Sunday 14 September 2008

The cravings of an omnivore - Castell Amsterdam

A life beefed up
The weather was nice enough to persuade me to go out for a walk of sorts. As I got into town, I suddenly had a craving for some meat, a steak, something succulent, juicy and palatable.
Oh! The omnivore in me was tending to the carnivorous than the herbivorous. I just cannot comprehend veganism or the tendency to ignore our predisposition for meat and vegetables for a life of trying to chew the cud unsuccessfully, we are neither bovine nor canine – I know what I want and our bodies are crafted by creation, nature, nurture or evolution, if you may, to handle meat well.
The craving had to be satisfied well away from all the Amsterdam tourist fare; so, none of those restaurant chains of conveyor-belt food pretending to serve Argentinean steaks or some other fancifully named stuff.
For our delectable pleasure
I needed a place where the ceremony of sacrificing a member of the bovine species on the altar of the satisfaction of the homo sapiens sapiens' palate was fulfilled from the sacred cow in the right condition to when it landed on the plate.
Probably only 2 places in Amsterdam offer that quality of service with an attention to presentation that is so different and quite authentic.
Cafe de Klos on Kerkstraat near the junction with Leidsestraat, reputed to serve the best spare ribs in the land and Castell on Lijnbaansgracht not too far from Leidseplein.
Not all my dentition is mine, so I am not so much a fan of spare ribs because it carries great buccal cavity risks that I have already succumbed to, too many times already.
At Castell
So, I walked further down to Castell where I was warmly greeted and set in my seat at the bar where there was ample table space for a meal.
Castell exudes a rustic atmosphere, dark as if lit by a log fire, the setting is cosy and the music is mellow.
It is unpretentious as the lobster soup gets served with splashes of Courvoisier without the uncouth hedonism of bling-laden hip-hop genuflection, it is not a case of trying to arrive but a simple question of good taste.
Medium is not rare
As far as my tastes are concerned, I have come a long way from West African cooked beef that was nigh on leather to when I demanded that my steak be cremated and brought back as ashes through when I sent my steak back 5 times in a French restaurant in Paris because it was still pink on the inside.
I can never have it blue but medium rare is just right for my tastes, the flavour of beef is just right when the juices are not completely cooked out of the meat as if one were autoclaving food.
A knife to the plank
I chose the Dutch fat arse steak (see menu); I suppose that means rump steak whilst I downed a glass of the house red nibbling on white bread with garlic butter. I was not keen on a jacket potato and opted for a salad.
The steak arrived on a wooden cutting board and for cutlery, I had a fork and definitely not a sissy serrated steak knife but a decent French Sabatier 8” chef’s knife – it could well have killed the cow if it were Halal-prepared.
My craving was fully satisfied as I carved into the steak and having cut off the excess fat, diced portions to chew, sometimes interspersing that would mouthfuls of salad, preferring the garlic and herbs sauce to the curry thing.
With the most appreciative approval
Every other omnivore in sight just nodded in approval after their first bite and were effusive with praise at the end – new-comers were persuaded of anything the connoisseurs said was good. One could say there were more regulars there than first-timers, but once you've had a steak at Castell, you probably would be back with friends.
At the end, after the tips and the pleasantries, if only there was a way to thank the cow or the bull for being so delicious, we are yet to genetically modify beef for life and death – not in my lifetime.

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