On the 23rd floor of the Okura hotel in Amsterdam lies Ciel Bleu, a two Michelin starred seafood restaurant. Perhaps the tallest point in Amsterdam, my solo Tuesday night experience overlooked the sparkling lights of the city.
The food, exquisite. The service, excellent. My only complaints were the price of the food was a bit extreme for six courses + drink pairings (in total the meal was over €300 for just me), and there was at times an overly long delay between courses. Otherwise, certainly a step above the average 1-star restaurant. The food was nearly perfect, and small service touches – offering me a wide selection of reading material, and concluding with an autographed copy of the menu – were greatly appreciated.
The meal, as follows
Red grapefruit | Oyster ‘royal cabanon’ | Vanilla sea salt | Gin Tonic
Salted lemon | ‘beurre blanc’ Ice cream | Onno’s Taste caviar
Softshell crab | Sweetcorn | Chorizo oil
Winter truffle | ‘Ratte’ potato | Truffle butter sauce
Salt crust | North African spices | Pomegranate | Pistachio | Shallot
Virunga Cacao 68% | Black sesame | Banana | Yuzu | Gomasio
I suppose, though, there is a subject that is worth a surface exploration at this juncture. These are initial comments, so feel free to end your reading here, as I have not fully thought out my comments. I want to discuss the nature of restaurant ambiance. I have eaten at 3 starred restaurants and 1 starred restaurants, though the vast majority of my meals are at normal, non-starred places or at home. One often under appreciated element of hospitality (hotels are notorious for this, but restaurants too) is making a venue comfortable. I think the ideal atmosphere is a place that replicates a home. Casual, unfussy, warm and respectful. A place that is extraordinarily serious about their product but does not take itself seriously.
I have many more comments as to how this atmosphere is executed, but the point is this. I enjoyed the “dining experience” at Arzak more than Per Se or Le Bernadin. At its most basic level, Arzak had no dress code. The people were professional, but friendly. The Arzak family walked around the room and Sr. Arzak cursed at my friend. They treated the place like their home, and it was nice. Most 2 and 3 star restaurants tend to feel “sterile;” like visiting the Dr.’s office but in restaurant form. Warmth is under appreciated.