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Valentine’s Day dinner at Refugio 2018… a big “meh”…

I did try.

Ahh, Valentine’s Day…  a greeting card holiday that has caused quite the angst in many a young person.  Since I haven’t been young in awhile, I’ve made it a point to try to do things on Valentine’s Day.  My husband, Bill, is very obliging.  Most years, he brings me chocolate, a mushy card, and/or flowers.  We also usually go out to dinner.  I’ll put on a relatively pretty dress and fix my hair.  He’ll put on fancy clothes I bought him for Christmas.  We’ll hit the town and try to be fancy.

“When in doubt, pinky out…”

Last year, our Valentine’s Day celebration took place at Refugio, a restaurant at Hotel La Casa in Tübingen.  I remember we had originally made other plans for Valentine’s Day dinner 2017, but I was swayed by the ads I kept seeing on Facebook for Refugio’s event.  They were having a concert with a virtuoso pianist and singer, plus a set dinner.  Last year, we had to reserve in advance and the hotel mailed us actual tickets to the dinner.  I remember having a pretty good time, even if I don’t always have the best luck with “set dinners”.

Fast forward a year.  It’s Valentine’s Day again.  Somehow, we let our plans get away from us.  Bill was too busy to bring me flowers, chocolate, or even a mushy card.  Two days ago, I visited Hotel La Casa’s Facebook page and noticed they were doing another Valentine’s Day dinner, albeit with less fanfare than last year’s celebration.  I asked on Facebook if they still had reservations open.  They responded that they did, so I asked Bill if he wanted to go.  He said yes and emailed them a reservation request for 7:30pm.

Last night, Bill came home from work and changed from work clothes to…  work clothes.  I changed out of my nightgown, put on pantyhose and makeup, and curled my rapidly greying blonde hair.  The dress I wore last night was a purple velvet number I bought for our latest Scottish cruise.  I decided I should wear it instead of the black dress I usually wear when we go out.  Bill doesn’t like it when I wear black on Valentine’s Day.  I will admit it was nice to wear something different, although that dress doesn’t show off my cleavage, which might be my most alluring feature.  I threw a wrap over it– a pretty red silk/cashmere one that Bill bought me on a business trip to Vicenza.  The same guy was probably selling them in Stuttgart.  I have to admit Bill did pretty well with that purchase.

We headed to Tübingen, arriving on time for our reservation at Hotel La Casa.  This was our third visit to the hotel’s restaurant.  I keep thinking I’d like to book a weekend there, since it’s a charming boutique/spa hotel.  Even though we only live about a half an hour from Tübingen, I know I’d find plenty to do.  Tübingen is a great town and one that is close to our hearts, since we lived very close to there when Bill was in Germany with the Army (07-09).  Before I was an annoying blahger, I was a bored housewife who had lots of fun times in Tübingen.

Things got off to a reasonably good start.  We parked in a nearby garage and walked a couple of blocks to the hotel.  A friendly receptionist welcomed us and took our coats.  We were directed to a four top table in the lower level of the dining room.  Our table was in front of a very comfortable couch like seat.  I remarked to Bill that the chairs looked like they might be new (although I see from previous reviews that they aren’t).  They were very luxurious and comfortable, even though I shared the “couch” with the lady sitting at the next table.  There was a cylindrical pillow dividing her space and mine.  The concept reminded me of an order divider one finds on conveyer belts at grocery stores.  I kind of liked it, since I’m territorial.

Although the seating was very comfortable, the person who set the table kind of made things difficult for me.  You see, the “couch” also had a barrier of sorts on the outside, which meant that in order to access the place set for me, I had to awkwardly scoot across the couch.  Likewise, if I wanted to get up to use the ladies room, I had to scoot the other way.  It wasn’t unlike trying to get out of a window seat on an airplane, although at least I didn’t have to climb over anyone to do it.  Every time I slid across the couch, my dress and panty hose shifted and I just knew I’d end up with static shock.

Our table was also located right next to a very tasteful divider that blocked the way to the ladies room.  Had that divider not been there, it would have been easy to get to the restroom.  Although I was really tempted to just duck past it, I decided to be classy and walk past the small fountain in the middle of the dining room, up the stairs, past the pianist and bar, down more stairs, and then down another flight of stairs to the restroom.  Fortunately, I didn’t wear heels last night, so it was no big deal.

