Saturday, November 28, 2009
Restaurants: Many are also called Gasthaus-Restaurant or Hotel-Restaurant, the latter of course will have rooms; the former one, may or may not. Generally the Hotel-Restaurant will be more expensive, but not necessarily, as one of our favourites is a Gasthaus-Restaurant and it is a one star (Michelin) and their menu is fairly expensive. Usually, though, you will find at least one or two dishes on the menu that are not that expensive, but that depends on the place and just how fancy it is. One can usually tell just by looking at the menu posted. All eating places post their prices outside, whether it is a Gasthaus or restaurant.
The picture shown is of me at the Schwarzer-Adler, a one-star restaurant in the Kaiserstuhl, a large wine region built on former volcanic ash. The Romans planted the first grapes on their march north in this area.
Restaurants have much larger menus and will usually have dishes that one wouldn't find at a regular Gasthaus, such as lamb, duck, game or fish. The presentation will also be more elegant generally and perhaps a small first course "on the house" will be served. (Fish is usually only found in more upscale Gasthauses or in those that specialize in it; in the latter case, it might be quite a simple family-run Gasthaus with their own fish ponds out in the country). It is a good idea to reserve if you are anxious to dine in a particular restaurant. Weekends can be very busy, Sunday being the busiest day of all--noon hour and evening. Gasthauses, of course, can also be very busy and it is wise also to reserve for a Sunday or special holiday. With a group of more than four, I would always book ahead, just to ensure having a table available on arrival.
In summer, enjoy dinner on the patio or terrace as many restaurants feature them. Sit outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. During the Christmas season, they will be beautifully decorated inside; outside, most will have a tree glittering in white lights. At this time of year, we look forward to all of that, one of the loveliest times of year in Germany.
Vesper Stube: These are usually cosy places often found "in the middle of nowhere." Go up a mountain road and--if you are lucky--at the top or end of the road, you will find a Vesper Stube. Or driving through the forest on a small road, you come into a clearing with meadows greeting you and perhaps a farm with a Vesper Stube. Occasionally a small village will be the home of one, but mostly they are found in the country.
Generally these are small and simple, with wooden benches and long tables, though some do have smaller tables and chairs. Inside it is usually rustic with wood or even stone walls and a wood burning stove to keep everyone warm on cold days. Meals are simple, mostly cold dishes but with perhaps an egg dish, soup or Bratwurst offered as well. Beer and wine is offered, though the choice will be limited; Schnaps is nearly always available. Some Vesper Stuben have 'Most' on their menu; that is apple cider and it can be pretty potent. It's usually very cheap as it is produced, just like most foods served, by the farmer and his wife themselves. Some of the products that can come right from their farms are eggs, butter, bread, Schinken (ham) and cottage cheese or Quark. The Schnaps will come from the farm as well.
One needs distillery rights for Schnaps-making and the licenses can be handed down from father to son. Only so many licenses are given out, so if you aren't lucky enough to have a father or grandfather with those rights, you will have to wait and hope for the best that one will become available. In the small town next to ours, there are at least two with that license.
We go to a farmer out in the hills and anyone we've taken there with us says it is the best they've ever had. Hans thinks so as well. At that particular farm, the farmer loved his Schnaps (he has now retired and the son has taken it over). It was pretty difficult to get away without sampling a few of them! I rarely drink Schnaps myself, but will on occasion when it would be impolite to refuse. They are very high in alcohol, some 50%, so beware! Most are made from fruit-- cherries, plums and pears in particular. The world-famous Schwarzwaelder Kirchwasser comes right from here.
Winzerstube or Weinstube: A Winzerstube is owned and run by the vintner and the wines there will be his own. The Weinstube can be owned by a vintner but also by a co-op. If by a vintner, the wines will be his; if by a co-op, the wines will come from several vintners in the town (or nearby area), as their grapes go to the co-op to be turned into wine and bottled there.
Isele's, below, is a cosy Weinstuben with stone walls and a simple wood stove to keep it warm.
Both Stuben can be similar to a Vesper Stube or to a Gasthaus and can be small or quite large and elegant. They are naturally found most often in the grape-growing areas. Schnaps is usually available but seldom beer. Food is always available and the menu will be according to the size or type of the Stuben (elegant or simple). Most Weinstuben or Winzerstuben are nicely decorated inside, often having wooden floors and wood panelling on the walls and ceiling.
Isele's is in our next village, about one kilometer away. He is a vintner and serves his own wine and also sells it for those who wish to buy any to take home. Frau Isele does the cooking, offering a small menu of both cold and warm dishes.
Below, Isele's Weinstuben at night.
Wine tastings, if at a vintner's stube, are quite often available, though it would normally be given before opening hours. We have gone to many wine tastings but usually right at the vintner's residence, where most have a tasting room in part of the house or next to it. The Winzergenossenschaft (wine co-0p) is open every day and one can just walk in and ask to sample some wines. We make a point, though, if sampling, to buy at least a couple of bottles, as the tasting is usually free.
