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I just returned to the U.S. from a week in Germany and was quite impressed with the restaurants I sampled. At the top of the list was the Schwarzer Hahn in the Deidesheimer Hof hotel, located in the small town of Deidesheim along the Weinstrasse in the Pfalz, about 1.5-2 hours drive southwest of Frankfurt. The Schwarzer Hahn gained some fame internationally when it was said to be the favorite restaurant of former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, a place where he took his foreign guests to impress them with such local specialties as Saumagen (pig's belly). Actually, the restaurant has had a very high culinary standard, consistently receiving a Michelin star and high ratings in the Gault Millau guide (17, down to 16 this year). There's been some change of personnel, with a relatively new chef de cuisine, Stefan Neugebauer. The Deidesheimer Hof also has a second restaurant, the St. Urban, which specializes in the regional food of the Pfalz. I've eaten at the St. Urban before -- it's much more informal and less expensive than the Schwarzer Hahn and does have very tasty Saumagen! Both restaurants were filled to capacity on a recent mid-April Saturday.

Options at the Schwarzer Hahn include two 7 course gourmet tasting menus offered at 100 Euros for the "French" menu and 85 Euros for the "regional" menu. One can trim down these to 6 and 5 courses at a reduced cost. I chose a 5 course regional menu at 72 Euros and also chose the 5 course wine service for an additional 35 Euros. One of the highlights of the meal was to have local Pfalz wines paired appropriately with each of the courses. There are many a la carte courses that were enticing as well, including a Saumagen dish with fois gras, but considering the quality of both the food and the wine served on the tasting menu, I was glad I chose that option.

Soon after I arrived, I was served an amuse-guele of three little glass jars, filled respectively with a dill cream, chopped matjes herring and apples, and cold spicy asiatic vegetables. Another amuse-guele trio followed: a piece of salmon in thin crispy dough, rice topped with caviar and a quail egg, and a strong consommé with vegetables. All six of these little extras were interesting, the consommé and herring were delicious. Served along with these was a Weisse Burgunder (Pinot Blanc) from near Deidesheim -- dry, spicy, and crisp. Excellent breads (walnut, bacon, and whole wheat) were brought to the table.

My first real course was a strudel of spicy rabbit (Kaninchen) served with cold red beets and coconut foam, a stunning combination that was really tasty. The accompanying wine was a Rosé from Schneider, a local vintner, dry with a touch of berries. The second course was a large raviolo stuffed with fois gras, over which was ladeled a broth made from green lentils. This was another interesting and delicious dish. The wine (surprisingly) was a steel fermented Chardonnay (I didn't note down the vintner). I learned from the sommelier that local vintners are experimenting with some non-traditional grapes (Riesling is generally King in the Pfalz, Chardonnay is relatively new in this region) and producing some very interesting wines. This Chardonnay was a bit fruity but was also unusually light and crispy.

Next, a risotto with chicken and shrimps was served along with another Chardonnay, this time barrique-aged, fuller and fruitier, from Jacob Pfleger of nearby Herxheim. Again, the combination of wine and food fit well. The chicken in this dish, especially, was outstanding. The fourth course was slices of orange-infused duck breast served with carrots and asparagus. Again, delicious, served with a red blend of Pinot Noir and St. Laurent that tasted better than any red German wine I'd previoiusly tried. Finally, came the cheese course (I substituted servings from the cheese cart for the dessert course listed on the 5 course tasting menu, at no extra charge). I had five cheeses, all French, including a good chevre and a Münster, served with my final wine, a sweet Riesling/Sylvaner hybrid (I didn't note the vintner). A selection of pralines were offered at the end of the meal.

This was certainly the best meal I've had in over 20 years dining in Germany (admittedly, I have not yet been to any of the Michelin 2 and 3 star/Gaullt Millau 18 or 19 rated places , but I would rate the Schwarzer Hahn above the similarly starred and either equally or higher Gaullt Millau rated Vau in Berlin, Luther in Freinsheim, Erno's Bistro in Frankfurt, Schachener Hof near Lindau, or (see below) Eisenbahn in Schwäbisch Hall and Wald und Schlosshotel Friedrichsrühe near Öhringen.