Bill takes in the scene.  I was momentarily amused by the unicorn horn like napkins on the table.  I did refrain from putting one to my forehead, which is a good thing.  A tuxedo clad gentleman sitting behind us kept shooting us looks.  Or maybe he was just looking at the pianist.

A server brought us some bread and we ordered two glasses of champagne and some sparkling water.

We enjoyed the bubbly with the amuse, a heart shaped savory bread with a bacon wrapped date and a goat cheese spread that was hidden under the petals of the flower.  The amuse wasn’t bad.

 

Service was rather leisurely.  Well, for us it was, anyway.  I’m sure the servers didn’t think it was leisurely at all, as four of them looked after everyone in the restaurant.  I don’t think they had a full house, but the dining room was fairly busy.  They probably could have used at least one more set of hands.  I finished my champagne and kind of wished for a glass of white wine to go with the next couple of courses.

Meanwhile, the pianist was playing a curious selection of hits.  He’d play a romantic song, then lapse into “Just a Gigolo” or a James Bond theme.  I noticed the adorable elderly couple next to us were really enjoying the pianist’s musical stylings.  They burst into applause when the pianist stopped for a break.  I mostly enjoyed the pianist too, at least at first.  More on that, later.

After the elderly couple applauded, they got up to leave and bid us a pleasant farewell.  They were so cute.  I hope if Bill and I make it to true elderly status, we’re still going out and enjoying dinners on the town like that couple was last night.  It was lovely to see, and probably my favorite part of our evening.

Our server brought out the first course, two sea scallops on vegetables with a heart shaped “frame” of smoked salmon.  The scallops were “speared” with lemongrass, in the style of an arrow.  I enjoyed the scallops and the horseradish themed dressing that came with them.  This wasn’t too bad.  I did order a glass of white wine at this point, which the server promised he’d bring for me.  I finished this course before the wine came… (and have actually only now noticed that the salmon was arranged in a heart shape.)

Then came course two, a tomato soup with “trout chips”, a soggy heart shaped piece of bread, caviar of some sort, and a basil leaf.  It wasn’t bad, but really didn’t blow my mind…  and I also finished it before my wine came.  I had to remind the waiter to bring it.  And then when he brought the wine, it also didn’t thrill me.  It was a very buttery, locally produced grey burgundy that was slightly effervescent and kind of mediocre.  It wasn’t bad, but I like my white wines crisper. 

 

Before dinner started, we made sure to tell the waiter that I can’t eat mushrooms.  He said he would make sure my main course didn’t have them, which led me to believe that if we hadn’t asked, I’d be presented with a plate full of fungus.  I know it sounds silly, but mushrooms are the one food that make me want to run screaming from the room.  They give me the creeps (long, ridiculous story that makes me look even crazier than I am).  Anyway, more than once, I’ve been unpleasantly surprised by fungus on my plate.  I didn’t want that to happen last night.  We made very certain to confirm and our waiter assured us it was no problem.

The main course, beef filet with vegetables and a heart shaped puff pastry garnish.

 

Bill’s dish was the same as mine, which immediately made me nervous, since the waiter had originally indicated that mushrooms had been part of the dish.  The beef was covered with a an unappetizing light brown sauce.  It made me suspicious.  I asked the waiter again about the ‘shrooms.  He said there weren’t any.  Bill tasted the beef and said he couldn’t taste the nasty little parasites.  I tried the beef, too.  I don’t think there were mushrooms in the sauce, but unfortunately I was so turned off by the thought of them that I couldn’t really enjoy the main course.  I ate maybe a third of the beef and half of the vegetables.  In retrospect, I should have asked the waiter to hold any sauces.  I’ll remember that for next time.

On the positive side, the waiter did pour us a lovely Italian primitivo, that was very nice on its own.  I wish I’d thought to take a picture of the bottle because that was a wine I would love to drink at home.

“The Winner Takes It All” is a beautiful song by ABBA with a melody that lends itself to piano.  However, it seemed an odd choice for Valentine’s Day.
 
 

And the appropriately jazzy “Moon Over Bourbon Street”, is also a little creepy…  

While we were finishing the main course, I noticed the pianist’s song choices were getting a bit strange.  I can’t be sure, but I think I heard mashups of pieces that included “Moon Over Bourbon Street” by Sting and, curiously, “The Winner Takes It All” by ABBA.  I was especially perplexed by the ABBA song.  I happen to love “The Winner Takes It All”; it’s a beautiful song with a lovely melody.  However, although the song itself is moving, the lyrics are about divorce and the loss of love, so I wasn’t expecting to hear it on Valentine’s Day!  Ditto the Sting song, which is romantic and interesting, but it’s basically about a lonely vampire who is tormented by his urges to destroy the things he loves.

