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A magical meal at Der Zauberlehrling…

Last night, Bill and I had a dinner reservation at Der Zauberlehrling, a chic hotel/restaurant in downtown Stuttgart.  I was excited about our visit because we had eaten there in 2008, when Bill and I were here courtesy of the Army.  At the time, Der Zauberlehrling was the only Stuttgart area restaurant listed on OpenTable, an online restaurant reservation service we’ve been using for years.  Now OpenTable has hundreds of restaurants listed in Stuttgart.  I remembered that meal from 2008 fondly.  It was probably the fanciest dinner we ate in Germany before we came back in 2014.

“Der Zauberlehrling” is the German title of a famous poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  Americans may know it better by its English translation, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”.  The hotel and restaurant that shares the name certainly has some unexpected and whimsical elements to it.  Although we have not yet had the pleasure of staying the night at Der Zauberlehrling, we have done some reading up on it.  Each room has a quirky style of its own.  Der Zauberlehrling also offers cooking classes, but I don’t know if they are available in English.

Things had changed a bit at the hotel’s restaurant since our last visit.  For example, on Saturday nights, the restaurant now offers a candlelight theme night for 115 euros a person (although it says 105 on the hotel’s Web site, on OpenTable it was priced 115 euros and that was what we were charged last night).  On the first Saturday of every month, they have a “magic” candlelight dinner, which includes a show by magician, Stefan Handel.  That dinner starts at 6:30pm and costs a little bit more.  The price of the dinner includes an aperitif, snacks, and four course meal with wine pairings and espresso or coffee.

I was a little concerned about the “theme night”, because it’s not possible to order a la carte when they offer it and I don’t always have good luck with mystery menus.  I tend to be rather picky about some things, especially mushrooms and truffles.  Fortunately, there were no major issues last night.

We parked at a large garage downtown, maybe a few minute’s walk from the hotel and restaurant, although it seemed further in heels.  I enjoyed the charming neighborhood near Der Zauberlehrling.  The streets were cobblestone and tree lined; for a moment, I even forgot we were in Stuttgart.  We were warmly welcomed when we entered the hotel lobby, though we were one of maybe ten couples dining last night.  Regular theme nights always start at 7:15pm, so everyone shows up at about the same time.

Approaching the restaurant/hotel.  I was trying not to get a shot of the large trash bin.

A very professional and well-dressed lady showed us to our beautifully decorated corner table.  I took a look around and remembered how tiny the dining room is.  It has a very cool looking modern fireplace, though.  You can see its hood behind Bill’s head in the picture below.

Bill takes a look at what’s being offered.  The same lady who showed us to our table poured us a drink with house made gin, grape juice, and locally produced sparkling wine.

When we first sat down, the white thing in the finger bowl resembled a breath mint.  But then a server poured liquid on it and it expanded as if by magic.  We weren’t sure what it was at first, but then we discovered it was a moist towel.  I guess that was their way of getting patrons to wash up.

The menu.  I would imagine this changes weekly.

We started with tasty hors d’oeuvres.  There was a tiny piece of quiche, potato fritter, and a cracker with roast beef and horseradish.  We also had mixed nuts and sweet cocktail onions.

 

Next came crusty bread served with interesting butter and salt.  Our server explained the butter was laced with citrus…

And we could pair it with one of four types of salt.  There was Portuguese salt, that was much like what we’re used to, a black sea salt, and a “male” and “female” salt.  The male salt was infused with pepper, while the female sale was less assertively infused with ginger.  Although I’m not into salts, I have to admit it was interesting tasting them with the butter.

Next came salmon with cous cous, avocado creme, pickled vegetables, and enoki mushrooms, which Bill kindly removed for me.  This was the last of the snacks!

The first course was creamy risotto with peas, white asparagus, tomatoes, and dried ham (which they said was bacon).  Bill was marveling at how good the risotto was.  I also enjoyed it, although the ham was a little different for me and took some effort to chew.  This course was served with a 2016 Kirchner white wine from Pfalz.

