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Great Dining In Holland
By Ralph Collier

Brain surgery is a cinch. It’s charting three cities in three days in Holland that demands real effort and stamina.

Arriving at the crack of dawn on North West/KLM Airlines at Amsterdam’s spiffy Schiphol Airport, the driver deposits a tired guest at the elegant Amstel International Continental Hotel, still stellar after 137 years in this liquid city. What other hotel can offer the sheer serenity at that hour along with a staff so smoothly competent and welcoming. They make opulence and indulgence seem natural and easy.

Just below our window, at the Amstel’s private dock, an antique saloon boat is moored, awaiting guests who want to experience a ride on the Amstel Canal in a "Gentlemen’s Launch," propelled silently by an electric motor. Nothing has been overlooked, and for those who wish to dine aboard with glass in hand and culinary treats from the hotel’s multi-Michelin-starred kitchens, the staff boards with Chef Robert Kranenborg’s delights.

For those who wish to dine in the hotel’s La Rive Restaurant in Brasserie, orders are taken aboard the ship to limit waiting time. La Rive is a tranquilizer as precious as Prozac when one leaves the busy city behind, and the solicitous staff awaits those prepared for the ultimate in dining. However, we elect to eat at the Chef’s Table in the kitchen, placing ourselves in Robert Kranenborg’s capable hands.

We are riding the highs of discovery as tiny fried olives are served in a piquant tuna sauce along with breads baked in the kitchen. The Scallops St. Jacques from Brittany are served on a bed of endives, followed by the chef’s signature dish of langoustines (giant prawns flown in from France) in a sauce made of artichokes, spinach and potatoes. Another arresting dish is our entrée, a rack of veal with white asparagus (a vegetable available here only in late spring), and served here in a rich sauce of chopped eggs, butter, parsley, and a touch of nutmeg. Our dessert is a chic Napoleon served with raisin chutney that is coffee flavored, appearing in the form of the lightest puff pastry on a plate with fruit coulis calligraphy. A triumphant dinner at the Amstel, our European Hotel of the Year.

Savelberg Hotel The romantic Savelberg, a European country house, is barely 20 minutes by car from the Hague. Owned by the chef of the same name, Savelberg has grown into a superb restaurant and leisure complex. His creative kitchens and unbelievable wine list may indeed be the envy of competitors throughout Holland.

Located on a small canal in Voorburg, and surrounded by acres of greenery, this beautiful 17th century manor house has 14 rooms and suites with views of the park. Lunch and dinner can be served in its stately dining rooms, or al fresco on the grand terrace (weather permitting). Given our choice, we again opt for the Chef’s Table where Maestro Savelberg prepares langoustines in delicate puff pastry topped with a remoulade consisting of corn and sweet breads and essence of Guinea hen. There’s lobster salad complete with artichokes, fois gras and black truffles sauce, and Savelberg slices a delicate one-inch strip of turbot, briefly grilled and braced by white asparagus and truffles in a special butter sauce.

Desserts arrive as a trio, with dramatic pauses. A crème broulee just out of the oven complete with delicate, tiny wild strawberries is followed by a sextet of pastries on a heavily gilded silver tray. There are kaleidoscopic variations, including orange rind covered chocolate, infectious chocolate truffles, and sugar-covered flaky puffed pastry with vanilla ice cream.

Holland’s long association with Indonesia has resulted in a Dutch treat in the Hague in the form of a restaurant called Djawa located on tiny Mallemolen Street. Indonesian cuisine means an early start in the kitchen as dishes are marinated throughout the day and then served spiced to the individual taste.

Dining with Djawa’s owner, we follow his lead and sample an appetizer of fried light rice flour, filled with prawns and minced chicken. The sauce is a tomato ginger concoction that calls for one encore after another. Chicken soup, like no other, is a melange of coconut milk, eggs, bean sprouts, and more prawns. Rows of plates, each with its own mini oven are placed on our table to keep the morsels warm. There’s chicken, marinated in charcoal with lemon grass, onions and ginger. A red snapper is served in soy oil, and more prawns, charcoal broiled in a mild pepper sauce. And then, sauteed goat, tasting not unlike beef, accompanied by a house-made chili sauce.

This cuisine is based on classic technique and tradition, and punctuated with original flavors. For a visiting Yankee, few gastronomic events are awaited as breathlessly as this, and Djawa emerges with flying (Indonesian) colors.

Ralph Collier is a member of the American Society of Travel Writers, and has guided thousands of vacationers and business travelers to rewarding adventures with his widely syndicated radio series and newspaper columns.

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