Dinner ended with a dessert panoply, which we shared.  There were two scoops of gelato– strawberry and mango, I think.  Two frozen chocolate mousse bars, fresh berries, a rather dry, heart-shaped chocolate brownie, and what tasted like a strawberry mousse.  The gelato was a little soft, like it had been sitting out a bit before it reached our table, but it could be they just had the gelato out of the freezer for easier scooping.  I was glad the brownie wasn’t a lava cake.  The whole thing was capped off by a heart shaped piece of white chocolate.

 

Around this time, I was starting to get a bit antsy and, if I’m honest, kind of annoyed about how dinner turned out.  I also felt a little guilty, since not enjoying Valentine’s Day is truly a first world problem.  For many years, I didn’t even have anyone to celebrate Valentine’s Day with.  Now I have a sweet husband who is willing to indulge me.  Yes, I know sometimes I’m an asshole.  We all have our moments.  Unfortunately, then Bill and I started talking about my hair, which is now natural and rapidly going grey.  Bill saved the conversation by reassuring me that he loves my hair.  The neurotic moment mercifully passed and we decided to call it a night.

Bill called for the check, which came to 179 euros.  He paid our waiter, who reminded me to take the rose in the vase, which I did.  After a quick visit to the restroom before our drive home, we stopped at the coat rack.  Normally, a staff member gets your coat for you, but I guess they were busy.  So Bill and I helped ourselves and, as I was struggling to put my coat on, our waiter came over to say goodbye without offering assistance.  That was no big deal, I guess.  Maybe you could say it sort of capped off my overall impressions of the evening– a big “meh”.

But at least the rose is pretty! 

And my hair does look blonde in this photo, which was taken last night…  so I’m going to resist the urge to break out the hair color.

I did notice a couple of patrons ordering from the regular menu.  Or, at least it appeared that they did.  I never think to ask about doing that, especially since having worked in restaurants, I know that kind of screws up things for the kitchen.  Sometimes it’s hard to go from server mentality to guest mentality, even if you’ve been out of the business for a long time.

I’ll be the first to admit that my attitude sometimes sucks.  I certainly wouldn’t say last night was a disaster.  In fact, having once worked as a waitress in a nice restaurant, I should have realized that if you really want to have a good time at dinner, it’s best to avoid eating out on popular holidays like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day.  Those are the days restaurants have “special menus” that can lead to disappointment, since you don’t necessarily have a choice in what you’ll be eating.  Those days are also when people tend to go out to eat, which means service can suffer.

Since this was our third time eating at Refugio and the first two times were good, I can truthfully say last night was probably an aberration.  No one can bat a thousand every day.  As always, it was a treat to be out with Bill, who is my favorite person.  That, in and of itself, makes any Valentine’s Day a success.  At least he was home and not deployed or TDY, right?

This weekend, we are going to the Czech Republic, staying in a town very close to Plzen, which is an excellent venue for beer lovers.  I probably like beer even more than I do wine, so I’m expecting to have a good time.  We visited Chodovar, a beer wellness land/beer spa/ brewery in the Czech Republic in February 2009 and, for many reasons, had an unforgettable experience.  So I suspect we’ll make up for last night this weekend, if all goes according to plan.  I don’t know if we’ll manage to hit the beer spa (or a wine spa, for that matter), but I’m sure we’ll find great things to do.  And this time, I won’t forget to bring my camera, like I did last time.

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Love was in the air at Hotel La Casa in Tübingen

Ever since my traumatic adolescence I’ve made a point of trying to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  When I was a young, frisky thing, I was almost always ignored on cupid’s big day.  At my high school in Gloucester, Virginia, every Valentine’s Day there was a dreaded list read at the end of the school day. It consisted of all the students– naturally all girls– who had received flowers and needed to pick them up in the office.  My name was NEVER on that list, although I do think one year a friend took pity on me and brought me carnations at home.

Anyway, for many reasons, I’m a lucky lady now.  I married a sweet guy who likes to spoil me and enjoys eating out in restaurants.  We decided to go out for Valentine’s Day this year.  Originally, we were going to try a new to us place in Pliezhausen, but then I started seeing ads for Hotel La Casa’s Valentine’s Day event on Facebook.  Bill and I dined at Hotel La Casa’s Refugio restaurant last year and we were very impressed with it.  So we cancelled our reservations at the first place and booked a table at Refugio.

