April 29, 2007

Guest Blog: Residenz Heinz Winkler (Austria)

I'm fortunate to have a fantastic guest blog entry from J on the experience he and Em had at the Residenz Heinz Winkler in Austria. I'm particularly excited by this entry because I've never seen J speak or write of food quite like this before... really cool to read. Enjoy his tale of an extravagant, wonderful food experience.
After having a glorious time in Greece with Lav & Jack, Emily and I headed off to Munich for a 3 day layover. Needless to say, Germany (and more specifically, the Bavarian region) is quite a different gastronomical experience than Greece, with fresh fish and great olive oil being replaced with hearty sausage and spicy mustards.

From Munich, we took a day trip to Dachau, a concentration camp not to far outside of Munich. It was a heart-wrenching experience to see the conditions people were forced to endure, and it was chilling to see how much thought, organization, and operational efficiency the Nazis put into implementing mass murder.

The next day, Emily and I took a day trip to Salzburg, about a two-hour train ride from Munich. We saw Mozart's birthplace and toured the apartment where he grew up. Quite a juxtaposition, going one day from seeing the lowest of lows of humanity in Dachau, to the highest of highs in the brilliance of the music of genius Mozart in Salzburg.

On our way back to Munich from Salzburg, we stopped in a little German town called Aschau, where there is a 3-star Michelin restaurant called Residenz Heinz Winkler. I had come across this restaurant online and thought it was a cool way for Emily and me to see a little more of the countryside and also get an incredible meal. And it was, by all measures, incredible.

I know I need to get on to the food (this is a food blog after all) but I have to start first with the service, which was, by far, the best service I have ever received anywhere. Let me give you some examples of the level of service:
  • Obviously they did simultaneous presentation of dishes to the table, always serving from the right side.
  • Three people were assigned to our table - our main waiter and two helpers. All were young, fluent in German and in English (we think French too) and incredibly friendly with no hint of pretentiousness.
  • Each round table has a small square table and a stool beside it. The small square table is a place for them to set, ice, and decant wines. The stool? It was a place for Emily to put her purse so it doesn't sit on the ground!
  • When I got up to use the restroom, one helper rushed up to escort me. Apparently that is customary, but I had gotten up too quickly so she had to scramble to catch up to me.
  • My favorite: I sneezed into my cloth napkin. Not blew my nose, mind you, just sneezed. Immediately, one helper came by with a brand new cloth napkin and took my old one away!
  • Not only did our waiter help us with the wine pairings, he gave us two extra (free!) wine pairings to show us how they tasted and melded with the courses. These were not just bottles already opened - he actually came by and opened new bottles for us.
  • The waiter would take a little pre-taste of each wine bottle, to make sure it had not gone bad. He used the remainder of what he poured in his tasting glass to rinse out the glasses he was preparing for us to drink from. His reasoning – the glasses could have dust or other residue on them, and why waste the tasting wine when he could use it to clean the glass? I thought it was a nice touch.
  • Because we were staying in Munich that night, we had to catch the last train from Prien, a 10-minute drive from Aschau. We were pushing close to the time, and our waiter coordinated getting us a taxi and instructing the driver to rush us to make the train on time. It was quite a taxi ride, but we made it!
Okay, on to the food.

When we first arrived we were seated outside on the patio, facing the snow-capped Alps, to begin our meal with bellinis made fresh with local peaches. These were amazing! They actually tasted like biting into a fresh peach on a warm summer day.

Once we were seated, we were served with a hearty consommé, compliments of the chef, paired with a 2005 Spanish sauvignon blanc, Palacio de Mande from Cuevas de Castillo. A simple fresh wine, with a slight metallic aftertaste, it balanced nicely with the heartiness of the consommé.

Then, another amuse bouche - smoked trout in olive oil with wasabi caviar. The trout was silky smooth, complemented by the caviar, which added a much different texture - a crunchy pop surprising the mouth. The trout was very lightly smoked. It reminded me of the homemade smoked salmon at Sushi Sho, La V & Jack's favorite sushi restaurant in Berkeley. The trout was served with a parsley root mousse and coriander foam. I am not a fan of parsley, I think it's overused, and usually as an afterthought. Here however, it was pronounced, but subtle, mixing nicely with the spice from the coriander. This is major theme of the dinner in my mind – understated, yet distinct flavors across nearly all the dishes.

