, La Fontaine was closed. Somewhat disappointed we continued on a bit further, in the direction of Pauillac, where somewhere along the way hubby pointed out a roadside restaurant. I, however, was just the slightest bit hesitant. From the outside it did not look that inviting. A little too rugged for my taste.
I did agree though, as I was hungry… and eager to get on with our wine tour. And holy heavens am I glad I did!
Brace yourself, because here it comes! Don’t mind the lesser quality photos…
The starter was succulent prawns served with a simple green salad dressed with not much more than a well-prepared citrusy and fabulously tangy mayo. Oh and there was bread. Plenty of good, chewy French bread.
French foodThen came the main: A steak perfectly grilled, sprinkled with a bit of coarse salt and served with good thick-cut chips, crunchy on the outside and piping hot. The vegetables were simple, but who’s going to bitch about vegetables when you’ve already been served the mother of steaks??
French cookingI should mention that each of us got a small pitcher of wine to go with our meal. Not crap wine. A simple, smooth merlot and a fruity rosé. Note: that’s my daughter’s ‘coca’ in the background. On holiday, she’s allowed…
French cookingThere was even dessert, mousse au chocolat, which I did not photograph (sorry) and coffee to round it all off.
And all of that for the ‘ridiculous’ price of  €15,00 per meal. €15,00!! Just  €2,50 more than what I paid at Proeflokaal Bregje (excluding the crappy Cosmo). That ‘ridiculous’ price was enough to buy me a meal at Au Poivre et Sel in Le Pian-Médoc. A meal that left me swooning. Yes, people. It is possible.
If the French can do it, why can’t we?

Proeflokaal Bregje

Bregje almereLet me cut to the chase here. Although last night’s dinner company was wonderful, the food at the recently opened Proeflokaal Bregje in Almere left a lot to be desired (plus, came with a complimentary hair in my companion’s plate).
The concept sounded good: two courses for the wallet-friendly price of only €9,50 served between 5PM and 7PM, and a three-course option for €12,50 served from 7PM to 10PM. The menu? Equally appealing. Starters such as Angus steak tartare or prawn croquettes, a simple yet varied choice of mains (duck breast, too — my favorite!), and classic desserts such as tiramisu and crème brûlée. Oh, and cocktails. They even offered four cocktails, including yet another favorite of mine, the Cosmopolitan!
And that’s where all my expectations slowly started to crumble…
But let me rewind. When I walked in, I was warmly greeted by a very amiable gentleman who led me to the table where my friend was waiting. The place was packed and the interior cozy and inviting with rustic touches and a soft, shimmery glow courtesy of the single candles placed on each table. Exactly the kind of restaurant I’d want to whisk hubby off to for a romantic mid-week dinner à deux, I thought.
We ordered a Cosmo, we toasted, we sipped… and my heart sank. After tasting not much more than diluted cranberry juice, I swiftly picked up the drinks menu fearing I had chosen a virgin. Nope. Vodka and triple-sec were clearly listed. One-and-a-half wets of the whistle later, the prawn croquettes arrived, lukewarm and slightly soggy on the outside, but with a lime mayo that made them rather palatable. Luckily, with a few turns of the salt mill, the duck (served in an aromatic orange sauce) was edible. For me anyway, because my friend quickly lost her appetite when she discovered a hair halfway through the meal. By this time, we were wondering whether we should just leave and skip dessert.
We stayed, and the crème brûlée, unfortunately, did not make up for the rest one bit. Where was the vanilla and why skimp on the egg yolks? I suppose I know the answer to that question.
Interestingly enough, before joining my friend for dinner, I met up with a colleague for a glass of wine at another restaurant just a stone’s throw away, where, I should mention, €12,50 will hardly get you a main. It was painfully deserted and quite the contrast with the crowded Proeflokaal Bregje.
Cheap attracts, that’s for sure. Pity for the stylish interior and friendly staff, not to mention for the better, surrounding restaurants…and for us.

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