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Monthly Archives: September 2009

Stuffing Ourselves at Schnitzel Haus

SchnitzelApart from visiting my relatives, getting to eat bratwurst is one of the best things about going to Wisconsin. The last time I was there, around July 4, I think I ate three in four days. But a full German meal, complete with sauerkraut and potatoes, spaetzle or another weight starch, is probably a once-a-year affair for me. This is true simply because I typically leave these meals thinking I’ll never be able to eat again. If there’s an ideal place to have that once-a-year German experience, it might be Schnitzel Haus, a truly authentic eatery in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Now before you jump to the conclusion that my craving for German food ran so deep that I scoured uncharted depths of Brooklyn to find this place, let me enlighten you. Empanada Boy and I found out about Schnitzel Haus from a couple we met through our wine club. Margarita and Tater Tot are both from the Midwest and met in Menomonie, Wisconsin where German roots and German cuisine run deep. They now live in Bay Ridge where they were naturally drawn to Schnitzel Haus. They encouraged us to come out and check it out, and the schnitzel and brat cravings started stirrimg in my stomach. We drove out last Saturday to meet them there.

BeerWe started things off in the traditional way with liters (2-plus pints) of beer. I had the Spaten Oktoberfest, one of many German options to chose from. Margarita, who doesn’t care for beer, ordered a dry Riesling. When the beer arrived, I was shocked to see how big the glasses were. I guess the metric system just doesn’t register in my mind’s eye. I could barely lift the stein to my lips to drink, but I was determined to finish it off.

The menu at Schnitzel Haus does devote a lot of space to its namesake dish, but it also includes a long list of sausages and other German specialties like Sauerbraten, Kassler Ripchen and Rindsgulasch mit Nudeln. (What exactly these are I will leave to your imagination.) EB ended up ordering the Paprikaschnitzel (see top image), a pork cutlet, breaded and fried with paprika gravy. The color was beautiful, but I found the sauce a bit lacking. It seemed like it should have been spicy or at least zesty. Instead, the sauce was bland and heavy with little of the smokiness I find in other paprika sauces.

BratwurstI was set on eating sausages and studied the options carefully. Knackwurst, Weisswurst and the sausage sample platter all sounded appealing, but I could not resist the Bratwurst, which came with a pile of bacon-laced sauerkraut and a massive ball of mashed potatoes. Tater Tot ordered the same thing. The sausages were delicious, with just the right snap and a great blend of spices. But two sausages, plus the flavor-packed sauerkraut (which achieved an essential balance of tang and fatty richness) left me little room for the mashed potatoes. As in most instances, I found those to be little more than filler and generally uninspiring. Oh, and must I remind you that I still had most of my liter of beer left to drink?

SpaetzleMargarita had the unique experience of being a vegetarian at a meat-centered restaurant, but even she found plenty to eat. In addition to two crispy potato pancakes, she got a plate filled with spaetzle, a type of traditional egg noodle. Both were tasty, although I would imagine it was tough to consume that much starch in one sitting.

Needless to say, I fulfilled my destiny when it comes to German restaurants and over-ate to the point of discomfort. After finally managing to gulp down my last sip of beer, I was about ready to roll out of the place. The food at Schnitzel Haus is excellent, but all I could think as we got up to leave was that my stomach might not be ready for another meal there until after about a year of recovery.

Schnitzel Haus
7319 Fifth Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11209
718.836.5600

Schnitzel Haus on Urbanspoon

Taco, Oh How I Miss You

Tacos verticalThere are no taquerias to speak of in New York. By taquerias, I don’t mean taco restaurants dolled up with Dia de los Muertos decor and run by a hipster gringo chef. New York has its fair share of those. No, I’m talking about the authentic little holes-in-the-wall that used to be favored stomping grounds for Empanada Boy and me when we lived in Chicago. These did not have fancy decor. For the most part, they didn’t even have table service at all. What they did have was fresh corn tortillas, house-made chorizo, fresh horchata and marinated pork spinning on a spit for tacos al pastor. The flavors were authentic because there was no pretense to the operation. Mexican people were their primary customers, and there was no reason to be unconventional, only the best at evoking the flavors of home.

The dearth of truly authentic Mexican food (apart from the taco truck on 96th and Broadway and the places that undoubtedly exist in the far reaches of the outer boroughs) is obviously a result of the relatively small Mexican population in this city. New York’s Latino population is mostly comprised of Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. Los Angeles and Chicago, on the other hand, have the first and second most Mexican-born residents of any city in the U.S., respectively. As it turns out, Madison, WI, is also home to a large Mexican population, and the culinary offerings there reflect that.

On a recent visit to Madison, EB and I were reminded how much we missed being able to walk across the street for fabulous tacos. We went to Taqueria Guadalajara with EB’s friend Hamentaschen. He has been wanting us to try this local hangout for a while, and we were excited to find out why he was so into it.

SalsaOf course, we all ordered tacos, but I could tell I was going to like the place when I tasted their salsas. There were two different varieties, a salsa verde and another tomato-based one. Neither of them held back on the heat. This was obviously not a restaurant that catered to gringos, although there were a number of us there.