This was the ad that attracted me…

Normally, reserving at the hotel’s restaurant is very easy to do.  Just use OpenTable.de!  But because the hotel was running a special dinner complete with a musical guest, we had to call directly for tickets, which were 69 euros a piece and included everything but beverages.  They mailed us the tickets, which arrived a day after we ordered them.

Last night’s program consisted of Swing and Jazz Romance hits from the “Golden Twenties”, which isn’t as old fashioned as it might sound.  Virtuoso pianist Duncan Galloway and a male singer whose name I didn’t catch were playing classic hits like “I’m Confessin'”, “Witchcraft”, and “The Girl from Ipanema”.  It was quite enjoyable if you like that sort of thing… and I do.

Our view of the festivities.  We were at Table 1.  I was glad to see they had a full house!

The dinner consisted of four courses.  They had a vegetarian/vegan option and a meat option.  Bill and I opted for the regular meat option.

Bill takes in the scene.

There were candles and flowers and hearts everywhere…

 

I started with champagne.  Bill wanted a bottle of wine with dinner, but they brought him a glass. 

Then they brought out the amuse…  a curried shrimp with red cabbage and pesto.

Next came cod with pureed Jerusalem artichoke and spinach, topped with champagne sauce.

Crustacean soup!  This was delicious, with its clear, briny broth and two shrimp filled raviolis.

Then came the meat course.  This was veal with a medley of Italian vegetables.  I don’t actually eat veal very often, but I will admit this course was very nice.  I gave some of my veal to Bill, who has fewer moral objections to eating it.

A well satisfied date!

Finally, we had dessert, which was white chocolate mousse with hibiscus.  I probably would have preferred chocolate, but this was a nice, light ending.  

 

Hotel La Casa is a beautiful place and I’m hoping someday we can spend a weekend there, sans dogs (because they aren’t allowed).  The spa alone is tempting, but the restaurant is also excellent.  The food has been beautifully presented and delicious on both of our visits and the service is friendly and very professional.  I definitely recommend it for a great date night, especially if you like design.  The dining room is very stylish.

Yours truly, whispering sweet nasties in Bill’s ear.

I asked my Facebook friends if I should go for pretty or cuddly.  They all said cuddly, but Bill wanted pretty… so I went with pretty.  

Anyway, this was another successful Valentine’s Day celebration.  We had a great time and those traumatic memories of my youth have been successfully buried for yet another year.  I hope your Valentine’s Day was just as enjoyable!

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Fabulous date night in Tübingen!

Bill and I decided to go out to dinner tonight.  We made the decision yesterday, after we couldn’t get a table at our favorite local haunt in Nagold, Osteria da Gino.  I wanted some really nice food and good wine and I wanted to try a different place other than our usual favorite restaurants.  I finally turned to OpenTable.de, where I spotted an interesting listing for a restaurant in Tübingen called Refugio at La Casa.  Refugio is actually a hotel restaurant, which made me a bit wary.  Hotel restaurants can be hit or miss.  When I noticed that Refugio at La Casa got mostly good reviews and had a look at their menu, I decided to book us a 6:30pm reservation.

We arrived at the hotel just a little bit early after lucking into a parking spot directly outside the front door.  When we walked through the revolving door, a very proper receptionist was standing at the ready to greet us, as if she was expecting us.  She probably was, since there were no other restaurant patrons until about an hour later.  Hotel La Casa is located in a residential part of Tübingen.  Though we used to live near the city, tonight was the first time we ever ventured in the southern residential area.  We noticed a parking garage near the hotel.  I’m not sure if it’s public or private.  Limited street parking is around the hotel as well.

Hotel La Casa’s front door.

After helping us with our coats, the lady sent us with a sommelier to our table.  I was immediately impressed by how beautifully decorated the dining room was, with its Spanish and Moroccan accents.  Whoever decorated the lobby, restaurant, and bar has good taste!  There are lots of tables with colorful, scattered throw pillows and exotic light fixtures.  The hand railings are made of brass.  The steps leading into the sunken dining room are covered with some type of silvery metal that I thought was striking.  La Casa is family owned and operated and opened in 2008, which was during the time we were living here the first time.

