This is a longer post than normal – and could have been longer!
In addition to doing the touristy things and drinking what seemed to be a boatload of Heineken, my wife Michele and I enjoyed some very good dining while in Amsterdam over the weekend. A sleek new restaurant called Envy Friday night, (which had a very nightclub-like feel but NO music – it was very strange and we asked the server about it and she rolled her eyes and said she thought the same thing – it was strange), and a Michelin one star restaurant called Vermeer, Saturday night (the 5 course vegetable inspired tasting menu was great paired with wine although there was a scallop in there along the way).
But we went for something completely different (ode to Monty Python) Sunday night. I had heard of but never experienced a ‘house’ dinner. They apparently exist all over the world but I had little knowledge of how they worked (or why for that matter). Through a friend of one of my wife’s friends we were told to go and have dinner at Angelo Agnello’s outside the city center. His reputation as a chef was glowing from those that eaten there. The Hotel Pulitzer where we stayed had not heard of him at all. It sounded interesting if not a bit daring. It was much more than that.
We took a fifteen minute taxi ride to get there. A nondescript apartment building in a non-descript Amsterdam suburban neighborhood. Up three flights of narrow, twisting stairs and we met Angelo. And he offered a memorable dinner and show. Just the two of us. No menu. He did ask Michele on the phone if we liked curry. Hmmm. No pricing (he told us to leave whatever we thought we wanted to pay – the Priceline model of eating dinner).
Starting with caviar and crème fraiche, prawns in a mild garlic and olive oil reduction, salad with tomatoes and homemade feta cheese, a spicy chicken curry, a wonderful lemon tart with meringue, and the offer of cheese (which we simply could not eat). Two bottles of wine (a Greek red and French Red) as well as a glass of port which he got from friends in Portugal.
But what was more interesting was the conversation. Angelo claimed to have lived in 16 countries, spoke 7 languages (he grew up in Mozambique and is of Indian descent), played professional soccer (injuring himself which ended his career) and has cooked in London, France and a host of other places. He has cooked for dignitaries and people from all over the world. He had just catered (all by himself) a dinner for 150 people. Angelo told us that he normally does not sit down with people but we had asked him to join us and he felt comfortable enough to do so. Music played in the background (he regularly asked if we liked the music). Dinner was a 4 ½ hour deal.
We left what we felt was a fair price for the dinner. He seemed quite pleased. In addition to making the feta and cooking the whole meal, Angelo gave us a bottle of the Porto, a host of the Dutch wafer cookies (that he made himself), a bottle of the French red and tried to send us off with a bunch of other parting gifts which we politely declined.
The experience of not knowing what to pay and putting down what we felt was a fair value was truly interesting. My wife and I both felt there was a fair amount of embellishment by Angelo of his exploits. And yet that did not take away from the charm of the evening – it added to it. In fact in one conversation Angelo offered to show us around Amsterdam Saturday night (we declined) and was ready to walk us back to our hotel (we declined that too) after showing us the park that Anne Frank played in near her actual home which was far from where she was hiding in 1942-1944.
I feel that those people that have dinner at Angelo’s miss out on an unusual yet deeply memorable experience. I hope we get the chance to meet Angelo again. And I wonder if there is a model there for name your own price dining? Would you be willing to offer customers the opportunity to pay what they think is fair for your service? Would I? I can’t say I am completely comfortable with the notion but it is interesting to consider.
If ever you get the chance to dine at a local’s house when traveling I suggest you say yes. It will be weird at times but an experience you will never forget.
Last thing I want to do is to de-romanticize what sounds like a transcendent experience… but the reason the dinner was “name your own price” is because by not “charging” you he was not, legally, running a restaurant – which would probably have been illegal in an apartment setting. The chef who does such a dinner is at risk of being stiffed by less generous types, and has no recourse, since you aren’t supposed to be paying for meals in an apartment — glad you did the right thing, Mark, but I would expect nothing less from you!
Funny you chose Envy — in our 2-night stay in Amsterdam with the kids that was where we ate, as well. Excellent meal.
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