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!

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An Evening of Pleasure

An evening of pleasure

an evening of pleasure

Last weekend we were invited to a special dinner by one of the vineyards that we know and buy wines from in the Kaiserstuhl area, Trautwein. This winery is bioland and demeter certified and one of the first vineyards in Germany to completely convert to bio-dynamic and organic farming (in 1980). By no means do we choose our wines according to this criteria, but it is an added bonus to know there are no chemicals in that sip of wine if it tastes good.

The event, “an evening of pleasure”, took place in a Michelin “Bib Gourmand” Restaurant, Scheidels Restaurant in Kenzingen, a mere 10 k away from the winery. After an initial getting to know with some nibbles and live music in the cozy court yard of the restaurant, the 65 wine- and food-interested were let into the restaurant to enjoy a 7 course dinner with corresponding wines from the Trautwein vineyards.

ScallopsOur first course was a scallop carpaccio with olive oil and basil. This was accompanied by a 2005 Rivaner, which is also known as Müller-Thurgau and once was the most planted grape variety in Germany. It is a cross of Silvaner with Riesling and was the grape behind the ubiquitous “liebfrauenmilch” and therefore sank into disrepute. We liked the wine as a fresh and light summer wine but the pairing was not optimal. The sea-smell of the scallops, the saltiness, choked the wine. I can imagine a Pinot Blanc with some body a lot better with these scallops which tasted very fresh.

Poultry terrineThe second course was poultry terrine with Judas’ ear fungi and pistachios, accompanied with Pinot Grigio jelly. Of course the corresponding wine was a Grauburgunder 2005 (Pinot Grigio). I wasn’t crazy about this terrine, it was rather bland, but I liked the idea of combining poultry with pistachios. The wine was a plus for this course and lifted it up. Maybe the cook deliberately hold back the spices so that the wine can shine? I don’t know.

Pike-perch the asian wayThen came my second favorite course of the evening: Pike-perch (also known as zander) “the asian way” with Basmati rice. The fillet was wrapped in rice paper with some ginger, coriander and tomato and then poached. This was very tender, tasted very delicate, and the ginger and coriander gave the fish a whole new dimension without overpowering it. And the combination with the 2003 Weißburgunder Auslese (Pinot Blanc selection) was just right. The wine had a lot of alcohol but was almost creamy on the palate. This was a perfect combination, being more than the sum of its parts.

Ravioli of king prawnsThe next course was anti-climactic. The ravioli stuffed with king prawns was just ok, the prawns not adding much taste and the balls of Charantais melon just disturbing. They were too sweet without holding up to it with taste and completely ruined the perfect 2003 Chardonnay Auslese Edition RS (selection reserve, aged in barriques) that was served with this course. T. had some pasta with a tomato-garlic sauce because of his allergy and was happier with his combination than I was with mine. The next day we tasted the wine again, liked it a lot and bought some, but the combination within this dinner was almost fatal.

Braised calf's cheeksThis rather disappointing course was followed by my favorite: braised calf’s cheek with porcini-cabbage vegetable and pommes Williams. I have been meaning to cook braised calf’s cheek myself for some time now, and this course makes me want it even more. Sitting here early in the morning, days after the experience, I am still tasting it just looking at the pictures. The cheeks were so tender, so flavorful, the sauce almost made me mop it up with bread…Have to replicate this! Also braised calf's cheeksThe wine we drank with this was also, surprisingly, very good, especially if you think about our, well, aversion to German reds: 2003 Spätburgunder Edition Reserve Spätlese (Pinot Noir late vintage reserve, aged in barriques). The next day we learned that this wine costs 25 Euros and had to think about the Pinot Noirs we get in Austria for this amount. This is, according to us, the greatest problem with German reds. There are some really good ones every once in a while, but when you think of the price/performance ratio, they lose.

The cheese course was Tête de Moine, which actually I like a lot. Unfortunately, this was served not the correct way, pared into the shape of delicate rosettes, but in plain slices. I believe this really makes a difference in the structure and taste of the cheese and could not understand why it was served like this. Were 65 servings too much? The wine pairing with the cheese was just ok: 2005 Gewürztraminer Edition Spätlese (late vintage), slightly sweet and full of rose aromas. I would have liked this wine a lot better with some other cheese, maybe a blue-veined cheese like Gorgonzola. No pictures of this no-no serving.

