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Photo: juanalberto10 on Flickr

There are no sunrises or sunsets in Amsterdam. Instead, the sun seems to just arrive in the morning, popping into the sky, an amber hunk of light that blares openly, until some indeterminate point much later in the day, when, without warning, it slips away. Those hours in between, it illuminates an amazing little city: Amsterdam is a quiet riot of canals and water and bicycles and wobbly buildings and friendly people and art and some of the best food I’ve ever had.

I arrived in Amsterdam looking to check a location off my list: Even though I’ve traveled all over Europe, I’d somehow never made it to Amsterdam. To me, Amsterdam was mostly a city in between some of the iconic cities of Europe, places like London, Paris, Barcelona, Rome. But dozens of my friends raved about Amsterdam, about all the things I was missing, so we finally booked a trip to the Netherlands a few weeks ago. Upon arriving, I mentioned to Wifey that perhaps we would bump into some Dutch celebrities. I didn’t tell her that the celebs that I had in mind were all soccer players, guys like Edwin Van Der Saar, Ruud Van Nistlerooy, Clarence Seedorf.

Upon arriving, after making a requisite stop at one of Amsterdam’s coffeeshops, I somehow navigated us to Van Dobben, a legendary luncheonette right around the corner (I think) from the Rembrandtplein. Wifey and I slipped through the front door and into the crowded diner, and I was immediately perplexed and intimidated. My instincts suggested I make a Cruyff turn and head for the door, but Wifey convinced me to stay and give it a shot.

We settled atop two stools at the counter, and eventually figured out how to order a couple of broodjes, or sandwiches, one topped with croquettes, one with perfectly roasted beef. The rolls were smeared with yellow butter, the fillings placed between the buns. At each table was a jar of dijon mustard and a bottle of Maggi. We were given glasses of milk, and my mind flashed to the film Clockwork Orange, which made my mind jump to Clockwork Oranje. Van Dobben was hopping with activity, patrons constantly coming in and out, while the three employees behind the counter worked at an amazing rate. They seemed a bit dyspeptic, like the people who worked the lunch counter at my elementary school, yet these folks worked with a breathtaking industriousness, as though they knew that if they slowed their work rate one iota, the entire enterprise would collapse. These employees’ roles seemed to be interchangeable — possibly a nod to Total Football — as they spun and bumped and plated and served.

I was surprised one evening when we stopped at not a green house but a greenhouse, which ranked among the best restaurants I’ve ever been to in my life. De Kas is located in the middle of a park on the outskirts of the city. As we walked across the wooden bridge that links the restaurant to the street, as if on cue, two storks swooped out of the milky sky and settled into their nest atop an ancient brick silo next to the dining room. De Kas is built to look like a greenhouse, perhaps a magical greenhouse, with a soaring 26-foot high glass ceiling. There is one seating per night, and there is no menu offered. Every diner is served a five-course, prix-fixe meal of whatever the freshest ingredients are that Chef Ronald Kunis can get his hands on that day. The night we were there, we began with fish, as well as vegetables so incredibly fresh that you could taste the chlorophyll.

Our main that evening was a slice of suckling pig that had been wrapped in ham and slow roasted until it was juicy and succulent, served on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes, laced with wilted greens. If it weren’t considered uncouth, I would have licked the plate.

After eating, Chef Kunis gave us an impromptu tour of the greenhouse. It was late, so the dark sky loomed above through the glass ceiling. The air was warm and sultry and smelled of acrid soil. We walked through the plants, and the Chef would stop and pluck off a leaf here and there, then hand them to us to munch on. And there, squatting on wooden boards atop fertilized dirt, the moon blooming above me, chewing on fresh leaves, I realized what Amsterdam was to me: A quiet riot of canals and water and bicycles and wobbly buildings and friendly people and art.

And some of the best food I’ve ever had.

Lang Whitaker is the Executive Editor of SLAM magazine, a contributing editor to Antenna Magazine, a contributor to NBA TV and the co-host of NBA.com’s Hangtime Podcast. His memoir, In The Time Of Bobby Cox: The Atlanta Braves, Their Manager, My Couch, Two Decades, and Me, was released in March.


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