Harald Wohlfahrt’s “Schwarzwald Stube”: The Perfect Dinner?

Tasting Menu Harald Wohlfahrt

I have never eaten this good in my whole life!” How lucky am I that this sentence came over my lips not once, but twice during the last month. As the latest exclamation was only last night, it makes Harald Wohlfahrt’s Schwarzwald Stube, the “french” one among the four restaurants in Hotel Traube Tonbach in Baiersbronn, the best restaurant I have ever been to. And remember, I am the food vagabond!

Chef Wohlfahrt is most hyped-about (3 Michelin stars continuously since 1993, 19,5 points in Gault Millau, one of the 10 Best French Restaurants in the World Outside of France 2007). When you look at the pictures below and read the descriptions, you might think “ok, fine, but this is nothing new, I can have it in almost any good restaurant”. Yes, that is right, but you won’t be eating the dishes the way Chef Wohlfahrt puts them together. Foie gras, scallops, lamb; yes, there is no “molecular gastronomy” going on here, no big experiments, and just the slightest whiff of crossover/modern. But the tastes just explode in your mouth. The dishes are just right, nothing is amiss and nothing can be added.

Eel Variations Foie Gras John Dory Scallop ravioli Thornback ray confit Rack of lamb Cheese cart Cheese selection Souffleed Manjari-chocolate tart Cappuccino of cacaobean icecream Exotic panna cotta Petit-fours Chocolate petit four

It is not just the food what makes this experience so unique. It is the atmosphere, the perfect service, the wines, the owner Mr. Finkbeiner who comes by at the beginning of the meal, the Chef who comes at the end of the meal. Did I mention the service? Perfect explanations, just on time appearances, the pace (the dinner took around 4 hours), the perfect balance of being professional but friendly…

About the wines and the sommelier: We started with a rosé Billecart-Salmon Champagne, for the first three courses we had white wines by the glass (a 2002 Josmeyer Gewürztraminer from the Alsace with the foie; a 2005 Pinot Gris from Baden, Germany with the scallop; a 2004 St. Joseph blanc (the Rhone region) “St. Pierre” from Yves Cuilleron with the thornback ray) which were all great. For the lamb and the cheese we had chosen a bottle of red at the beginning of the meal with the sommelier Stephane Gass. This turned out to be a study in misunderstanding. His first suggestion was “a Portuguese red, if you are not afraid of trying out something new”. As we had not yet looked into the massive wine list at that point (which has over 700 positions and the cellar is stocked with 35- to 40,000 bottles), I wanted to give him some hints as to what our preferences are etc. So I told him we don’t like Tinta Barocca, a common Portuguese varietal, just in case the wine might contain this varietal. Although it turned out the wine he was suggesting didn’t have it, he took it as we didn’t want the wine and went directly on to another suggestion: A Rhone Valley wine. I was sceptical about the combination with lamb and cheese so I queried if it wouldn’t be too fruity (again trying to give him direction, because we like strong bodied wines with some tannins). He then came up with a classical Rosso di Montepulciano, which we accepted. Later, when the time came to taste the decanted wine, we were not that happy with it, we felt it was too young and lacking in body. But ok, I guess you could say we were to blame. But what really bothered me was that, after this process, he never came back to our table, although he was visiting all the other tables multiple times and talking about the wines. Had I offended him? This incident was the only (albeit very slight) shadow over our dinner.

So was it the perfect dinner? Calling something “perfect” is so difficult. And food, it is such a matter of moods. Sometimes a slice of bread with butter is perfect, sometimes a bowl of hearthy soup. This dinner was perfect for me, it was an experience every foodie should go through (at least) once in his lifetime. Only 5 years ago T was discussing with me that no dinner is worth 100 DM (roughly 50 Euros!) although we had the means; and yesterday, after paying around 500 Euros for our dinner, he said: “It was definitely worth it!” But he also thinks he doesn’t need to go there again, calculating for me that, for the same amount, we could: fly to Paris, have dinner in our newly found favorite restaurant (also starred – will be blogging about it after Easter), stay the night in a nice hotel and fly back the next day. Maybe even with a stopover at Pierre Herme! Me, I loved the story of the elderly couple at the next table: They come to the hotel twice every year, check in for two weeks and eat at the Schwarzwald Stube every night, trying something different each time, sometimes off the menu. That I could imagine doing!

