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La Rive, Amsterdam

Mervyn Rothstein
Posted: November 23, 2004

(continued from page 1)

The first official course was a masterpiece of culinary artistry -- a terrine of Jabugo ham, foie gras and simmered beef with oxtail jelly and Sichuan pepper, a thin slice in 25 ultra-narrow layers that alternated between the three main ingredients, a design of architectural beauty and simplicity. The wine, a 2001 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel from California, was chosen for its smoothness, the sommelier said, to fit the foie gras. Even though it retails in the States for around $10 a bottle, and is a surprisingly down-to-earth selection for such a luxury restaurant, it did exactly what the sommelier said it would. (He arrived with each course to lovingly describe the wine in careful detail.)

Next came a small fillet of red mullet fried with its skin and served with small vegetables and brown butter flavored with aged sherry vinegar, and a 2001 E. Knoll Gruner Veltliner, Federspiel, from Wachau, south of Vienna, a Riesling-like wine with a little sweetness and a gentle reminder of its Austrian soil.

Course No. 3 was a small sample of Chef Kats's signature creation, soft and flaky turbot topped with truffles, wrapped in a crisp potato spaghetti and served with stewed chard and veal sauce. It came with an unusual wine, a 1996 Pessac-Leognan L de la Louviere, a white from just south of Bordeaux, mostly Semillon and rich with lemon, pepper and earthy tones.

The final main course was roast Limousin veal, the most tender, succulent veal I've ever had. It was served with gratinated endives, sautéed ceps and its own sage-flavored gravy. The wine was a 1996 Château Marquis de Calon, the second wine of Château Colon-Segur, a Bordeaux with soft, smooth tannins that, the sommelier said, had reached its "perfect time."

Next was the cheese course, a selection of the best French and Dutch varieties. The most notable was golden two-and-a-half-year-old Reypenaer VSOP, as in Cognac, and worthy of the designation. This deep, hard, compact cheese had a pleasantly tangy and slightly nutty taste that lingered magically. Port was offered, but I wanted a little more of the Bordeaux instead.

Before the dessert came perhaps the most adventurous and intriguing combination of the evening, a palate refresher of a watermelon and clove juice with a Sauternes sorbet, a balance of flavors you'd never think would go together. But they did.

For dessert, strawberries came three ways -- a strawberry broth with a compote of raw and sautéed strawberries with black pepper-flavored caramel sauce and lemon ice cream. The dessert wine was a 2002 Robertson Rooi Muscadel from South Africa, a powerful (16 percent alcohol), fresh and fruity essence of strawberry.

That was it -- or just about. The bill -- Gourmet Menu for two, wine tasting for one (they said it was perfectly all right to share), bottled water and espresso -- came to about $330, including tax and service.

Then came the cigars. La Rive's cigar-lounge menu includes Cohiba Robustos, Siglo IVs, Esplendidos and Lanceros; Romeo y Julieta Churchills; Montecristo No. 2s and 4s; and Partagas Serie D No. 4s. Evert Groot, La Rive's manager, said that the demand was huge and constant and that he sometimes had trouble keeping his customers' favorites in stock in his large humidor.

His best seller, he said, is the Cohiba Robusto, which happens to be my cigar of choice. And that evening, it remained my cigar of choice. The robusto's draw was perfect, the taste smooth but strong, the smile on my face memorable (as it is whenever I smoke one my wife says).

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