Medieval Times

“We were Googling to make sure we had the right word – is it correct – ‘chicory’?” said the girl with the black apron, in this town made famous partly by Old Master Jan Vermeer and his Girl With the Pearl Earring. Blue and white are emblazoned in The Netherlands’ prettiest town, by way of its ubiquitous earthenware that artisans have been meticulously crafting ever since merchants brought the skill back from China (although most of the souvenir shop cheapies are actually made in China).

The sidewalks wore blue-and-white china – Delftware. © Desiree Koh

But at Eetcafé de Ruif, the brown rustic setting is worthy of Amsterdam’s finest, without the caffeine stains and greenery.

“And yes, pumpkin!”

What she means is the day’s specialiteit, which is eendenborstfilet, pompoencrème, witlof en spierenjus. If that’s too much of a mouthful, just chew on this:

Fine, we’ll share: it’s duck filet with chicory and pumpkin cream. © Desiree Koh

It’s easy to fall in love with autumn dining in a village that appears to have been founded for the sole purpose of being cluttered with red and orange leaves as it lounges in blasé disaffection – it’s as if Diane Arbus shot Delft for the cover of European Vogue dressed by Foliage. At De Ruif, country food is as heart-warming as laying on the hearth in front of the glowing fireplace, cheeks in palms, gazing at little balls of fire. Chicken soup for the soul has got nothing on my perfectly seared rare duck (a rarity with the effect of a new Terrence Malick film); being on the duck side of the moon puts a lilt in the palate, especially when apfelkorn – apple liquor – sets the table. The perfect slab of fat threatens the viability of foie gras, and the chicory was cut just right to scoop up the right amount of pumpkin mash to go with each peel.

The apfelkorn of my eye. © Desiree Koh

And the small town smiles and wiles have prospered since 1100, whence hospitality has never gone out of style. It’s a Monday and not every store outside is open, but you can come in to De Ruif where everybody knows a great meal can be found. When Bob Dylan comes on with “Times They Are A-Changing”, it calls for another sip of apfelkorn to toast how Delft has found a way to cryogenize the temporal length of existence. Sam Cooke, I love you, but tonight a change is not gonna come, and we’ll be OK for that.

Civil rights in action was the waitresses trying to help me get on the bus to Sweet Street, even though all four of my stomachs were filled to capacity, drawing a Mason-Dixon line between me and dessert. No matter how the tarte tatin with vanilla sauce, lime cheesecake with hibiscus ice cream, white and dark chocolate brownie with cinnamon ice cream, and crême brulée beckoned, I was physically unable to march to the promised land. It wasn’t about racking up my bill, but because they earnestly wanted the evening to end well, extending an invitation for me to linger as long as I needed to digest and by justifying the size of the cheesecake with humble fingered dimensions (warning it’s “quite rich – it’s Dutch cheese, as you know”). Still, no dice – I blame this:

Hand-cut frites with a five-dimensional crisp, potatoe fluff that disintegrates with every chomp (I added an “e” for excellence). © Desiree Koh

It might have been the day after Amsterdam Marathon, but I would have had to upgrade my body from a trunk to a portmanteau. There was just no capacity for excess baggage, unless I paid for being over weight.

Fortunately, an Irish coffee was strong enough to numb the bummer of dessert forfeiture, but it was also a sign of better things to come. I withheld ordering the tarte tatin but unlike the determination of the Dutch Resistance, faltered when I walked by ‘t Klooster, a café with more than 120 regional beers from the vaunted De Moelen to the mighty Mikkeller.

‘t Klooster barkeep Phil craftfully unbottles a St. Feuillien tripel, rounding off the head to make sure the pour retained all the flavor of this fully yeasted ale. © Desiree Koh

There, I knew the night would unleash its aria on a high note, and perhaps in a nod to the Oude Kerk, might also find me standing at a vertical slant to the ground, if I wasn’t already walking on air. The De Ruif ladies had asked me to stay as long as I wanted – Delft will stay this way as long as it liked, too.

The 800-year-old Oude Kerk leans to the left in a town that bleeds blue and white. © Desiree Koh

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