My second favorite restaurant on the trip was Gargantua in Frankfurt. I think this restaurant at one time had a Michelin star, but now is merely listed in this guide; it rates a 16 in the Gault Millau, similar to the Schwarzer Hahn. I had in fact tried to book a table at Ernos Bistro, also located on the same street in Frankfurt's fashionable westend, but they were filled up and I am glad they were, as Gargantua turned out to be much more interesting. Ernos, which I very much liked on a previous Frankfurt visit, is as classical a French restaurant as one can find in Germany, very much in the mold of what the Michelin people really like in Germany. Gargantua is a much more adventurous creative place, although also basically a bistro. It is quite small, about 10 tables with only one waiter, but very nicely decorated. Here, I also ordered a tasting menu, this time of 4 courses for 50 Euros. After a somewhat indifferent amuse-guele of tomato mousse and a slice of headcheese, an excellent first course set the tone for an excellent meal. A duo of poached fish, Waller and Zander ("pike perch," and a type of catfish) in aspic with traditional Frankfurt grüne Sosse (green sauce) made a great combination. Grüne Sosse, usually just put on boiled potatoes or boiled beef, was actually a great accompaniment for the delicate fish. The little crispy sesame and sunflower seed rolls were perfect with this dish. My second course was a Thai-inspired chicken lemongrass soup served with a crispy springroll with shrimp. The soup was a thicker stock than any Thai soup I'd had, but it was really very good. My third course was slices of tasty lean leg of lamb in a rich brown sauce with some sort of braised lettuce-like vegetable and a rich risotto with spices and peas. I again opted for cheese as my fourth course, portions of three cheeses served with a delicious quince jam. I had three glasses (0.2 liters each) of wine to accompany the meal -- a very good Rhinegau Riesling (a bargain at 3.80 Euros), a tasty Weissburgunder (I think from the Pfalz, also a good value at 3.80 Euros), and a quite good Barbera d'Alba (8.00 Euros, overpriced). A very satisfying and interesting meal!

Also excellent to good, were meals at two Michelin starred restaurants near Schwäbisch Hall, a two hour drive southeast of Frankfurt. This exquisitely intact late medieval town is filled with half-timbered houses and also has a fantastic set of spa pools fed by saline hot springs. The spa complex is connected to the well run Hotel Hohenlohe, where I spent one night. In the nearby village of Hessental is the Hotel Wolf and its restaurant Eisenbahn. This is basically a French restaurant with Schwabian touches. Here, again, I ordered a tasting menu of four courses (53 Euros). Three amuse-gueles set a nice elegant tone for the meal -- first, a tiny piece of fois gras in aspic, then a trio of creme of eel with a bit of caviar, a tiny tomato filled with basil and créme fraiche, and a piece of house marinated salmon, and then a large scallop served with a sweet rhubarb-like sauce (the least successful of the three). My first course was a nice foamy cream soup with crayfish . (I had originally chosen the marinated fois gras first course option, but they had run out.) The second course was Steinbuttrolle (two small fillets of turbot rolled around oysters) in the same foam as topped the soup with a bit of caviar, served with pearled carrots and other root vegetables. This was a very delicious course. The third course was a rack of tiny rare lamb chops and a well done but tender piece of fillet of lamb wrapped in a cabbage leaf, served with ratatouille, oyster mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and scalloped potatos. The lamb and some of the vegetables were excellent, but there was too much on this plate and I didn't like the ratatouille very much. My fourth course again was cheese, like the Schwarzer Hahn, from a very impressive cart of entirely French cheeses. To accompany the meal, I ordered quarter liter portions of dry Riesling Kabinet from the Fürst zu Hohenlohe estate (see below) and dry Grauburgunder (pinot grigio) from Durbach (Baden). The Hohenlohe Riesling was very dry and very restrained, the Grauburgunder was much more floral, although still very dry. Service was very slow.

Also near Schwäbisch Hall is the Prince of Hohenlohe estate, which contains the Wald und Schloss Hotel Friedrichsrühe and its Michelin starred restaurant. I spent one night in this elegant hotel, with an elegant room in the Schloss (chateau) at an off season rate of 135 Euros. The hotel has indoor and outdoor swimming pools and nice woodsy grounds for walks. The restaurant is a very formal room with red fabric walls and green upholstered arm chairs. Tasting menus are offered at 108 and 82 Euros, but they did not seem that interesting so I ordered a la carte. Two amuse gueles were brought to the table -- a little medalian of tuna with asparagus in aspic, and a very small piece of turbot on a bed of wild rice and yellow peppers. My first course was a seafood soup (Krustentierkraftbrühe) with sweet/sour cherry tomatoes. This turned out to be close to a Provençal fish soup without the garlic, aoili, etc., but with delicious cherry tomatoes that had been pickled in some way -- a very delicious and interesting dish (12.50 Euros). My second course was Seeteufel (lotte) with an olive crust served with a lemon flan and broad beans and peas (17 Euros). I found this course to be a bit boring despite the excellent ingrediants. Third, I had a lamb course, which consisted of lamb cooked in two ways -- a rare piece of loin wrapped in a thick piece of lamb fat, and a well done piece of leg (I think), served with diced red and yellow peppers, white beans, and a pureé of what might have been kohlrabi. Although the components of the dish were of good quality, the dish did not have that much character and was the least interesting of the courses. I ordered three wines, all from the Hohenlohe estate, by the glass. The Riesling was dry, mildly fruity, but not particularly destinctive. A Sylvaner was very dry and astringent, but went well with the Seeteufel dish. A Pinot Noir was quite ordinary (and in fact the waiter had suggested a Bordeaux, but I wanted to see what they could do with red wine here). Service was formal but efficient. This was certainly the least successful of the four restaurants, but one could see flashes of excellence from the kitchen.