Germany is one of the few countries whose wines are made from one particular grape. Most wines from our area never get exported anywhere as they sell out right at home or within the province. Some varieties of grapes and their wines include Muller Thurgau, from which the largest amount of white wine is produced (it's the locals' everyday white wine); Weissherbst, which is becoming very popular once again; some interest in it had declined over the past number of years, though not with me! It's my favourite everyday drinking wine; Weissburgunder (pinot blank); Grauburgunder (pinot gris); Spaetburgunder (pinot noir), from which the German red wine is produced.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
The main street of Ettenheimmünster leads directly to France westward (through Münchweier)--without a turn either left or right. Twenty minutes later, at the end of that main road, one arrives at the Rhine River and the small ferry that crosses over to Alsace every 15 minutes each day. It is free and garners a lot of traffic to and fro.
Our village, Ettenheimmünster, is also picturesquely located. It is mainly residential. An artisan makes and sells pottery at the bottom of our street and just above by the canal is an Imker or bee-keeper. A large long-term care home, recently renovated and in the old style, sits on former monastery land on the main street through town. That monastery is now long gone except for part of the wall. Until recently, within the walls, were a flour mill and baker. There is a small business that sells fireplaces on the main street now celebrating its 25th year.
Just below the pottery maker, on the corner facing the church, is a cafe. Here in Germany cafes are known for their coffee and cake rather than a place where townspeople congregate to drink wine and have discussions or perhaps have a small bite to eat as in France. However, cafes here do offer small meals, wine and beer and they can be a meeting place. Our cafe is small and not fancy, but it has fresh Brötchen (rolls), tortes and cakes every day and offers a few other simple things to eat. In summer, there are tables and chairs outside beside the sidewalk. As the cafe is directly across the street from the cathedral, many tourists stop by throughout the year.
Part of the lore of the church is the natural spring well that is sheltered under a cupola next to the main door. The story is that an Irish monk came to what is now Ettenheimmünster. A heathen hunter is said to have murdered him by beheading and where the monk's head fell onto the ground, five Quellen or springs arose. He became a martyr. This led to many other monks coming to experience this wonder. By 725 stood the first settlement for monks and, later, a large monastery was built. The waters are supposed to be good for the eyes. The story of the beheading and the springs can be seen on the ceiling of the church.
Across the street from the church, near the cafe, is another spring well and every day people line up to fill their containers with the water: not for their eyes but for their coffee!
Unfortunately we have no Gasthaus in our village. One that closed its door as a Gasthaus now makes and sells Flammen Kuchen--a specialty of this region--to various Gasthäuser and markets and for parties. Flammen Kuchen (called tarte flambe in France) has a thin pastry-type crust and various toppings; my favourite is the topping with Münsterkäse (Munster cheese). Schinken (slightly smoked ham) is a common topping. First though, a mixture of sour cream, eggs and creme fraiche is spread over the pastry. That might change somewhat with the baker. You will find it at every festival or special market.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
We women, of course, discussed numerous things, including blogs. None had ever read a blog or really knew that much about them. I didn't either before getting started on my own, though I did know what they were. They all gave me ideas about what I should write about. Food was high on their priority list! They mentioned Spaetzle, Spargel, Wildschwein, Zwiebel Kuchen, all of which are seasonal specialties here. Some of those I had in mind already and will talk about them as the seasons progress. Spaetzle is a Baden specialty all year long; Spargel is the white asparagus served here in Germany in spring; Wildschwein is wild boar and is served in late fall and winter, and Zwiebel Kuchen is an onion tart, served with new wine during the grape harvest.
Today, though, is about our lunch. The menu at the Damenmuehle is quite small, though they have added to it since last spring. In some ways the fewer options is a negative thing, but in others, it means the chef isn't so overworked that he can't put the time into his dishes properly.
My choice for lunch was Schweinelenchen, which is pork filet cut into several pieces for serving. I had three very thick ones, all topped with Camembert cheese, which were then broiled quickly in the oven. I have had Schweinelenchen many times but this is the first time with Camembert. Often it comes with Pfefferlingen (chanterelles). Both ways are a great idea for a dinner party, I think. Mine came with a delicious and delicate sauce and small potato croquettes made by the chef that seemed to melt in the mouth. They were superb. Lots of butter in the potato puree within them and that is what made them so flavourable. I ended up taking two of the three pork filiet pieces home (still topped with the Camembert) as I could not eat more.
