QUICK CHEAT SHEET:
Drink – If you don’t have too big an ego, let Aviram order for you. If you do, experiment with the beer menu. Of course, you can never go wrong with a bottle of Red Wine
Start with – Duck sausage, Tarte Flambee, or Goat Cheese tatin
Eat – Baeckeofe, Choucroute Garnie, Trout, or Steak Frites
Finish with – Chocolate Gateau, Chocolate Tart or any Fresh Fruit Tart
Though travelling to the Upper East Side for heavy French fare
didn’t hypothetically sound like my idea of the perfect Friday evening,
I ventured to Simon Oren’s latest brasserie to see what all the recent
fuss was about. As I pulled up, I noticed a sidewalk littered with
diners, young and old, hip and not-so-hip, all festively sipping on
foreign brews. An otherwise humble space – decorated with burgundy
banquettes, soft saffron-painted walls, cafe signs, & serious
outdoor space – gets a splash of color from Moroccan-tiled floors and a
bright collection of seltzer bottles. This unassuming neighborhood haunt somehow manages to transport lucky reservation holders to the Alsatian region without making a scene about it.
Cafe D’Alsace not only makes a full-flavored impression when it comes to food, but also boasts over 125 beers, one of New York’s largest beer selections organized by style: Wheat, Gallic, Lambic, Trappist and Bock (was that English?). Luckily, the resident beer sommellier, Aviram Turgeman is on hand, eager and willing, to translate a somewhat daunting beer menu into more user-friendly terms, normally associated with wine – aroma, appearance, notes, you get the picture. Forget wine and cheese, I see beer and sausage tastings in their future. On any other occassion, I’d flip right past the three page beer menu to more familiar grape territory. But after Avril passionately asserted, “There’s a beer for everyone,” I had no choice but to take the leap of faith and jump into a mug.
I drank the Kindl Berlinner Weisse, a wheat beer with notes of banana and clove & a tart finish (# 30 on the menu), which Aviram served with syrup, an apparently common practice in Berlin. Perplexed, I watched as he poured my beer into two separate glasses, one with Woodruff syrup, an oddly green-tinted liquid with definitive notes of vanilla & licorice, and the other, Framboise, a pinkish raspberry syrup. While the glass with framboise was slightly too sweet even for my virginal beer palate, the strangely addictive Woodruff evoked the beer’s inherent fruity & acidic notes without disguising its sharpness (I’m officially a beer snob now ;). If you’re looking to brush up on your knowledge of beer or syrup, check out rate my beer or the German beer guide.
It also went perfectly with a homemade duck sausage – green peppercorns offset the otherwise sweet and surprisingly delicate duck meat, accompanied by vinegary sauerkraut. The only slip up at Cafe D’Alsace was my own. After spying a a colorful tuna tartare special whiz by, I demanded one for myself. Though the tender tuna was pleasantly dressed in a sesame ginger soy sauce & topped with crunchy tobiko, it was one of countless other Asian-inspired dishes that I would soon forget, and only left me wondering what the curious-looking tarte flambee was all about. My advice: stick to what you can’t pronounce.
The truite au riesling (trout with riesling sauce) was a smarter bet, expertly grilled to brown perfection, then doused with a generous ladeling of luscious riesling sauce (riesling, cream & olive oil). I was perfectly wary when our waiter plopped down a heavy metal pot of baeckeoffe, the food equivalent of the unknown. This traditional Alsatian casserole was a melange of blood pressure raising, oxtail, lamb and bacon stewed with carrots, meaty potatoes, and onions. It was savory, soothing, and yes, extremely fattening – a mere afterthought I chose to consider only after the bottom of the bowl started to surface.
How I had room for dessert after such hearty fare defies all logic and yet, it wasn’t only me. Neighboring tables couldn’t resist the temptation of fresh-baked tarts and creme brulee either. Though nectarines are rarely juicy enough to survive time in oven, the ultra-thin nectarine tart, a glossy coat of sweet nectarine slivers against an almond-coated pastry crust, was a thrilling success story apart from its lemon verbena ice cream counterpart with a decidedly soapy aftertaste. In a city where warm oozing chocolate desserts are a dime a dozen, the flourless chocolate gateau was a gooey mound of rich, dark chocolate melting into a fort of mixed berry coulis and elegantly dusted with powdered sugar.
Who knows – baeckeofe could be the biggest thing to happen to comfort food since macaroni & cheese. Never say never…
Until we eat again,
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