I really liked the next course, a chilled gazpacho with tomato, basil ice cream, and a spicy piece of watermelon.  This soup was refreshing and interesting.  The basil ice cream was slightly sweet and offered an interesting contrast with the piece of watermelon imbrued with spicy heat.  It was very creative.  This course came with an exquisite 2016 Pfannebecker Goldmuskateller, also from Pfalz.

Next came the main course, olive crusted pork loin with artichoke hearts, snap peas, and tomato filled tortellinis.  The tortellinis were clearly housemade and very good.  The pork was tender and juicy and played well with the vegetables.  I especially loved the red wine with this course, a 2015 Karl Haidle Cuvee made with lemberger grapes.  We’ll be looking for that wine. 

Next, we had dessert.  This was a dark chocolate pear creation, with hazelnut ice cream packed with some kind of crunchy cereal that gave it sort of a whimsical effect.  There were fresh pears shaped into balls, molded atop a pear gelatin base with a layered cake.  This was paired with a small amount of very sweet 2008 Carme de Rieussec Sauternes from Bordeaux.  I also enjoyed a little more of the red wine with this, since sweet wines aren’t my thing.

And finally, we enjoyed an espresso, which was served with three kinds of sugars.  The dark brown one was the one I used.  It came from Mauritius and was not as sweet as regular white sugar.  Instead, it had more of a creamy caramel essence.  That was just the jolt we needed to get us all the way back to Unterjettingen!

 

I don’t always comment on the toilet facilities in restaurants, unless there is some reason to.  I am happy to report that not only are Der Zauberlehrling’s facilities sparkling clean and luxuriously appointed, but the ladies room has what appears to be a German style Japanese toilet.  Check out the video below.

When I opened the stall door, the lid came up and the inside of the bowl was lit, as if to welcome me!  

Here is the control panel for the fancy toilet.  Yes, you can get your private parts washed if you want. Bill reports that the men’s room had a more conventional toilet, although the seat had what appeared to be gold glitter on it (and no, not the kind that sticks with you for years).  He also said the men’s room had a flatscreen television mounted over the urinal.  

 

I’m not sure I would have ordered all of the courses we had last night had I been left to my own devices.  A couple of them were a little beyond my comfort zone.  However, I was very pleased with what we had and glad we had the chance to try something very new.  The food and service at Der Zauberlehrling were just as excellent as we remembered it.

This week, no one stared at us.  In fact, our waiter asked us where we were from and we had a brief discussion about politics.  I left the restaurant feeling welcome and among friends.  One lady, who showed up a little late and had green hair, even bid us a cheery farewell as we headed back to the car at about 10:45 pm.  All the way home, we talked about how much we enjoyed our evening.  The toilet in the ladies room alone will keep us talking for a long while.

I would definitely recommend Der Zauberlehrling for a date night.  Just be advised that on Saturday nights, you can’t order a la carte and they are not open on Sundays.  Also, I highly recommend making reservations because the dining room is very small and the restaurant is popular.  It’s been fully booked both times we’ve visited.

Dress is smart casual.  We saw a couple of people in jeans and others, like Bill and I, decided to dress up a bit.

I got to debut a new shawl!

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Breaking boundaries at Five in Stuttgart…

Yesterday, Bill and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary.  Since 13 is a quirky number, I decided to find us a quirky restaurant.  I found it when I booked at table at Five.  No, I am not referring to the time at which I reserved.  The restaurant, which has a Michelin Star, is called Five.   I found the place on opentable.de, and decided to book it when I noticed the stellar reviews on TripAdvisor and OpenTable, as well as the super imaginative Web site.  Well, actually, Bill was more into the Web site than I was.  He gets off on artsy stuff and science fiction movies like Blade Runner.

I snapped this photo before we left… I don’t know how he does it, but Bill makes me smile so pretty.  I usually smirk in my selfies because when I smile, it doesn’t look real.  But when Bill is in the photo, no problem!