Mascarpone tartletsOur dessert was a mascarpone tartlet with strawberry coulis and raspberry sorbet. The tartlet was sweet but light (!) and the various berries were refreshing. The serving was rather big after all the food we had during the 6 courses before this. We were served some 2000 Pinot rosé Sekt Reserve Brut (sparkling rosé, the traditional method – bottle fermentation) which tasted fine, I am not a great rosé fan, be it sparkling or not, the only one I liked until now was the Moet Chandon Rosé we drank at a Moet Chandon tasting dinner in Munich a couple of months ago.

Although I have criticized quite a few courses I have to say that the overall experience was very good. We liked most courses and most wines and I guess that the cook had some problems having to adjust his food to match the wines (which is usually the other way around) because the wines were the given and he had to come up with the dishes. And you cannot beat the price: We paid 70 Euros per person and it was worth it.

Gewürztraminer grapesWeedsThe next day we had the chance to visit the vineyards with winegrower H.P. Trautwein himself and it was very interesting to compare and contrast his methods with those of Claus Preisinger (who is converting to organic farming) whom we had visited just a week earlier. Trautwein lets a lot more grapes grow on the vines, lets the useful weeds grow higher between the rows and has his vineyards more or less all together in one place. Later on we tasted all the wines of the winery before buying some of the 2003 Weißburgunder Auslese Edition and 2003 Chardonnay Auslese Edition RS.

This was again a fun weekend, with good food and wine. We also got to know some very interesting people during the dinner and got some useful tips about the region. We will definitely use them!

Tübingen: Weinstube Forelle and the DNA

We have already visited the university town Tübingen twice. It is a cool little town. We loved the sights:

 

Tübingen

Tübingen from the Castle

Neckar

the Neckar

Boats

boats on the Neckar

Tübingen

the town square

Medicinal wines

sign for “medicinal wines” in the shop window of a pharmacy

But mostly we were impressed with a restaurant (what a surprise, you think).

Weinhaus Forelle

Weinstube Forelle

We were standing in front of it and hesitating to go in, as a couple came along and started going up the steps. We asked them if they knew of the restaurant and their reply made us give it a go: They said that they used to live in Tübingen for 25 years (he was a professor) and it used to be their favorite, however they couldn’t guarantee that it was still good since this was their first visit after 10 years, since they moved to another part of Germany.

Inside it was kind of dark but cozy.

Tübingen, Weinhaus Forelle

murals in Weinstube Forelle

We chose two main courses from the menu which has a focus on local products.

Tübingen Weinhaus Forelle

Hällische Landschwein – loin of pork from a local race

Peppercrusted loin of Hällische Landschwein (regional landrace pig breed, one of the oldest in Germany and endangered) on burgundy sauce with roast dumplings, chanterelles and market vegetables. The pork was very tender and had a great flavor. We are going to eat more of this pig so that it can survive. The vegetables had crunch, which is sometimes difficult to find in German restaurants.

Tübingen, Weinhaus Forelle

Leg of lamb

Our second main course was a leg of lamb from the “Schwäbische Alb” region in rosemary gravy with La Ratte potatoes and green beans. I love lamb, and this local race has also made its way to my heart. We were positively surprised with both dishes and will definitely come back again to try further regional specialties like the alb-snail and the alb-buffalo.

With our meal we drank a bottle of 1998 Rotspon from Jurtschitsch in Kamptal, Austria, which was a very powerful cuvee of Pinot Noir, Zweigelt and Merlot; with wildberry aromas and very well balanced. But the discovery of the evening was the 1999 Baden Kraichgau Rouge barrique from Heitlinger. Finding a German red wine that can get this old and taste so great is a unique event which we enjoyed very much (we had ordered just one glass of it for a taste, I had somehow had an instinct) and could fortunately buy a couple of very reasonably priced bottles in the restaurant.

The restaurant has a very inexpensive lunch special. For dinner, count with 20 to 30 Euros per person. The mains cost between 9 to 18 Euros and are enough to feed the biggest hunger. Extensive wine list with great wines from the region as well as other European denominations.

Weinstube Forelle

Kronenstraße 8

72070 Tübingen

07071 – 2 40 94

Oh, you are asking about the DNA?

DNA

the discovery of DNA in the Castle of Tübingen

I guess this is only of interest for my scientist friend E. in the USA!