WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Food Critic Masquerade

By on March 1, 2016

Amsterdam, space cakes and pleasures of the Italian palate.

Following his mind-expanding Amsterdam adventure, the author poses with his signature loaf.  (Photo: andrew munz)

Following his mind-expanding Amsterdam adventure, the author poses with his signature loaf.  (Photo: andrew munz)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – One of my responsibilities at the Hildibrand Hotel in Iceland is bread baking. Despite having never made bread before in my life, I was tasked with inventing a signature loaf for the restaurant. I tried out a couple recipes and then settled on a variation of Paul Hollywood’s (of “Great British Bake Off” fame) Rustic Loaf.

Most of my Eurotrip for the past two weeks involved me sitting in cafés trying to figure out how to perfect the recipe and get that damn dough to rise and bake evenly. I even bought a bread-baking cookbook in Germany and obsessed over the pages during my train rides. I knew I needed to sample some delicious baked goods at my next stop.

I was eager to finish off my vacation with two days in Amsterdam. I didn’t know a soul and, after so many nights of sleeping in bunk beds and/or living rooms, I decided that I would book my own hotel room for some restful alone time. I’m not the kind of traveler who looks up the Top 10 Best Things To See In [insert location] and tries to cram as much into my day as I can. I like to build up some courage and let the city or the country show me the way.

I checked into the Hotel CC, which was not too far away from the Amsterdam Centraal Station, and took a wayfaring meander in a random direction. The side streets can be pretty claustrophobic and if you don’t have your wits about you, you’re probably gonna get flattened by a careening motorist or (arguably more aggressive) cyclist.

However, because I was in Amsterdam, being alert or mindful meant very different things. I proceeded to the Green House Coffee Shop to partake in the Netherlands’ most popular herbal pastime. I did one of those awkward entrances where you walk in with purpose because you don’t want to look like an outsider, but quickly felt out of place in the thick fog of marijuana that lingered in the air. I decided to grab a coffee and a space cake. The waitress told me to be patient because it would take a while to… kick… in.

(Insert six hours of me sitting in my hotel room listening to Spotify and talking to myself, because I realized I had never “met” myself…)

When the sun set I realized I was starving. Nothing sounded better than Italian food—not just pizza or pasta, mind you, but real Italian food. I quickly went on TripAdvisor and discovered Ristorante Vasso, a small traditional eatery with prices on par with the Rendezvous Bistro. I put on my jacket, pocketed my journal and made my way through the cobblestoned spider web that is Amsterdam.

I was seated immediately and began writing down some thoughts in my journal. When writers eat alone, they’re often obsessing over their current creative project. And when high writers eat alone, they write about every goddamn thing they think about.

As I was eating my octopus salad and balsamic steak, (I had no idea what anything on the menu meant so I just pointed and smiled and said grazie) I began writing down everything I loved about the meal, from the fresh herbs to the simplicity of the vegetables to the incredible texture and bake of their house loaf. When the restaurant owner brought me a free glass of wine and a dessert, I began thinking about my own bread in Iceland and how I could improve upon it.

Before he left, he took a glance at my journal and I suddenly realized why I was getting treated so well. They thought I was a food critic! Of course! An American, eating alone in a classy restaurant, writing in his journal, savoring every bite and probably smiling aimlessly. What else could he be doing here?

I paid my bill, tipped generously (do you tip in Amsterdam?) and made my way back to the hotel, satisfied that I would be able to perfect my loaf. And despite being completely embarrassed by my antics, I was thankful for the experience. I have not yet written a TripAdvisor review, but after free dessert, I’m pretty sure I’m required to. PJH

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