I moved to The Hague on a pitch-black, pre-dawn December morning (when dawn arrives reluctantly and stingily). It was just before the winter holidays, and I’d made the homesick-inducing mistake on my flight over of reading cooking magazines that highlighted holiday comfort food traditions. Like many people who read cooking magazines, I didn’t actually spend much time in the kitchen (in my defense, this was a gift subscription), but I was at least determined to find somewhere that could make me feel like I’d tucked into the kind of meal I read about in my now tear-soaked copy of Food & Wine. Here in The Hague, that place is Trattoria Da Toni.
Trattoria Da Toni makes you feel you’ve been invited to a lovingly planned dinner party where the hosts have opened the wine long before you arrived. On a typical night, you hear the joyful clinking of cutlery and carafes and the domino effect of laughter. You walk in and you want whatever everyone else is having.
I went with three other dinner companions for what was intended to be a low-key night and turned into an epic, 3 ½-hour meal (by the end of it, we were far outnumbered by the empty bottle of wines on our table). When we asked for menus, our waiter waved his hand vaguely in the air (it’s a set, 3-course menu for 34 euros) and assured us he would bring us whatever we liked—a culinary trust fall that I usually welcome except when I have to point out that I don’t eat most kinds of meat despite witnessing the joys it brings to people. Our waiter (the former owner, Flavio) leaned in and peered at me gravely, while I prepared my defense. Unexpectedly, he nodded and said, “Good for you!” By this point, I would have survived even a mediocre meal given the relaxed charm of the place, but in fact, we went on to enjoy elegantly served courses of antipasti, pasta and risotto, and a main course.
While Flavio is no longer there (after 25 years, he left Da Toni’s in the caring hands of Gianni Boccia), the restaurant continues to achieve its goal of creating an intimate, unpretentious atmosphere where the food is made from love and shared traditions. Gianni, originally from the town of Salerno in the Amalfi Coast, gestures towards one chef and exclaims, “I’ve known him since he was two!” He has also expanded the menu options to include more variety for each course, though he maintains the delightful no-menu-just-tell-me-what-you-like service.
And for our entertainment: our waiter periodically checked in on us but he was often busy working the room like any fantastic host. On one occasion, he danced with another diner to the swelling opera arias that filled the room; on another, he politely excused himself to us so he could go home and shower (not that he seemed to need one). Never one to stand between a man who feeds us and his personal hygiene, we were more than happy to oblige him. He eventually returned (given the food, wine and lovely company, there was no need to time him), not looking freshly showered but doling out flowers to his guests.
By the time I left that dinner, giddy from the meal, I felt ready to put my cooking magazines to modest use and comforted to know the siren song of Da Toni’s was just around the corner.
Trattoria Da Toni
2513 CD Den Haag
Tel: 070 364 3097
Open Mondays-Saturdays for dinner
Photos by Avideh and Sheila