Just a quiet Monday night in Amsterdam
April 23, 2019
Caffè Toscanini, Amsterdam
Arriving early for our reservation, we asked if we could have an aperitif at the bar. I could see we were in safe hands, they stocked all the right brands. I ordered an Americano from the drinks list; equal parts Bèrto Bitter and white vermouth, with a (mere) splash of Fevertree soda. Bèrto Bitter is similar to Campari, but a little softer.
“The cocktail or the coffee?” the barman asked with a smile. “Just to be sure….”
He mixed it with care, rubbing the rim of my glass with a freshly pared twist of orange peel. I asked which white vermouth he used. “It’s a subject for discussion” he said, showing me the bottle from the chiller under the bar. It was red – Carpano Antica Formula – as he believes a classic Americano should be made with red vermouth (I agree). If his female colleague is working, he told me, she follows the menu, and uses white; he shook his head in disapproval.
Playlist at the bar: Marvin Gaye. When we went to our table, there was no music in the restaurant, just an atmosphere of lively enjoyment. The room was full, and it was only Monday night.
The food: the menu and wine list change every week, and there are specials on the blackboard, which made it difficult to choose. There’s no kids’ menu except “Pasta Bimbo” (tomato sauce).
We both ordered the same salad starter from the Antipasti: radicchio, artichoke, speckled romaine lettuce, croutons, aged pecorino and balsamic vinegar. Our waiter advised “I think one is enough, it’s big. You are not rabbits”. He was right. €15.
A risotto from the Primi: white asparagus, Robiola cheese, monk’s beard (agretti).
I chose “Agnello al modo nostro” from the Secondi on the blackboard (helpfully described by our waiter as “lamb made our way…. sort of stewed and grilled”) which turned out to be the essence of spring.
Slices of a prime cut of lamb were tender and pink. A chunk of lamb had been boned and rolled, with herbs in the middle, and a good covering of fat (for succulence and flavour). Then there was another cut, slowly braised with tomato. Under the meat was a grilled sweet pepper and some spinach, and the dish was finished with a scattering of fresh peas al dente, and mint. It was outstanding.
Two kinds of panforte sliced thinly, for Dolci: cinnamon with almonds and cherries, the fruit like translucent fragments of ruby; and a dark one, dense with fig.
Our waiter was a character
Seeing my notebook on the table, he commented that it’s unusual to see someone who still writes with a pen, not (he mimed theatrically) taking hundreds of photos of their food; “what do they ever do with them?”
Assuming he was Italian, I asked where he was from. “Everyone thinks that – I’m originally from Israel, by way of New York”. As we carried on talking, he told us he’s “the oldest waiter in Amsterdam” (of his peer group). Aged 61, he’s been working in Toscanini for 29 years.
Wines at Toscanini
are really well chosen, and the list changes weekly, offering 8 whites and 8 reds by the glass. They are served not too cold, and poured by hand, with a taste offered each time.
Two glasses of 2015 Mario Recchi Franceschini, Offida Pecorino “Petraiae” were wonderful with the salad; golden, soft, rich and complex.
We chose a glass of simple, fresh Sangiovese from Umbria (Bigi) with the lamb (€5.80), and a glass of Soave Pieropan with the risotto.
Antipasti €8 – 21, Primi € 18 – 19, Secondi €20 – 25, Dolci €8
Prices for wine range from €4.80 a glass for something simple and appetising, to €11 for something grander.
To finish the meal I asked for a grappa morbida, the soft one.
The barman said he didn’t have one, “but I’ll find you something”.
He returned with a tumbler of grappa di moscato.
The whole experience reminded us of one of our favourite restaurants in Venice, which prompted the comment “it’s right up there with Al Covo” for its smiles of welcome, wonderful food and a sense of fun.
Caffè Toscanini, Ristorante Cucina Casareccia,
Lindengracht 75, 1015 KD Amsterdam
0031 020 623 2813 https://restauranttoscanini.nl/