The tacos were delicious. I tried one made with carne al pastor, which was moist and spicy with a touch of sweetness to counteract it. I also tasted a taco de lengua, made with tender beef tongue and a chorizo taco. The latter was flavorful but didn’t quite have the crispy texture achieved by EB’s favorite chorizo chef at Erick’s Tacos in Chicago. EB ordered the tripe, which had a chewy center and a crispy exterior, making it better than the completely fried tripe we’d tasted.

Tacos horizontalEverything was fresh and vibrant. Hamentaschen, EB and I happily chowed down, devouring everything on our plates. These were the flavors we had been missing!

Until we can get back to Chicago or Madison, or the West Coast, or any place where more Mexicans live, EB make do as best we can. We grill skirt steak on our stove top griddle and heat store-bought corn tortillas on the meat-juice-coated surface. We grill onions and eat our tacos with some of EB’s homemade salsa made with tomatillos and guajillo and chipotle peppers. We never go out for Mexican food— it’s just too disappointing. We may be a couple of gringos, but after you’ve tried an authentic taqueria, there’s no going back.

Taqueria Guadalajara
1033 South Park St
Madison, WI 53715
608.250.1824

Taqueria Guadalajara on Urbanspoon

Hudson Valley Surprise

CakeThe anniversary celebration continued, a week after Empanada Boy organized a mystery weekend trip. All he told me before we drove out of the city was that I needed hiking clothes and something a little nicer to wear to dinner. As we drove, and I read the directions, I gradually learned that we were heading out to Pine Bush, a little town in the Hudson Valley near the Shawangunk Ridge. We drove up to the Pine Bush House, an old Victorian, built in 1904 and beautifully preserved with stained glass windows and a large, sweeping porch. Empanada Boy had reserved a room here— the Cabernet room with an elegant four-poster and soft, plush sheets— for two nights!

LobsterThe ever-thoughtful EB had also made us a dinner reservation for that night at the local Erie Restaurant. It was a quaint place, just down the road from our bed and breakfast, housed in a former train station hotel. The ceilings were hammered metal, and there were candles on every table. We were the last to arrive, but the chef, Ms. Loretta, was waiting for us. I ordered a whole lobster (for a ridiculously low price of $20), and EB succumbed to the delicious-sounding homemade lasagna. We started with a Hudson Valley Camembert, which turned out to be a little overwhelmed by the flaky pastry in which it was encased. The lasagna was fantastic, with a voluptuous, tangy tomato sauce and beautiful layers of pasta and ricotta. EB couldn’t finish it, though, because he had to help me eat my humongous lobster. The flesh was tasty, but a little overdone in some parts. Even if it had been perfect, I don’t think it could have replaced Dungeness crab as the most delicious crustacean in my mind. (I say it objectively, of course, not just because I am West-Coast bred.)

The best part of the meal came after we felt we could eat no more. EB was disappointed to learn that the restaurant was out of Ms. Loretta’s famed coconut cream pie, so we were planning to forgo dessert. But just after we had told our server as much, she came back out of the kitchen carrying a specially prepared wedding-esque cake. Behind her was Ms. Loretta, and both sang us “Happy Anniversary to You” as they brought the cake to our table. As we had been eating, Ms. Loretta had been baking us our own personal cake! And as it turned out, this was not just any cake. It had a delicious, moist interior with a beautiful crumbly texture and a delectable filling of raspberry preserves. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not the kind of service you can expect in New York City!

Beet SoupThe next day, after a huge and filling breakfast, we went for a nine-mile hike in Sam’s Point Preserve, part of the Shawangunk Ridge. We ate our leftover lasagna for lunch, as we sat overlooking a stunning waterfall. On our way back that evening, we stopped in the hippie town of New Paltz for dinner. EB had done his research on the town’s top restaurants, and we had selected The Village Tea Room, a longtime local establishment whose online menu seemed to focus on high-quality, seasonal ingredients. We sat outside on the porch (until the mosquitoes drove us in) and ordered what turned out to be a stellar Riesling from the Finger Lakes region of New York. EB started with a boldly colorful cold beet soup, which had distinct flavors of dill and leeks.

DuckEB’s main course was a Guinness Pie, which was only so-so. My main course, on the other hand, was a confit duck leg and thigh, which was super-tender on the inside and perfectly crispy on the outside. The meat came atop a bed of squash and alongside a savory, garlicky white bean stew. It was the best meal I had eaten in quite some time. The desserts at The Village Tea Room also looked delicious. EB got rice pudding, but I decided to pass. After all, we had a whole chunk of anniversary cake waiting for us back at the inn.

Pine Bush House Bed and Breakfast
215 Maple Ave.
Pine Bush, NY 12566
845.744.3641

Erie Restaurant
88 Depot St.
Pine Bush, NY 12566
845.744.9963

The Village Tea Room
10 Plattekill Ave.
New Paltz, NY 12561
845.255.3434

Village Tea Room on Urbanspoon