The restaurant food is hit-or-miss. Most dishes are under seasoned, but that doesn't mean you won't eat well. You'll have good cafe food--great sandwiches, delicious cheese, excellent coffee, and lots of really good breads, rolls, and desserts.
EATING AND DRINKING WHAT'S LOCAL
Interestingly, some Dutch export products consumed at home taste much better when you're in Holland. Heineken and Grolsch, for instance, have more subtleties and depth of flavor.
What's more, you know you're not in Kansas anymore when you taste gouda made from cow's or goat's milk and flavored with any one of a dozen herbs and seasonings, including stinging nettle, cumin, pepper, mustard seed, garlic and onions, coriander, Italian herbs (garlic, sun dried tomatoes, and olives), walnuts, hot pepper, garlic, or basil.
Locals will tell you that the best herring is caught in the spring. Purists avoid the traditional condiments, onions and pickles, preferring to savor the fish au naturel. To eat them Amsterdam style, order your herring whole, pick it up by the tail, tilt back your head, and let the fish descend into your mouth as you greedily ingest it.
If you can't get a reservation at either restaurant, the locals know that you can order from the Haesje Claes menu at De Koningshut (Spuistraat 269), the homey workingman's bar next door. Whatever you try from the extensive menus should be accompanied by large quantities of Dutch beer or, an Amsterdam favorite, Jupiler from Belgium.
A good friend who has visited Amsterdam many times, says that the best way to experience the city is to rent an apartment, cook your own food and live like a local.
In the afternoon or early evening, when you need a coffee, sandwich, or beer, you'll stop by a brown cafe--so called because their interiors are almost entirely brown. Originally the cafes earned their distinctive color not from paint but years of accumulated cigarette smoke. Today, however, smoking is restricted to outdoor patios and the coffee shops that sell pot and hash.
There are also smaller but still crowded cafes at the New Market (Nieumarkt) or the collection of bars and restaurants with outdoor seating where Spui, Spuistraat, and Singel meet in front of the American Book Center and the Athenaeum Boekhandel.
For ethnic food, there are many Asian restaurants through out the city. Because of the Netherlands colonial history, Indonesian restaurants serving rijsttafel (rice table) have long been popular. The always crowded, Restaurant Kantjil & de Tijger (Spuistraat 291-293) bills itself as an Indonesian restaurant, but the menu suggests a fusion of many Asian cuisines.
Zeedijk street, from Prins Hendrikkade in front of Centraal Station to New Market (Nieumarkt), along the western edge of the Red Light District, has dozens of restaurants serving the cuisines of many nations.
If you hunger for large platters of meat, there are Argentinean and Brazilian restaurants. For Asian cuisine, Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese.
Besides the usual Mandarin and Cantonese menus, there is Suriname Chinese, another remnant of the Dutch colonial experience.
THE BEST OF THE BEST
Balthazar's Kitchen (Elandsgracht 108) another local favorite is a small restaurant with a big reputation. On the few nights I was in Amsterdam I could never secure a reservation. The same was true of the French restaurant, Braque (Albert Cuypstraat 29-31) where a friend and I were turned away two nights in a row.
I had better luck at the Supperclub (Jonge Roelensteeg 21). The well-polished brass doorway downstairs hints at the grand setting upstairs. Begun two decades ago, the Supperclub has branches in London, Singapore, San Francisco, and Istanbul, with plans to open in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
On Sunday, "Slave" is explored by an outside curator. On the day I attended, Andre d. Singleton, a New Yorker, presented an evening that consisted of short videos and musical performances, with the aim of "complicating gender."
Opened in 2000 in a renovated municipal greenhouse on the southern end of Park Frankendael, south-east from the city center, the restaurant has the homey feel of a neighborhood hangout, albeit one in an all-glass house.
The three starters were presented at the same time and were all cleverly served at room temperature so the diner isn't compelled to eat one before the other.
With all these dishes, the chef carefully balances flavors and textures, paying homage to the Dutch preference for pickled vegetables by including either pickling spices and/or lightly pickled vegetables.