By DAN SALTZSTEIN
MAY 20, 2009
Kees Elfring, the chef and owner of this lovely, cozy restaurant in the northwestern corner of Amsterdam, spent a few years in the ’80s as a cook at Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’s groundbreaking restaurant in Northern California. The two establishments share more than just commonly sourced names (both are inspired by characters in Marcel Pagnol’s film trilogy); they also share a dedication to simple dishes cooked with creativity and an emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Marius is in Prinseneiland, a group of man-made islands north of the Jordaan neighborhood and not a location popular with tourists. With only a handful of tables (including one on an enclosed patio) and mustard-colored checkered tablecloths, Marius feels more like a friend’s dining room than a serious restaurant.
But it’s quickly clear that Mr. Elfring’s intentions are indeed serious. Soon after we were welcomed by a plate of house-made bread and salami, we were given handwritten menus, which the chef kindly translated. He said that he shops daily at wholesale markets and designs the menu around what he finds.
“I find it easier to visualize a menu at the market,” he said later. “It’s a lot easier than what most chefs do, which is sit with a couple of beers at 11 at night and put together a dry ordering list.”
You can choose between the market menu (45 euros, or $61 at $1.39 to the euro) or a set of house specialties, including vitello tonnato (12.50 euros) and a warming, generous bouillabaisse, chock-full of seafood (28 euros).
During our early-spring visit, the market menu began with a plate of tuna crudo, flavored with lime juice, blood orange, avocado and fennel. The dish radiated freshness. The next course expanded on the seafood theme: grilled squid and prawns, served with a fava bean purée, spinach, mint and basil.
The main course — beef rib with polenta, radicchio and ratatouille — was served with kidneys and sweetbreads; it was a delightful marriage of the earthy, hearty flavors of the trio of beef, the creaminess of the polenta, the acidity of the ratatouille and the bitterness of the radicchio.
The dessert course was a lemon curd tart, paired with house-made vanilla ice cream — a perfectly balanced end to a lovely meal.
Ms. Waters would be proud.