thornback ray (skate)
Tuesday night we had a much anticipated dinner in a Stuttgart institution adorned by one Michelin star and had to think about and discuss our experience for a couple of days till we came to a conclusion: We think Vincent Klink in his Wielandshöhe is not a happy chef.
Yes, we ate good most of the time. I loved an amouse and two of the 7 courses and was indifferent, or even critical, of the rest, but nothing was really bad. My study of his culinary intentions and guidelines through various sources (including his own website and books) and the hence raised expectations, our conversations with the chef himself (he came to our table 3 times, was it because of the camera? By the way, he is a blogger himself) and a price-performance ratio analysis we made at the end of the meal (we knew it would be expensive) lead us to say that Chef Klink and his guests would be a lot happier in a different kind of restaurant.
We arrived at the beautifully located restaurant still at daylight. The building, a white cube half nestled in, half throning over the southeastern periphery of Stuttgart, has stunning views, day and night. Inside it is elegant and light but not overdone. The whole staff was very friendly but professional, neither stiff nor overly merry, just the right balance. And they were all very good informed about the food and the wines. One of our waiters didn’t skip a beat as I asked him the difference between a skate and a thornback ray, and our lovely waitress was very nice correcting my mistake about the definition of sauce gribiche and although there is a sommelier, the waiters were really well versed with the wines and what goes well with what.
Before we even ordered we were presented with the first amouse: A slice of leek quiche. Very tasteful and still warm from the oven, this amouse lets you think you are in for some down-to-earth good food. After we ordered the tasting menu, came the second amouse which underlined the first impression. This was an oxtail ragu on Mediterranean vegetable puree with parsley oil. This amouse was to die for, I could have (and maybe should have) eaten a whole normal portion of this. The oxtail ragu melted away in your mouth, the vegetable puree was dominated by smoky red pepper but the zucchini was also coming through.
The first regular course of the menu was roasted curd terrine with sauce gribiche (a sauce with mustard and hard-boiled eggs). This was a slice of a roll similar to a strudel, the filling consisting of “Topfen”, a kind of curd cheese from Bavaria and Austria, with some roasted bell pepper and eggplant pieces. This dish was strangely void of taste. It didn’t taste bad, it was just bland. Even the usually rather dominant sauce gribiche didn’t add anything to the whole composition.
This disappointment was followed by one of the best creations I have had in the last couple of years and was also our second favorite dish of the evening. Chefs everywhere so often try to be creative and almost all the time the new “creations” are very showy without really making sense. This minestrone with olives and basil was an act of genius. Minestrone is a very typical Ligurian dish, it is a vegetable soup where pieces of vegetables like seleriac, carrots, peas etc are cooked in a broth and in the last minute some small type of pasta is added. It is served with a dash of olive oil. What chef Klink did was to take this old idea and renew it with again very typical Ligurian ingredients which are normally foreign to this dish. The vegetable broth (which may have been produced using the traditional garnishes) was full of Ligurian Taggiasca olives, basil, pinenuts, tomatoes and pancetta. This was not only a great idea, it also tasted very good.
Then came the highlight of the menu, the thornback ray fillet with capers and Amalfi lemon, pictured at the beginning of the post. I have never had thornback ray before but when I compare this to other skate I have eaten… The flesh was firm but not tough and it had so much taste. The waiter explained that it was a “wild” example, as so many times with other fish, the wild ones have a lot more taste. The little shaving of lemon and the capers were the perfect counterpart and balanced the dish very well.
This highlight was also the climax of this menu, from now on the dishes went downhill. The last fish course for me was a king prawn with Thermidor sauce, which involves a lot of butter, flour and cream. The prawn was good but not the tastiest example I ever had and I know the Thermidor sauce is a classic and kind of the peak of fine cuisine but it was just too intense. It was too concentrated and didn’t really like what it did for the prawn. T. had a Loup de Mer fillet which looked very good and to which he attested a lot of taste, as well.
Up to this point we drank a bottle of Aldinger Cuvee S Sauvignon Blanc 2005 from just a few kilometers away from Stuttgart. A cuvee because it consists of the grapes of three different vineyards, it is fresh, mineral, with an aroma of pears, a wonderful consistency on the palate, a great wine with this dinner. Unfortunately, it seems to be already sold out in retail, you can only hope to find it in restaurants and pray they don’t have a 300% mark-up!
Next came loin of veal au gratin with chanterelle mushrooms, autumn vegetables and pasta. The veal was tender but, again, a dish completely void of taste. I know that veal doesn’t burst with flavor but the chanterelle mass on it was there just to accomplish this, I guess, but fell short. The autumn vegetables were “al dente” but again, no great flavors there, although I liked the addition of apple slices. And please let us not even talk about tagliatelle bereft of any sauce, even oil or butter, as a side dish for meat. I was really ashamed of this course.
As cheese course we got a piece of Stilton, cut from the huge round table-side, accompanied with pears poached in port wine. The cheese was very good but the pears were a let down. Bland. But the blue veined cheese helped the spirits up again.
Before we arrived at dessert, we got another amouse and this was T.s favorite dish of the whole evening: Panna cotta with peach jelly. The dessert itself sounded very promising but again we didn’t get what we hoped for, it tasted rather commonplace and I couln’t eat it up. Poppy seed mousse Gugelhupf (ring cake) with braised prunes and red wine butter ice cream. I couldn’t taste a lot in the poppy seed mousse and the prunes maybe would have tasted better had they been warm, this would have also been a nice textural counterpart to the mousse and the ice cream, which tasted more like yogurt, kind of sour. I do not know where the red wine and the butter were. I loved the color though (must be the wine), as you can see in the picture, it went very well with the flower decoration on our table. A note on the flowers: Chef Klink’s wife Elisabeth, who is kind of watching over the whole business and hovers over the personnel in the dining room, is a florist and all the flowers in the restaurant were lovely.
With the meat course we drank a glass of Rotenberg Lemberger 2003, aged 12 months in barrique, again a Württemberg wine. This was the first Lemberger (Blaufränkisch in other European regions) from the region that we liked, not too heavy of course but with enough body and tannins. Surprisingly, it also went well with the cheese.
As I mentioned, Chef Klink came to our table three times, at the beginning just to greet, the other two times we also talked a bit. As I praised the minestrone he let slip that at the beginning he had the little maccaroni in it but later decided to remove this item because it makes the dish more robust and down-to-earth and the Michelin guys don’t like it. “…And of course they are right, nowadays everything has to be more delicate and fine, things changed” he continued. Another time he asked us what we thought of the portion-sizes and said, he would rather have less courses but his “wife says the people are paying a lot and want something for their money”. The 7-course menu we had costs 98 Euros (which is almost 3-star level) and as mentioned before, the wines have a huge mark-up, which is a very German-gastronomy thing.
All in all, this dinner was very interesting. I would love to go back and maybe have the ancient tomato salad with ricotta and argan oil I saw on the a la carte menu and then the regular sized Oxtail ragu, a glass of wine to wash it all down is a must. But even this humble dinner would set me back around 70-80 Euros. I am aware that a Michelin star means the gastronome has to spend money on things that do not have to do with the food directly. I appreciate that Chef Klink uses mostly organic and local produce. But our dinner there didn’t consistently hold up to this. With these prices and the claims, a lot more courses should have tasted a lot better. Or maybe Chef Klink should just start cooking as he likes and wants to, with his good products and more down-to-earth. It may be that he loses his star and with it some of his clientele (I guess no more managers of insurance companies having a night out during their yearly get-together), but they would be made up for with a lot more people who just want to eat good without the chi-chi. I think he would be happier. Me, I know I would be a lot happier.