I cannot abandon matters minestran without reporting that one of the best pasta dishes I’ve had on-the-road was a tagliatelle with whitefish and a Champagne dill sauce at the Pays Bas Hotel in Utrecht. And Utrecht, birthplace of that wild and wonderful conductor Willem Mengelberg, is a lovely little city, full of amusing canals and streets going all higgledypiggledy. Note echoes of London and Baltimore in the row houses agile Dutchmen reach by steps worthy of stepladders.
We traveled to leafy Utrecht one rainy afternoon for a concert of university students conducted by a budding maestro who happens to be my fourth cousin, one generation removed. Otto (not the nuclear fissionist, that’s his first cousin twice removed) conducted beautifully, but my epiphany in a crowded room of apple-cheeked young Holllanders came following the program when members of the orchestra rose in turn to sing their university songs. This was not quite Berkeley or Cambridge, Mass. When Gaudeamus Igitur rose lustily through the quasi-beer hall in which we were gathered I had the feeling I was caught delightfully in the bloodstream of Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture. And that Champagne dill sauce had, I’m afraid, been upstaged.
But the bec fin in me had a field day next year in Holland when my Berliner cousins introduced us to poffertjes, those bulbous, fluffy pancakes constructed in large measure out of baking powder. One consumes platter upon platter of these addictive domettes at Wassenaar beach, a much-umbrella’d venue that sets you down in the middle of an Impressionist painting peopled by careening kiddies and reclining parents. Our poffertjesian orgy followed as it happened attendance at a concert of the Residentie Orchestra in The Hague. A hirsutely advantaged maestro named Pehlavanian made much of Beethoven’s Eroica, and as we negotiated our way past the skate-boarders outside the concert hall I felt fulfilled.
But that was before the poffertjes . . .