Zwolle, Netherlands

Photo: De Librije

Would you prefer brown crab, crayfish, or capers cabbage? Do you like monkfish, young cod, or asparagus? Does farmer’s pigeon, Kamper lamb, or “land and sea” sound better? Can you picture Époisses, toasted white chocolate, or foie gras—yes, foie gras—as your final dish? Are you thinking five, six, or seven courses? You have some tough decisions to make.

And those are just the options if you select the Librije menu. You can order classic dishes, like North Sea lobster in a kombucha broth or river trout with lemongrass foam, from the à la carte menu. You can pick the vegetable menu, which features more asparagus (’tis the season), sweet corn, and roses. Then there’s the worldly wine list, which was crafted to complement each dish. The decisions don’t get any easier.

These difficult choices are courtesy of De Librije. It’s one of, if not the, best restaurant in the Netherlands. It received its first Michelin star in 1993. Six years later, it earned its second one. It’s had three stars since 2004. The restaurant is also on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (number 34 this year). But it’s not in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, or even Maastricht, like you might expect.

Photo: De Librije

De Librije is in Zwolle, the capital of the Overijssel province. It’s 65 miles east of Amsterdam and is known as the gateway to the Northern Netherlands. The city, which sits on a hill in between four rivers, has been inhabited since the Bronze Age. It became an important and wealthy city during the Middle Ages. Many of the buildings in the historic center, including St. Michael’s Church and the Sassen Gate, are from this period. So is the library of a Dominican abbey, which now houses this award-winning restaurant.

But De Librije doesn’t feel old or stuffy or unapproachable. The dining room has white-washed brick walls, live trees, and a glass ceiling. There are round tables, semi-circular booths, and blue and beige chairs. It has an open kitchen, so you can watch Chef Jonnie Boer at work. His wife, Thérèse Boer-Tausch, is the sommelier. They’re both from the Zwolle area and are passionate about turning regional food into creative dishes. It shows on the plates that look like pieces of art.

So have you made any decisions yet? Go for it. You should order the Librije menu with seven courses, pick the four dishes that first catch your eye, and let the chef fill in the rest. And you should start with a glass of sparkling wine. It’s from England, of all places. It’s a delicious surprise just like the rest of the meal is about to be.

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