Couple weeks ago, in planning for an unexpected, quick (2-night) trip to Rotterdam, I was a bit disheartened with the lack of Rotterdam restaurant recommendations on this board. Michelin was always easy to find, but it's more challenging to find good food that isn't on the radar. However, it wasn't as bad as I had feared. I had no plans so we just discovered the different neighborhoods, hoping that something would catch our eye.
After walking around the harbor area, which led us to the Iconic Cube houses, we walked around the Pannekoekstraat (Pancake Street) area (love the name) and stumbled into Spirit, on Mariniersweg 9. It looked like a cute cafe where we could grab a quick bite to eat before continuing on our walking tour of the city. The cafe is cafeteria style. After grabbing a plate and reviewing the items on offer, we realized that it's an organic, vegetarian cafe. My husband is not a vegetarian by any stretch of the imagination, but he was attracted by the fresh, vibrant colors of the food and the diverse options available. Having developed a taste for Tempeh in Indonesia, he went first for the stir-fried tempeh, and continued to pile his plate with other interesting and savory dishes. I opted for mostly the warm dishes like Quinoa, roasted vegetables, tofu, Bulgar, etc. They had a selection of soups and various salad items, but I declined on those because they looked so common. I was intrigued more by the warm dishes that the chefs were busy cooking and bringing out to the buffet stand. After we filled our plates, we took them to the drink counter where the plates were weighed, drinks offered and then, after paying, we took a bar seat near the middle of the room. The food was surprisingly very tasty, fresh, and satisfying. The cafe was packed around 13:00, which is when we entered, and it continued to fill up as we ate. I noticed some diners with ipads and laptops so I pulled out my iphone and noticed that they had free wi-fi. I was able to refresh my email.
I would recommend Spirit for a healthy, delicious lunch, especially if you are short on time, do not have time to linger in a restaurant, or dining solo before heading off to see the sights. Actually, they had some decadent looking dessert that I would have ordered if I hadn't gotten full on Quinoa (Quinoa is surprisingly very very filling). The atmosphere reminded me a bit of Whole Foods, but with fresher and tastier food. I love grocery shopping at Whole Foods, but their prepared meals are always disappointing. Would I go back to Spirit for lunch if I return to Rotterdam? Yes, especially if I was planning a big dinner at a Michelin restaurant. The cafe is also attached to a cool home-furnishings shop next door, a new-age book shop upstairs and what looked like a grocery store (probably organic) on the other side.
We met some friends at Dudok for afternoon cafe. It's a big two-level space that seems to be packed in the afternoons with families, couples and friends. It's very loud on the first floor but a bit more quiet on the second floor. Although we intended to only have coffee, we ended up ordering a tea tray of savory treats including sandwiches, spreads, dips, etc, and some small bowls of soup. The food wasn't memorable or anything that I would return to again. Although it is located in a hip shopping area, I found the atmosphere of the cafe (and people watching) more interesting than the food. Enough said. Would I go back? Probably not.
For our last night we wanted seafood, but the place we wanted to try (Schmitt Zeevis) wasn't open for dinner so we went with a recommendation from our concierge. She suggested Oliva on Witte de Withstraat, which is a funky/artsy street with cute shops, restaurants, galleries that we had walked earlier in the day. It was a short walk (about 15 min) from our hotel. Everything in Rotterdam seems within walking distance. As we walked into the restaurant, I immediately like the atmosphere. With an open-kitchen, it reminded me of places I have visited in Portland, Tokyo, San Francisco, NYC, London, etc. Very modern, hip and fresh. I'm not sure how to describe it, but from the warm welcome we received to the consistent care of the staff, Oliva felt like a neighborhood restaurant in a hip, happening city. The menu was another plus for me. I love eating in places where the menu is small, intimate and changes each day to reflect what is freshly available and in season. Olivas' menu does exactly that. And their food was delicious. We were a party of three and each of us had a starter, a main and dessert: Braised artichokes, pumpkin risotto, carpaccio, etc.. (Unfortunately I didn't take any photos or notes so I can't remember all that we ate). I think I eat out too often and that is why I can't remember what I ate yesterday! We drank Champagne and then enjoyed a bottle of delicious red wine. I would definitely go back to Oliva if I had a chance to travel to Rotterdam again: Great food, great service, wonderful atmosphere, and very affordable. If we lived in Rotterdam, Oliva would easily become one of our regular restaurants.
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