10 Responses

  1. […] UPDATE on April 5th, 2007: Thanks to everyone who has commented here or written me emails. It has been very interesting to see how other foodies (blogger or non-blogger) handle this and we even had a chef in the discussion (thanks Sebastian!) who tried to show us the other side about swapping plates. Thanks to a non-blogging but well travelled foodie who wrote me about his concrete experience in the restaurant in question, I was very relaxed and took pictures without any problems. You can read about our heavenly experience in the next post, coming up in a couple of hours already here! […]

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Wohlfahrt really is a class of his own, nothing spectacular – no new techniques, no new ingredients, hardly any unusual combinations, but: perfect! So, – how did they react to your picture-taking? Did you ask beforehand? BTW: Had a similar experience with Stéphane Gass, he seems to distribute his grace rather unevenly, some tables he never returns to.

  3. Cronenberg,
    you are so right! His food is just perfect. I didn’t ask about pictures beforehand but went about it discreetly as I wrote in the post before. There were no problems whatsoever! T. and I laughed as we read “distribute his grace unevenly”, that really describes it!

  4. […] geplant hat (entgegen ihres schönen Beinamens) Food Vagbond Hande ihr letztes perfektes Wochenende, mit dem Ergebnis, dass sie nicht nur gleich die besten drei Sterne Deutschlands im Schwarzwald […]

  5. […] bis dahin schaffe ich es auf jeden Fall bei ihm zu essen, denn er macht seine Arbeit tatsächlich sehr, sehr gut. So lange ihn keiner danach fragt. Nun weiß ich aber nicht, ob ich das genießen kann bei jemandem […]

  6. Thanks for this great report and the wonderful pictures. For me also, the Schwarzwaldstube is amoung the very best restaurants I have ever been to. (And I have eaten there more than a dozen times in the last fifteen years or so!) Shame about the misunderstanding with Stéphane Gass. I remember him as the most brilliant, knowledgeable sommelier I have ever come across. He always recommended wines, sometimes from off the list, which I tremendously enjoyed. Thanks to him I discovered new winerys that I didn’t know about and now love. When we were going for a 1986 Mouton-Rothschild once, he warned us that this wine was still young but we insisted to have it. When we had the first sip, we had to realize that he was absolutely right. So no worries about him, he is very much in demand and he obviously cannot be at all tables all the time.

  7. Ameiden,
    thanks for the kind words. You are one of the lucky people I have envied on that evening; I hope I will be able to go there again as well.
    I am really sure that Stephan Gass is a great sommelier, his experience in such an establishment and the distinctions he recieves are certainly a sign. It is just that I had the feeling our “chemistry” didn’t work (some of my friends claim it could be because it is unusual for the woman to be knowledgable about wine and discuss about it with the sommelier in such an establishment; which I don’t [want to] believe) which is ok in itself. What we were not so happy about was that he handled it in not the most gracious way, going us out of the way all evening.

  8. I’ve heard great things of Chef Harald Wohlfahrt. Too bad I never had a chance to have sampled his food. I will try to book a table at one of his ex students through: Chef Christian Bau. Hopefully, a lot from Harald Wohlfahrt’ s skills will show up in Bau’s cooking. What about Schwarzwaldstube in its current state? Is is still a great restaurant? I am a bit confused though: has Harald Wohlfahrt retired or is he still working (on the Relais & Chateaux web site for his restaurant, his photo is still showing up). Thanks

  9. S Lloyd, am not aware of Wohlfahrt having retired. What makes you think this?

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