Of the four restaurants I am writing about, the Friedrichsrühe was the only one where there were smokers and it was quite annoying. I think the Schwarzer Hahn now explicitly forbids smoking in its dining room and I just may have been lucky in that there were no smokers in the other two restaurants. My experiences over the last year is that smoking is very much on the decline in fine restaurants in Germany and Italy, and particular restaurants (e.g., Le Calandre near Padova explicitly forbid smoking in the dining room).

It is surprising to me that there is relatively little eGullet interest in Germany despite its many excellent restaurants. True, most of the highest-rated German restaurants are heavily French-infuenced, but when one gets a fusion of local and French influences, coupled with great wines, as in the Schwarzer Hahn, greater interest is warranted in my opinion. In the summer I will be back in Germany and I'll report again on what I find.

Edited by vigna (log)
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Thanks for the report, vigna !

My second favorite restaurant on the trip was Gargantua in Frankfurt.

I had the best "beef rossini" of my life, there :smile:

Ernos, which I very much liked on a previous Frankfurt visit, is as classical a French restaurant as one can find in Germany

Well, maybe in Germany but certainly not alike any french restaurant in Frankfurt. Erno's food is maybe not the most creative but the dishes are perfectly executed.

And when I hear people compare it to "Bistro 77" (not you of course but someone did when I was in Frankfurt), I can't believe they mean the place is almost as good as Erno's bistro !!

The decor is not great, agreed. But the food, for Frankfurt, is truly exceptional.

Erno's also has an impressive wine list and rarities that are not overpriced.

Mr Huber is truly passionate about wine, and it shows on his very well thought winelist, IMHO.

Anyway, Erno's bistro and Gargantua are the right choices in Frankfurt though I have not tried

Osteria Enoteca nor the new place "brick" ?? on Walter von Kronberg platz, south west

of Sachsenhausen.

Have you tried these ? Heard anything about them ?

very much in the mold of what the Michelin people really like in Germany.

Could you give more details ?

It is surprising to me that there is relatively little eGullet interest in Germany despite its many excellent restaurants.

I have to be honest here. Frankfurt (not Germany) was(is?) a desert for haute cuisine, ethnic cuisine is not very brilliant either apart from some thai places, maybe ?

A lot of people had praise for Japanese places like "Utage" or "sushimoto" that I find good but not impressive. You'll find the odd good italian place but nothing worth a trip, really.

Of course, what I say here only applies to Frankfurt ...

I will be back in Germany and I'll report again

Please do, I'd be delighted to read your comments.

See, there is some interest in Germany on eGullet :wink:

"Je préfère le vin d'ici à l'au-delà"

Francis Blanche

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Interesting report. Especially in comparison to what many locals think about the frankfurt places you have visited (iam from frankfurt, too).

Iam glad that you had such great meals there, but I have to admit that I find ERNOS to be the most overpriced restaurant I have ever been to. They charge 40,- euros for a main course, just like a 3*-place (which they are not, by no means!) and 25,- for simple starters like "salad with pancetta".

The food itself is well executed, granted. But for that kinda money I except much more in terms of creativity and sheer "finesse".

I would much prefer the TIGER RESTAURANT or the RESTAURANT FRANCAIS which are almost as pricey but have a lot more style and class.

Outside of Frankfurt, in the small town of Langen, 2* RESTAURANT AMADOR is not to be missed. It is expensive (130,- for the large tasting menu) but worth every penny. Cooking is on the experimental side, atmosphere is nicely relaxed.

I have never been to GARGANTUA since many people decry it's lack of quality in the past years.

BRICK, by the way, is closed since 2004.

For a nice and not so pricey 1*-place the LEIB UND SEELE in Friedberg (20 min. from frankfurt) is always a good bet: very relaxed atmophere and the 6-course-menu costs 70-80 euros (109,- including wine-pairing).

OSTERIA ENOTECA is good but not great, in my opinion.

Greetings

kai

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