Anyway, we battled Stuttgart traffic to make our seven o’clock reservation at the downtown restaurant.  We were warmly greeted by a young, casually dressed man at the door.

The front door.  Directly across the street is a huge parking garage that is open 24 hours.

He invited us to take a look at the bar area while he alerted the wait staff of our arrival.  It turned out we had the first reservation, so he was back quickly. Too bad, because the bar area at Five is really cool looking.  It’s dimly lit, with wooden tables and comfortable chairs everywhere, along with chilled out music on the sound system.  I’m pretty sure they serve light fare there, but again, I didn’t have a chance to check it out too thoroughly.

We climbed a flight of stairs to the restaurant, which was slightly brighter and quieter, but still decorated with an interesting mural that included a nude depiction of a woman’s body.  Seated at a thick wooden table with a rough surface (which Bill said almost gave him a splinter), we gazed around at how the room was decorated.  If you’re into visuals, Five offers a feast for the eyes.  From my seat, I had a good view of the kitchen, which was enclosed with glass so clear I couldn’t even tell it was there… except for seeing one of the staff cleaning it before dinner got started.

The view from our table.  As you can see, the kitchen is easy to observe.  I was enjoying an introductory glass of champagne, which was served in a wine glass rather than a flute.

 

We were taken care of by a man and a woman, both of whom spoke English.  They were handling the whole dining room, though at 7:00, we were the only ones there.  By the time we left three hours later, several other tables were occupied, though the restaurant was not full.  My guess is that it gets a lot more business on the weekends.

Obligatory Bill shot for all his fans.

 

The female server explained to us that we could either order off the menu or do a surprise tasting menu.  Although I tend to be very picky about some things, Bill is more adventurous.  He wanted to try the surprise tasting menu with a wine pairing.  I agreed to be brave.  We told the waitress the foods we absolutely can’t do.  For me, it’s mushrooms.  For Bill, it’s liver or other exotic organ meats (and I wouldn’t want those, either… yecch!).  Also, since Bill was driving, they gave him half pours of the wines.  We also ordered a bottle of sparkling water.  I noticed that both servers wore black gloves when they presented the food.

This was the amuse, which was not part of the four course tasting menu we chose.  It looks like an egg, but actually, it’s not…  The green base is leek soup.  The “yolk” is made of mascarpone cheese, and the white is a different cheese.  It’s garnished with a little ham, some sprouts, and a cracker.  Bill loves cheese, but I’m very particular.  Nevertheless, I took a deep breath and enjoyed this.  I definitely loved the artistic presentation.

When we were finished with the “egg” that wasn’t an egg, out came the first course… which also was a challenge for me because it included more cheese…   As this was being served, I told the male server that I don’t do mushrooms or truffles.  He gave me a horrified look and said, “Not even truffles?”  Ha ha ha.  I wish I could eat them, but I can’t.  I will happily eat turkey corpse, though…  😉

The two whitish half discs in the center of the bowl are sheep’s milk cheese.  They are surrounded with beet root and topped with crackers seasoned with pink pepper.  Bill’s version included mushroom juice.  Sheep’s milk cheese is usually not something I enjoy, but this was very mild and not at all offensive.  And the beets, while usually too earthy for me, were kind of sweet.  The color definitely added to the visual presentation.  I managed half of the cheese and let Bill finish it, since he’s an aficionado.  

 

Next came the bread.  It was very fresh and served with butter infused with walnuts and an eggplant spread.  Bill like the eggplant spread.  I couldn’t really taste it, though I did think the gilded walnut butter was nice.

I really enjoyed the second course.  This was a langostino served with fennel salad and Belgian endive.  They drizzled date syrup over it, which really played beautifully with the slight tanginess of the endive.  And, of course, the shrimp was perfectly cooked.  This was paired with a local Riesling from the Keller vintner.  We really liked the wine and will be looking for a bottle of it soon.  

