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La Rive, Amsterdam

Mervyn Rothstein
Posted: November 23, 2004

From its auspicious location on the east bank of Amsterdam's Amstel River, the Amstel Intercontinental Hotel, in a glorious building that dates from 1867, has played host to royalty, rock stars, the cinema's elite and the world's legends. Guests have included Gustave Eiffel, Audrey Hepburn, Orson Welles, Madonna and the Rolling Stones.

The hotel's cigar-friendly French-Mediterranean restaurant, La Rive, has its own prestigious stars -- two of them, in fact, from the all-powerful Michelin Guide. Truth be told, if the restaurant were situated just a bit to the southwest, on the shores of the Rive Gauche in Paris, perhaps, or somewhere else in France, it might already have a third star, the Michelin pinnacle. It is certainly deserved.

La Rive's renowned Dutch chef, Edwin Kats, offers dishes that take the finest ingredients and combine them in unusual and often unique ways that highlight the essence of their flavors -- subtle and deep, never overwhelming but always distinct.

It's not just the cuisine, though, that makes fir a memorable visit. A 15-table room of deep honey-colored wood and Old Master-style paintings creates an ambiance that's both amiably clubby and lavishly romantic. A wall of windows perhaps 10 feet from the Amstel offers breathtaking ground-level views of the water, the passing boats and the city's lights shimmering Monet-like on the gentle current. And a two-volume wine list ranging from Grand Cru to Napa and Sonoma, Spain, Italy, Chile, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa is designed, says the restaurant's sommelier, Ted Bunnik, to be well-balanced, not too overwhelming and to complementary to the dishes.

Plus, you can cap off your dinner with a selection of the finest Cuban cigars -- at amazingly low prices -- in an extensive and well-kept humidor in the restaurant's bar and lounge just across the hall.

The result is an evening long to be remembered, which is what my wife, Ruth, and I experienced on a visit to Amsterdam in early October.

We were greeted with smiles and good cheer, a warm welcome that remained constant all evening, through the four hours of our dinner. The service from the formally attired staff was exactly as it should be -- professional and letter-perfect but relaxed and friendly, with not the tiniest bit of snobbery. We had asked for and were given a table by the window -- though all the tables offer views of the waterway -- and we marveled at the golden light of sunset, followed by the glimmering contrasts of darkness and artificial light.

There's an à la carte menu, with two courses totaling from about $125 to $200 and up per couple, including tax and service but not including wine, dessert or coffee. However, the best bets are the tasting menus, to sample a wider array of Chef Kats's talents. The six-course "Gourmet Menu" is about $106, the seven-course "La Rive Menu" about $122. We opted for the six courses.

The main wine list ranges from about $40 for a bottle of the house red, Domaine de Marotte Cotes de Ventoux 2002, a full and fruity Rhone, or Château Haut Pasquet 2000, a supple Bordeaux, all the way to the standard Grand Cru stratosphere, a 1982 Château Margaux for upward of $1,700. The special menus, though, have wine-tasting options, a generous serving of a different wine with every course, each chosen to match its dish. The cost is about $71 with the Gourmet Menu, $88 with the La Rive, and the variety is more than worth it. Each selection worked perfectly with its companion.

The amuses bouches, the little extra goodies to start the evening, set the tone -- a bit of mushroom mousse with guinea fowl, a tiny dim sum with fresh tuna and tomato, a razor-thin slice of deep-fried blood pudding with a quail egg, a tiny fillet of perch with a foamed sauce of oysters and truffle.

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