Let me start by reminding you of the best, five-star ranking restaurants that made my dining experience simply unforgettable and which we will likely have good reviews also in the future. My first ‘full house’ was bestowed upon Cato by Cato, with their delightful take-away boxes, which you can fill with your favourite toppings ranging from fresh humus covered with fresh herbs to a crabstick salad or wonderful quinoa. I simply love the high-quality, fresh ingredients from Jeffrey’s garden and all the hard effort and determination to run this corner take-away near the Vrijthof (Stenenbrug 9).
I would also definitely recommend visiting FAB on the Markt, which feeds its customers with (mostly homemade) American recipes with a European touch. The most attractive dish, in my opinion, was FAB’s first-class cheesecake with a smooth and creamy layer firmly attached to a crispy crust and signed with a fresh raspberry sauce. FAB’s philosophy of ‘keeping things interesting’ has also proven to be true when I tasted the salmon bagel during Sunday brunch, or their impressive Egg Benedict with avocado or smoked Shetland salmon.
My next favourite ‘poky place’ is Alley Cat Bikes and Coffee, where you can spend the whole afternoon chatting with your friends or studying for your finals while sipping a first-class coffee. Alley Cat Bikes and Coffee is like a sketch making fun of Maastricht Café stereotypes. It would be easy to roll your eyes at this café and bicycle shop all in one, but the truth is that it’s actually pretty incredible and very creative. Get the Oatly variation in your Café Latte with a homemade cake!
What makes a restaurant sexy? I am not sure if I can give a proper definition, but I can tell you that Bancale 61 has it. It’s a tiny restaurant and a take-away place in Scharn with dim lighting, a shallow-domed, wood-fired oven, and generally cool Italian vibes – but the place isn’t all about looks. Bancale 61 also happens to serve, in my humble opinion, the best crispy pizza in town. If the idea of eating an outstanding crust with a delicious, uniform fluffiness and chewy softness of the proper Italian ingredients, such as Parmesan cheese, buffalo mozzarella or San Marzano tomatoes sound like just the thing your date night rotation needs, get yourself and your dining companion to Bancale 61.
Remember my criticism of salmon pasta with the texture of canned cat food?
And what about those restaurants that did not impress me at all? I decided to give them another chance and see what the real impact of the criticism over time was. If you appreciate excellent burgers, you might be thinking of visiting Hamburgeria (Wycker Brugstraat 57). Back in September, I was not so impressed with the burger, as I called it ‘the Greek burger in crisis which did not satisfy my definition of a proper burger – fine beef, sticky cheese, tomatoes (both fresh and in ketchup) all ready to be loaded with fresh lettuce and crunchy salad. The aluminium foil completely dashed my hopes during my first visit and the burger was lukewarm and generally chewy. My visit last week revealed the complete opposite. Burger lovers – listen up, Greek burger rose above its crisis! The pulled pork was homemade, very delicate and juicy. The buns were warm, crispy and a nice accompaniment to the tzatziki sauce, feta cheese and baby leaf lettuce. Moreover, the burger was served on a wooden cutting board rather than a plastic plate and the burger was secured with a wooden stick for your convenience. Hamburgeria has improved tremendously since September in all aspects (delivery is also possible. But If I may note, there’s still a little ‘but’, as they continue not to inform you about the additional 35 cents for ketchup or mayonnaise).
The next ‘tragedy’ that I visited back in November was the refurbished restaurant Fresh, previously a well-known student place called Kiwi on the Ezelmarkt. Remember my criticism of salmon pasta with the texture of canned cat food? And the little pieces of fried salmon falling apart in between the overcooked, bland pasta? Yes, that’s right – this dubious experience still causes me traumas when I consider ordering white pasta with creamy white sauce when eating elsewhere. Recently I went there again and I have relatively good news for you. I ordered a goat cheese salad with a plate of crispy shrimps, which this time actually arrived. The warm goat cheese on the top of mountains of fresh and crispy salad deserves my ‘thumbs up’. The salad was served with fresh (finally fresh is coming into place) baguette and butter on the side. My partner was quite content with his cheeseburger, which satisfied my requirements of a good burger, but which argued was served lukewarm. Leaving aside the still unprofessional service with a hesitant approach, our long drawn-out dinner was not an exorbitant experience with the bill clocking in at 20 euros, satisfying both of us.
The last ‘rotten tomato’ went to Perroen on the Vrijthof, which literally screwed up my steak, served by a depressed-looking waitress. Back in March, the overly peppery sauce, covering an overcooked steak was screaming ‘take me out of the pan now!’ This time, I opted for a lunch menu and ordered Perroen’s speciality – chicken saté with a slightly spicy peanut dipping sauce and a portion of French fries. The cooked chicken skewers, marinated with spices nicely ‘let go’ of the wooden stick while I was slicing them. French fries were still a tad dry, however, but perfectly crispy and very fresh. To enjoy the weather to the full, we sat on the sunny terrace with a good glass of wine.
Let me finish with a little quote from the City of Gold documentary, in which food critic Jonathan Gold takes you on an expedition to the different cuisines of Los Angeles.
‘‘As much as you would from a novel or a painting or an opera or movie, you can go to a restaurant, and eat a meal, and look at the people around you and smell the smells, and taste the flavors and learn something about the world that has a lot to do with what’s on your plate.’’