de Librije, Zwolle
March 4, 2014
De Librije is in the former library of an old Dominican monastery in the once Hanseatic port city, Zwolle, a two-hour drive northeast of Amsterdam. Jonnie Boer joined the kitchens of de Librije in 1986, becoming head chef in 1989. He and his wife Thérèse, who both grew up in the area, bought the restaurant in 1992. They quickly earned a Michelin star and a second in 1999. In 2004 de Librije was awarded the third star, which it has held ever since. Linda and I went for dinner on January 16, 2014.
We were warmly welcomed and seated along a wall of the dining room. The tables are well spaced. We ordered glasses of the house Champagne, Henriot blanc de blancs, served in round glasses rather than flutes to bring out the roundness of this Champagne.
To cleanse our palate we were given a little bowl of sweet and sour fermented red cabbage with red pepper berries.
This certainly woke up the palate.
The menu seemed complicated, but the chef came out himself and explained it to us. There are four boxes with three choices, very briefly described, in each. One makes a choice from each box. Then, if one is having the full eight-course menu, the chef adds four more dishes of his choice. All the diners at a table do not have to make the same choices; in fact, the chef seemed a bit disappointed when we did so for three of them. The menu style means that we do not have written descriptions of most of the dishes; some appear on the limited à la carte menu, but the preparation may not be the same. So I have done my best below to convey what we understood, saw and tasted.
Thérèse runs the dining room and is the chief sommelier. We ordered a bottle of 2007 Domaine Arlaud “Aux Cheseaux” Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru. It was excellent. We sipped it sparingly during the somewhat acidic fish courses, but enjoyed it thoroughly with the meat and cheese.
The first appetizer was raw Dutch shrimp with various grains..
De Librije has an arrangement with a special fisherman who brings shrimp in fresh and raw while most Dutch shrimp are cooked immediately on the boat. These were tiny, typical of cold water shrimp, and had a subtle, good flavor.
The next appetizers were:
cod tongue and crispy chicken skin served on a crunchy rice cracker
and cod skin dusted with seaweed powder topped with citrus cream and a flower served on a picturesque cod skeleton.
Then came a signature appetizer which Boer has been serving for over twenty years. The diners put out their hands. A round smear of chive cream, topped with a small piece of lettuce, is spread on the backs of the hand. Then Dutch beef tartare, a small oyster, oyster cream, a souffléd potato puff and an oyster plant leaf are stacked on top of it. This is eaten in one gulp. The beef and oyster flavors go beautifully together and one is amused.
Then came fresh, warm brioches with powder of a local mushroom.
Subtle and good.
The first menu course was scallops, dried scallops and pumpkin, lemon grass sauce topped with sorrel leaves.
A nice combination that brought out the good scallop flavor.
A large North Sea langoustine had been cold-cooked, somewhat like a ceviche, in vanilla kombucha, a fermented yeast tea. Underneath was quinoa. In the back was a celery, piccalilli salad.
While the kombucha avoided the usual excessive acidity of lime juice, it was still too much for the superb, subtle flavor of the langoustine.
Warm, multigrain bread with tart goat butter.
Dutch river perch with juices of fermented cabbage, spiced oil and mustard seed.
Jonnie Boer grew up in this area catching freshwater river perch, a fish he served to us himself saying that he loves to cook it despite its being normally held in low esteem. This preparation brought out its flavor.
North Sea sole cured in juniper butter; crab; spicy Jerusalem artichokes; shallots.
Before we were served this dish, we were shown strips of sole marinating for future meals in juniper-flavored brown butter. This combination was more complex and substantial than the dishes which came before. Excellent.
A large, lacquered veal sweetbread was served with coconut foam, barbecued pineapple, small grey shrimp and a peanut satay sauce.
Well, this certainly wandered away from the locavore tendencies which dominated before. The imaginative combination worked well for me.
The next course for Linda was wild duck, conical cabbage (spitskool), BBQ-ed corn, puffed buckwheat and a black sesame wafer.
She thought that it was excellent.
My course was hare, horseradish, small Brussels sprouts and orange. Thérèse told us that the traditional sauce for lièvre à la royale had been enhanced with beetroot juice.
This was really rich, as it should be.
Epoisses, potato foam, rabbit kidney, chorizo.
This was somewhat gooey, but then good époisses de Bourgogne is a gooey, stinky cheese. Its aroma had been nicely tamed and offset by the potato and meats here. Imaginative and good.
We had finished our red wine and so a sweet Jurançon was suggested for the dessert.
The dessert was
a salty and bitter cream in half a lime shell;
a takeoff on lemon meringue pie in a lemon half shell;
bitter orange, crème fraîche and very sweet wafers in half of a bitter orange shell. This also had “magnolia,” but I don’t know what that meant.
These were good and continued the sweet and sour theme which had appeared in much of the meal.
Warm tarragon sabayon was poured into little cups of good, cold rum, releasing and enhancing its flavor.
Finally we were given a package of “joints.”
These humerous takeoffs on the easygoing marijuana access in the Netherlands were made from water mint, hemp seed oil, chocolate and lemon.
We had a very good time. The cuisine was excellent and imaginative. The meal was beautifully composed and executed with mostly local ingredients and effects, conveying the jolly way in which Dutch people go about eating, drinking and much else. The service and pace were just right, but the music was not to our taste.
On our way out Jonnie and Thérèse came out to say goodbye. We thanked them for their hospitality and their cuisine.
We went out into the crisp January night and enjoyed the ten-minute walk back to the Librije’s Hotel.