We had a slight problem with the next course, which consisted of sweet potatoes, pistachio syrup, bacon, and what appeared to be mushrooms.  As I have mentioned so many times, I can’t do mushrooms at all.  It took a few minutes to get the server’s attention, and at first, she explained that they weren’t mushrooms but were kind of like them.  Then she said they weren’t earthy.  I tried to eat one, but couldn’t… So she brought out another version of the same dish without the fungus.  I was able to finish that and enjoyed it.  The pistachio syrup seemed to be infused with citrus, which set off the sweet and starchy qualities of the sweet potatoes.  The salt in the bacon also cut the sweetness a bit.  I don’t usually like sweet potatoes that much, but I enjoyed this.  Later, the server explained that they had sneaked in mushrooms with the first version and she apologized.  Bill loves mushrooms, so none of this was an issue for him. We had another Riesling with this course, this time from the Mosel Valley.  It was more of a semi-sweet wine.  Again, it paired very well.

 

It was finally time for the main course.  We knew we were getting different items, since they laid down different silverware for us and we got different wines.  For Bill, they poured a lovely red from the Rhone Valley.  I knew he was going to love that, since he loves red wines from southern France.  For me, they poured an Austrian chardonnay.  I had just been talking about how I like my whites with a little kick.  But when they poured a chardonnay, I knew I was going to be having fish…

And I was right.  The server said the fish was called “kalt” fish, or something that sounds like it.  She said it was similar to cod.  Having tasted it, I would swear it was sea bass, which happens to be one of my favorite fishes!  This was served with wilted greens, artichoke, potato puree, and a sauce made from potato peels.  I think this was my favorite course.  It was delicious.  And whether or not I was eating sea bass, this was sinfully buttery and delicate.  

Bill was served venison, which came with mushrooms and sauce made from blackberries.  I didn’t taste Bill’s main course because I’m not a big fan of venison.  He loved it, though.  

The above photo is of what they called “pre dessert”, which I think was a palate cleanser.  The star tasted like vanilla ice cream infused with cardamom.  It was paired with apple puree and nuts.  The dots around the star were what they called “hot wine”, though it wasn’t hot.  I liked it… not only was it creatively presented, but it reminded me of apple pie a la mode and was perfect for the fall…

Another obligatory shot of Bill drinking wine…

Finally, we had dessert.  Pictured above is a plum pudding with discs of hazelnut ice cream, chocolate “air” (think Aero candy bars), and drizzled in a plum syrup.  Again, imaginative, creative, and not a lava cake!  It was the perfect ending, paired with a dessert wine from Austria that had the essence of roses.  

We were presented with this little platter of housemade candies just before we asked for the check.  I commented to Bill that in America, no one would ever present food sitting on a tray of rocks.  They’d be too afraid someone would think the rocks were candy!  Lawsuit time!  But here in Germany, people are expected to be able to tell a rock from a Jordan almond and not break their teeth…  I find that refreshing!

As we were finishing up, the restaurant grew louder.  Lots of people were in the bar area, including one woman who seemed to have a really bad case of laryngitis, yet was chattering loudly and incessantly.  Listening to her talk from all the way down in the bar and sounding like she needed complete vocal rest, I quipped that perhaps they should hand out ballgags to go with the rather unorthodox environment at Five.  I’m kidding, of course, but do want to point out that if you’re looking for a quiet, romantic restaurant, Five may not be your venue.  It does get rather noisy.  Also, it’s definitely not a kid friendly kind of place.  I noticed that many of the other diners in the restaurant were somewhat alternative looking, which I thought was very intriguing.  By alternative, I mean they appeared to be somewhat young and sexy, not stodgy, formal, or curmudgeonly.  Five has a youthful, upwardly mobile, ortherwordly kind of feel.