Gertrud ordered Kuerbissuppe (pumpkin soup) to start. She said it, too, was excellent. At this time of year, from early into late fall, many Gasthauses have that on their menu. I always think of pumpkins as being North American, but I'm sure there are more pumpkin specialties served here in Germany than even there. We do see them everywhere and perhaps the idea did come from North America.Erika had a chicken salad and it was so large she had trouble eating it all and, actually, I'm not sure she did. Monika ordered a Wurstsalat, which is another specialty of our area. It was huge! She also took half home. Wurstsalat combines thin strips of meat or Wurst (something like bologna but much better quality) with a salad dressing, along with some onion and cheese (the cheese only if it is called a Strasburger Wurstsalat) and perhaps a type of pickle or something else a particular Gasthaus might add. Wurstsalat differs from Gasthaus to Gasthaus and restaurant to restaurant. It's the dressing that makes the difference--and the quality of the meat.
The chef came to our table shortly after we arrived and asked us if we felt quite hungry. I then asked what was special for that day and he answered, "Everything!" He is personable and very talented and artistic, which shows in the presentation and his flair. He also came back to our table to ask if we enjoyed our meal. They were very busy with a large group from a conference in another room having lunch, so that was appreciated. The waitresses (Kellnerinen) wear Trachten (traditional German dress). Both, I'm sure, were trained in a hotel management or cooking school due to their professional service.I must say that they had no idea I would be writing about them and neither do any of the other Gasthauses or restaurants or markets I have talked about.
We are fortunate here with so many good restaurants and Gasthauses within a short radius of where we live. Next time I'll tell you a little about our village, which is about 20 kilometers south of Lahr and an hour from Basel, Switzerland and Strasbourg, France.
Monday, November 16, 2009
We started going there shortly after they opened and that was quite a few years ago now. A couple of babies came along after that and we watched them growing and later playing games at a table while guests were enjoying food, wine and comradeship.
One steps down into the Stube upon entering from outside into a room of rock walls and a small wood burning stove. The first room, where we usually sit, is small with only two regular tables and one table with two chairs, plus a small bar (large enough for only two to three people to stand). Going through that first room you come to a larger room with several tables as well as a play table for children and beyond it to the garden area, where in warm weather it is a wonderful place to sit and eat and drink one's wine, all of which is from Isele's own vineyard.
In the beginning, both Hans and I found Herr Isele's wine too dry (or what we thought of as too sour at the time). Hans even told him that and a good argument got underway. But over the years his wine has gotten better and better, and now we have to admit some of them are very, very good and even excellent. Many others think so as well.
So tonight that is where we went once again. I had their Schnitzel, which is always excellent. A Schnitzel is not the same everywhere, though they are all prepared in much the same way and cooked much the same way. Frau Isele's are thicker than most and from a very good cut of pork, tender and tasty. Not all Schnitzels are covered in crumbs, but that is how I like them best. A Wienerschnitzel is always covered in crumbs and the true one is made from veal. We, however, prefer ours made from pork. So in Germany, unless it says Wienerschnitzel on the menu, it will likely have been made from pork, not veal. Even if it says Wienerart (art of Vienna), it doesn't necessarily mean veal either. To make sure it has crumbs, the word "paniert" should be there unless it is Wienerschnitzel.
Some Schnitzels are sauteed or panfried in butter and oil; some are deep fried in oil. The latter is considered by some to be the proper way to cook them, but the first one is also delicious and the more usual way to cook them generally. The butter does add a lot of flavour and that is how mine was cooked this evening.
I had Bratkartoffeln (pan fried potatoes) with my Schnitzel paniert. Hans had something else, a favourite of his: Quark (a type of cottage cheese) with fresh bread. By the way, I took one Schnitzel home as two came on my plate and they were more than I could eat. That is very common in our area, and in any local Gasthaus the owners or chef are very happy to wrap them for you to take home. I wouldn't do it at a high class restaurant, though even then I suppose one could. Well, perhaps not at a three star restaurant!
I started out with a glass of Weiss Burgunder wine (pinot blanc); Herr Isele's is very nice, one of my favourites there. Hans had a glass of Muscat, which was very unusual and had a wonderful full body. It tasted a lot like one of our favourites--Scheurebe--with a similar flowery taste. Both these wines were from 2008. The 2009 wines are expected to be very good, but we shall have to wait until next year to find out. All of Herr Isele's wines are for sale so one can go there and buy a case or a bottle of whatever type of wine he has. He does offer wine tastings as well.
During our evening, we spoke with several people as that is often the way in a Gasthaus or Stube. Everyone talks to everyone else, especially in a small and cosy place as this is. We ran into two or three people that we know and stood beside the small bar as we were leaving to talk with a neighbour of ours. We also talked with the Wirt (owner), Herr Isele) and the Wirtin, Frau Isele. That is also customary. For us, friendliness is as important as a good meal or a good wine. Without the first, one just may not go back. As we often say here, we can find good food and wine in many Gaststuben (inns, restaurants), so without pleasant service, we'll go elsewhere next time. That was certainly not the case tonight; we'll be going back again before long.