We were seated at a four top next to a small marble fountain that peacefully dripped water droplets that blended in with the Muzak.  I don’t usually like Muzak very much, but I must admit that I got a kick out of what was playing in the restaurant… lots of hits from the 70s, everything from “The Logical Song” by Supertramp to “Time” by The Alan Parson’s Project.  The sommelier helped me into a very comfortable chair and offered us an aperitif.  I asked for a glass of sekt.  Bill ordered spruedel (mineral water with gas) and asked for the wine list.  Meanwhile, they brought us some wonderful bread with olive oil, salt, and butter.

Bill checks out the menu.

 

The bread was delicious.  Very fresh!  Went well with the sekt, which was semi-sweet, but not too cloying.


Very good local red…

I ventured to the ladies room while Bill chose a wine to go with our dinner.  The waiter, a young, friendly lad who spoke excellent English, helped Bill pick a local red.  In the past, we were a bit wary of German wines.  I’m pleased to announce that the waiter’s suggestion was outstanding.

Then he brought out a very impressive amuse.  I don’t usually like beets much, but this little teaser from the kitchen was excellent, with its cauliflower mousse and perfectly grilled prawn…  The waiter told us that Refugio Chef Jonas Oest has a lot of creative ideas and that’s why they were so glad to get to work with him.

 

At first, I thought the cauliflower mousse might be potato with lots of garlic.  Then I realized it was cauliflower very creatively presented.  I probably enjoy cauliflower less than beets under normal conditions, but tonight I was impressed.

A blurry shot of Bill.  I wish I had waited just a second to get a clearer picture.  Oh well…

 

The dining room is very pretty, with lots of personal yet exotic touches.  I loved the fountain.

 

I started with a velvety Topinambur soup, served with two sea scallops and garnished with herb oil.  This soup was delicious.  The scallops were perfectly seared, just so they were cooked but not rubbery.  And it’s always a pleasure to find scallops in southern Germany, especially when they are properly prepared.

 

Bill had Kaninchen Ravioli– rabbit ravioli– which consisted of rabbit, black olives, pine nuts, herbs, and Parmesan cheese.  I didn’t try his starter because I don’t want to develop a taste for rabbit.  He loved it, though.  Must be his Arkansas roots.

 

My main course was rinderfilet (beef tenderloin), cooked to medium and served with a mustard sauce, bread dumplings, and vegetables.  The meat was so tender you could cut it with a spoon.  Given my preference, I would have liked the mustard on the side.  It was a little too intense for my taste.  A lighter touch would have made it easier to taste the beef.  I still enjoyed it very much.

 

Bill had roast saddle of lamb served with carrots and parsley root.  I did try the lamb.  I don’t usually like lamb, but I will admit that this was very good.  Not gamey at all and very tender.

For dessert, I had creme brulee, which came with a red berry compote and currant sorbet.  I probably would have been happy enough with just the sorbet, but I am always up for burnt custard when I can get it.

 

Bill had pannacotta of oat, a vegan sweet with quince ice cream and oat crumbles.   I did notice that there were a few options for non meat eaters, though the selection is not very large.

 

As we were enjoying our dinners, I couldn’t help but remember the crappy experience we had at the fancy Swiss hotel restaurant we tried back in December.  At Refugio, the wait staff was genuinely helpful and service oriented.  There was no egregious attempt at upselling.  It was clear to me that they were hoping we enjoyed ourselves.  In fact, when we mentioned we live in Germany and might be tempted to come spend a night, the waiter was sincerely happy and invited us to speak to the receptionist about their specials.  I can see this is a family owned business; that would account for the very professional, courteous, and genuinely kind service we received tonight.  I was very impressed.

I visited the ladies room again to process the wine and water and noticed that the restroom was spotlessly clean and stocked with high end toiletries, as well as thick washcloths.  I couldn’t help but wish we were spending the night.  I bet the rooms are beautiful.  I also noticed the spa.  I’m kind of hoping Bill and I can sneak away for a weekend in Tübingen sometime.  I know we live only about 40 minutes away, but we both love that town and would enjoy the chance to take in the nightlife.  It was easier to do that when we lived in Pfaeffingen the first time we were here.

Total damage for tonight’s beautiful dinner was 181 euros and 30 cents.  It was definitely worth it and we were allowed to pay by credit card.  We will have to go back another time and spend the night.  I’m sure it goes without saying that this restaurant is not kid friendly.

I think Refugio is well worth a visit and, even though it’s a hotel restaurant, offers great potential for a nice adult oriented date night outside of Stuttgart.  I highly recommend it.

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