Our bill came to 282 euros before tip and they do take credit cards.  Although it’s been awhile since we last spent that much on a meal, we did enjoy dining at Five.  The surprise menu concept is always risky for me, but I have to admit, it was rather successful last night, even with the mushroom incident.  Bill loved the feel of Five.  I tend to enjoy more traditional kinds of places, but I would certainly not be averse to coming back to Five.  The service is friendly and competent and the food is exquisite.  Besides, everybody needs to venture out of their comfort zones once in awhile.  I’m proud to say that, more than Bill, I did that last night.  Eating cheese and enjoying it was in and of itself a thrill!  If you’re up for a culinary adventure and have lots of money to spend, I recommend Five.  They made our 13th anniversary memorable.

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Our trip to The Netherlands via Luxembourg… part 7

The Bilderberg hotel in Apeldoorn has a restaurant open for dinner that offers “surprise” meals.  You tell the server what ingredients you don’t like and the chef makes you a “surprise” menu.  You can order up to five courses.  This sounded like an intriguing idea to Bill and me, so we decided to try it.  We asked for three courses, a bottle of wine, and a bottle of water.  We asked that mushrooms not be a part of the meal.  In retrospect, I really should have included other items to the list.  But hell, it’s good to expand the old palate and try new things.  My mom would be sooo proud.  I was the kid who once would not willingly go to any restaurant other than McDonald’s.

The first thing the waitress brought out was an amuse.  It was red beets covered with goat cheese foam and a Parmesan cookie.  Now, while I thought this amuse was very pretty, I don’t usually like beets or goat cheese.  But I decided to be brave…  and I have to admit, the beets and goat cheese were pretty good.  The beets were a little sweet, almost like cranberries, and the goat cheese was mild.  I was expected to be the least offended by the Parmesan cookie and it was actually a bit strong for me.

It was a pretty amuse… and I actually enjoyed it somewhat.

The bread was very good.

The next course was a pair of raw tuna and duck liver pinwheels that came with a seaweed salad and some kind of wasabi inspired sauce.  There was also a small trough of crumbs that we could draw the fish and liver through.  I don’t like liver.  It’s not something that would ruin my meal if it was mixed up in something, nor do I get freaked out if it’s on my plate the way I do when I am served mushrooms.  But I don’t like the way liver tastes, nor am I keen on the idea of eating organ meats.  The raw tuna was very good.  The waitress offered to bring me something else, but I was okay with just the tuna.  Bill said the duck liver was tasty.

Another attractive course… the liver was too icky for me, though.

Next came the main course…  lamb.  I almost never eat lamb because the first time I ever tried it was when I lived in Armenia.  What I probably ate there was mutton and it was so gamey I almost puked at the table.  I will admit that the lamb served here in Apeldoorn was very good.  It was tender and not too strongly flavored.  I still wouldn’t have chosen it off a menu, but I have to say the chef surprised me.  I ate and enjoyed the whole course.

It was tasty and attractive… and I never eat lamb!

Finally, for dessert, we had raspberry sorbet with white chocolate mousse and raspberry mousse.  It came with a decorative cookie and, clearly, I had no issues with it…  until we had coffee and the waitress brought out housemade caramel with yogurt to go with our double espressos.  Plain yogurt is yet another food I almost never eat.  But I decided that being almost 43 makes me old enough to take a chance.  I did and mostly enjoyed the coffee.

Dessert was a winner.

I’m finding out that coffee in The Netherlands often means a second dessert.

I noticed most of the others who were having dinner were getting the same or similar dishes, so it wasn’t like the chef was coming up with something special for every diner.  It was more like the menu was a mystery and they hoped you liked it.  I have to say, I ate a lot of stuff on Wednesday night that I definitely wouldn’t normally choose to.  Fortunately, I lived to tell about the experience.

Ahh…

There were a couple of kids in the restaurant who were very well behaved and tolerating the grown up dishes very well.  I was very impressed!  They were better behaved than I would have been under those circumstances when I was their age.  As we left the restaurant, the dour waitress invited us to take a couple of homemade peppermints.  Always a good idea.

This trip to Apeldoorn has been for getting me out of my comfort zone, though I am not sure any of the foods I ate the other night will be foods I start eating on a regular basis.

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