Now to the 5-course chef’s tasting menu.

For the first course, I had the foie gras with nuts and raisins. The liver was silky smooth with a hint of red chili – it actually reminded me a bit of a hoisin sauce. Our waiter paired this with a 2003 Gewurtzraminer (Vendange Tardive, Henri Kieffer Fils, Alsaces France). An incredibly floral bouquet - smelling the glass was like smelling warm roses. The wine tasted lightly of rose petals with a strong hint lychee, with a really short finish.

Instead of the foie gras, Emily had the carpaccio of Sea Bass with basil sauce. This was beautifully arranged.

Next up was the Cassoulette of "Schrobenhausener" asparagus with morels – what turned out to be my favorite dish. Schrobenhausener is a white asparagus local to the region - thick spears with a lighter flavor than the green asparagus we’re used to. It reminded me of a classic meat and potatoes dish - the morels were so substantial, their texture was like that of a nice filet mignon, and the asparagus were cooked so perfectly, they melted in your mouth like creamy potatoes. Our waiter paired this dish with a 2005 Riesling (Dorsheimer Goldloch, Schlossgut Diehl, Nahe). Super clear, with a taste of honeysuckle, again very little aftertaste.

Next, I went off prix fixe menu (customization encouraged, at no extra charge!) and had the Lobster Medallions with saffron black noodles. This sounded so interesting, I had to try it, but ended up being not so special to me. The noodles were prepared very well, but the lobster was quite chewy.

Emily had "Filet of Angler Fish a L'Ancienne".

Here is an occasion where our waiter poured us wine on the house. It seemed as if he enjoyed sharing with us certain wines with specific dishes as much as we enjoyed having them. He saw our interest in tasting local wines, so this time he poured a 2005 Chardonnay Reserve (Weingut Markowitsch, Carnuntum, Austria). He served this in large glasses meant for red wine, explaining it helped to bring out the bouquet, which was very oaky. According to the waiter, this wine spends only 50% of its time in oak barrels, and 50% in steel. This wine really hit me on the back of the tongue, and in contrast to the wines we had earlier, had a long finish. Strong flavors of cinnamon and vanilla; seemed quite different to me to how buttery I feel most California chardonnays are.

Our waiter then recommended that we go off the menu, and instead of a Crepinette of Young Calf, we had a small cut of veal for two that was cut and prepared right at the table. It was served in a curry truffle sauce, with a side of some root vegetables and a little package of fried potato strings wrapped in bacon. Now on a meat course, we finally moved to a red wine, with a 2003 Pinot Noir Grand Select (Weingut Wieninger, Wien, Austria). This was a Vienna wine maker, a very dry, classic Pinot. It had a slight acidity and a very spicy finish that lingered on the back of the tongue.

For dessert, we had a Fried Chocolate Truffle with coconut ice cream. This might be one of my favorite desserts ever. I'm not sure if I was a little biased from my recent travels to Greece, but these rounds balls of chocolate had the wonderful consistency of a Loukamadi, a Greek fried donut usually served with honey. But whereas a loukamadi is just air inside, these were filled with a rich liquid chocolate. The coconut ice cream was so concentrated in flavor, but not overwhelming. The ice cream did a great job of cleansing the palette for the next bite of fried chocolate truffle. Here again our waiter served us a wine on the house, a Rogomme (Chateau de Chambert, Cohors, France). A sweet wine, with flavors of figs, plums, and raisins.

And finally, we were served a dish with homemade pralines, chocolates, dried fruit, and something that looked like a little boat of hazelnuts with orange zest.

This was our second three-start Michelin rated restaurant - French Laundry was the other. Both glorious meals, but there’s something to be said for being nestled in the German countryside with the snow-capped Alps in view, eating a wonderful dinner paired with perfect wines, and enjoying the company of not only my wife, but some very kind and generous restaurant staff who seemed intent on us having the perfect dining experience... and it was!

1 comment:

  1. sounds like a fabulous dinner! i'm sure that the view of the austrian alps was like icing on top! or in your case, the ice cream next to the fried chocolate truffle!