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It’s a long road from a childhood in rural Connecticut to the brocaded bench in the Red Dining Room at Haesje Claes. That road, er, flight, put 3,564 miles between my Happy Meal and a sturdy platter of Hotchpotch in Amsterdam’s City Center.

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On Spuistraat 273-275, there’s a local spot with a free-spirited vibe between the Spui and Dam Squares. An intricate mix of little steps, corridors and hallways, Haeje Claes is a time-travel experience. The restaurant occupies six epic buildings in which all the original architectural features are preserved.

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The exterior of the building is authentic Dutch architecture. Inside, intimate chambers impart a century-old ambiance. The Red Dining Room has large stained glass windows and is lavishly decorated with “Delfs” blue ceramics.

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It’s a Pieter de Hooch-worthy interior ~ oak wood paneling, gilt leather arm chairs, wooden barrels, hanging lamps with fringed covers, cabinets with antiques and china, and exposed beam ceilings. The bar groans with pewter tankards and gin stone bottles.

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The logo of the restaurant is a lady wearing a long red dress standing on top of a block of wood dated 1520. The lady is Madame Haesje Claes, daughter of a prosperous merchant, who used to live in the building.

Lady Claes founded the Amsterdam Burgerweeshuis, the public orphanage, which is now the Amsterdam Historical Museum. The walls of the restaurant are covered with paintings of scenes from the orphanage as well as tiles from the 1500’s.

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Heasje Claes is a destination for tourists and locals, offering menus in all languages.The smells are rich and splendid and come from traditional Dutch dishes ~ stamppotten  (mashed potatoes, sausage and cabbage, supplemented with braised beef and brussel sprouts), hotchpotch (meatball, mashed potatoes, carrots, bacon, pork) and IJsselmeer paling (eel stew).  Starters include Hollandse Nieuwe (salted herring, but on a plate -  you don’t have to grab it by the tail, cover it in raw onions, hold it in the air in front of your mouth and eat it bite by bite), snert (pea soup topped with smoked bacon), goat cheese from the pastures of Beemster Polder, black pudding with apple, creamed mustard-leek soup with eel.

 

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In short, it’s pur sang Dutch fare. And then there’s dessert ~  stroopwafel (a chewy waffle cookie with gooey caramel inside ( and yes, there’s an app for all you stroopwafel lovers) or a satisfying glass of vintage port.

 

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Big Macs and fries unleash memories of other times and places. But in Amsterdam, I ate food that I had never eaten before. New pleasures at far-away tables, on that long road I hope never ends.

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Toni 7/21/11

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