We found a big collection of restaurants surrounding the Rembrandtplein on a diversion from our route back home this afternoon and resolved to come back and see about dinner tonight. So after a few hours of writing and resting, we went back out and made our way there.
Life your average touristy cluster of indoor/outdoor restaurants, just about every food imaginable was available. American, Dutch, Italian, and even an intriguing Portuguese restaurant that didn’t make the cut tonight, but will certainly remain on the list. We decided to work our way around the square, reading menus and trying to find that perfect spot. Places that offered 6 or more cuisines were immediately cut because if you’re trying to make them all work, none of them are going to be memorable. About 3/4 of the way around, we found a side street and that was where we finally landed. One side of the street was easy to eliminate, all those establishments were drinks only. As we began our return trip on the east side, one place caught our eye – Isola Bella. Now, I realized I earlier stated that “no one wants Italian on their first night in Amsterdam,” but this being our second night, that bar was already cleared. And given that the menu offered at least 5 interesting options per person, the choice was clear – we went in and sat down.
It was clearly a family operation, judging from the similarities between the guys running it. We took a table near the window and tried to work our choices down to a handful. My final list was three and finally came down on the side of Gnocchi al Ragú. MLW had a tougher time winnowing but decided, in the end, to go with a Sole dish. Two glasses of house wine and a basket of bread with pesto butter were delivered and we settled in to wait for the main event.
My Gnocchi arrived first – an enormous platter of little potato dumplings bathed in red sauce dotted with little chunks of stewed beef. It looked delicious and my first bite confirmed that my eyes were assessing the situation properly. A few minutes later, MLW’s dish was brought out by one of the owners. He set down two plates and a bowl on the table next to us and went to work. One plate held a few roasted potatoes and a few broccoli spears. The bowl, an herbed butter sauce. The second plate, an entire sole, pan-roasted to a delectable golden brown.
Using a big fork and spoon, he went to work on the fish, first removing and shuttling the head to the side of the plate. After doing the same with the tail, he meticulously worked his way along the edges of the fish, moving a bit of the side flesh away from the body. He flipped the body over and removed the spine and the adjacent bones before dividing the remaining body into 4 slim filets, which he gently lifted and placed on the vegetable plate. To finish the ritual, he bathed the filets with herb butter from the bowl before delivering the final product. Not surprisingly, the taste of the dish amazingly surpassed all the work put into the presentation. Tender, seasoned perfectly, perhaps the best piece of fish MLW had ever had. We were expecting a good meal, and we were not disappointed. The theatrics made it all that much better.
On the far side of Rembrandtplein, we heard that telltale “clip-clop” telling us that horses were present. The first we’ve encountered here, outside of a few seen on our train rides. A pair of policemen riding their mounts through the square.
Stuffed, we departed and took a slightly different route home, pausing to look at some very interesting house barges moored along the Amstel River. A handful of canal tour boats were plying their trade, including one with booming disco and flashing black lights. As we reached our place, the rain was once again starting to spit so we wrapped our day up just in time.
Thanks for details of the fish meal. One can almost see and taste it.
And Pesto butter, hmmm. Sounds like your discerning restaurant sleuthing paid off!