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December 2005

What a Treat!

Are these restaurants Munich’s best-kept secrets?

No one should need an excuse to eat well. But splurging at great restaurants, sadly, is not something many of us can afford to do on a regular basis. But it’s Christmas time—which gives us license to eat out at some fantastic restaurants. Before you head to Tantris, Schuhbeck’s and co., however, check out Munich’s best-kept culinary secrets.

I wasn’t sure whether it was a good thing or not when my husband remarked that the amuse-gueule tasted “as if you made it.” But by the end of our meal at Zauberberg (Hedwigstrasse 14, Tel. 18 99 91 78) I decided it could only have been a compliment. From start to finish, this was a night to remember. I’m almost wary to publicize the place, for fear of starting that gourmet bandwagon that leads to Michelin stars, culinary arrogance, higher prices and often, a drop in quality. But on the condition that you keep it to yourselves, I’ll let you in on what has to be one of Munich’s greatest foodie secrets.

Although it is not an Italian restaurant as such (much as I dislike the term, modern European would be a more fitting label), Zauberberg does prescribe to a number of Italian ideologies. The first, is that the restaurant is non-smoking, and, upon walking into the place it was astounding how clean the air actually felt—a palate cleanser in itself.

The second, is the fact that diners are required to succumb to the chef’s whims. Although there is a menu, it features just six items and it is up to guests to select as many courses as they like from those on offer. Don’t get me wrong, I like to browse a mouthwatering menu as much as the next person, but there is something liberating in not having to make decisions. Prices are fixed, starting at € 33 for three courses. It is possible to have complementary wines with each course for a reasonable supplement.

And what great courses they were—classic dishes, but each done faultlessly. A starter of goats’ cheese and lentils was cooked exceptionally well—the lentils still with a touch of crunch, but soft enough to melt in the mouth. The veal Tafelspitz was equally well done—it’s all too easy to mask veal’s subtle flavor as soon as you serve it with anything else, but the chef here managed to emphasize it beautifully. The whole thing was rounded off with a fabulous cheese platter—five varieties, served with apricot mustard. It would have brought tears to a Frenchman’s eye.

Service too, was effortlessly attentive. As I ordered, I mentioned my fish allergy in an offhand remark to my husband. Yet the waiter obviously noted it, and brought me a fish-free amuse-gueule. What was equally impressive was the fact that my husband and I were offered different wines from each other, depending on the dishes we’d ordered. I know a lot of restaurants, which, with their tasting menus, will crack open five bottles and serve them regardless. Not here.

A restaurant has something going for it when it makes you gush over ingredients you wouldn’t normally put on your favorites list. This is exactly what happened to me at Blauer Bock (Sebastianplatz 9, Tel. 45 22 23 33). I’m not a big liver fan, for example, but the generous slices of duck liver that topped my lentil salad starter were probably the most tender things I have ever eaten. Nor is coconut one of my favorites, but the white-flake-laced ice cream accompanying a mango mousse dessert was heavenly. In comparison, the main course was relatively standard-fare—a schnitzel with Bratkartoffeln. But what a schnitzel—the crumb coating was the lightest, yet the most buttery I have encountered—a world apart from standard bar fare. Indeed, it’s good to see a restaurant that’s a) not afraid to offer basics and b) able to show that basics can be done exceptionally well. Prices are reasonable—mains cost about € 20, or go at lunchtime when you’ll get three courses for around the same price. So why haven’t we been there before? Despite being the former haunt of culinary king Eckart Witzigmann, before he discovered the circus, Blauer Bock seems happy to concentrate on doing what it does well, without the need for mass publicity. In fact, you could well not even have noticed it—tucked away in the traditional Bavarian hotel of the same name. But next time you’re in the Schranne, walk straight through the tourist jungle and head to this modern, elegant and refreshingly honest culinary temple on the other side. You won’t regret it.

With a name like Vinaiolo, Italian for vintner, it may not come as a surprise that this restaurant in Haidhausen stocks more than 200 Italian wines from regions across the nation. But it’s not just the vini collection that’s impressive—the caliber of the restaurant’s Italian/Mediterranean cuisine borders on that of Spain’s acclaimed elBulli. Little wonder, considering the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, Marco Pizzolato, previously worked under Gualtiero Marchesi, one of the world’s top 15 chefs. In fact, the entire crew here is highly accredited—a fact that is also evident in the quality of service. With its elegant rustic decor—a 1904 store interior in which, guess what, wine bottles are now displayed—this osteria (Steinstrasse 42, Tel. 48 95 03 56) welcomes some 55 guests each night. And each one of them is in for a true fine dining experience—dishes are presented like works of art. The kitchen seems to be a culinary laboratory where regular ingredients go in and savory surprises come out—perhaps a fine, foam-like tomato mousse, intensive tartufo gnocchi or braised goose served atop a puree of celery with apple and almonds. Of course, the appropriate wine, complementary to each course will be recommended. In addition to the regular menu, which changes several times weekly, a six-course tasting menu, dubbed “un orchestra nuova,” is offered on Sunday afternoons and evenings for just € 35. During the week, business lunches, including an appetizer and main dish, cost € 19.50. Vinaiolo is a choice location for holiday celebrations. And as thoughtful and attentive as they are, the staff of Vinaiolo has a menu in English at hand, too.

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