In the "Village of the Grape:" The "French Laundry" of Germany, Schwarzwald Stube
- Joe H.
In the village of Traube Tonbach ("The village of the grape") high in the mountains of the Black Forest of Germany is a restaurant which is the most difficult reservation in the entire country of 85 million people. For the five nights a week that it is open a reservation must be made six months in advance. In fact for most that visit it they will plan their whole visit and stay around their meal.
It is the three Michelin star, Gault Millau 19 point Schwarzwald Stube. It's chef, Harald Wohlfart, was the first to receive three Michelin stars in Germany, over fifteen years ago. The 28 seat restaurant is located in the Traube Tonbach Hotel which is an exclusive, elegant, reclusive resort first opened in 1789. In fact the room tht Schwarzwald Stube is in dates to that opening.
We were told that on average, one American a month visits this restaurant. It is virtually unknown in North America-to my knowledge never having received any publicity. Yet in Germany, Austria, northern Switzerland and eastern France it is regarded with the same esteem that Americas revere The French Laundry.
It is also on par with much of what I have found at Taillevent, Ducasse and others in Paris.
There is no translation in English for the menu yet all of the staff speak perfect English. Dinner is al a carte along with two tasting menus. We noted that everyone in the dining room (a total of 18 at 8 tables) seemed to be having the E 130 Degustation which amount to a four course amuse, four savories, cheese wagon, two dessert courses (each of which had two or three different dishes) and nine different chocolates/pastries/cookies served after the meal. Dinner was well paced and three and one half hours for my wife and I.
One of the dishes he is known for is a sort of Napoleon featuring thin slices of foie gras, caramalized apple and sesame leafs of phyllo sitting on a bed of ginger lime reduction. Exquisite.
Turbot is served on the bone (as are all of his fish preparations) topped with Umbrian truffle "sticks" and truffle butter. Superb.
Rare lamb chops are basil crusted and served with a tomato aubergine compote, topped with "Schalottenjus" which I believe is lamb jus and a red wine reduction. Again, outstanding and a Great dish as the other two.
The various desserts were spectacular in their several course presentation. I did not take notes but was blown away by them.
The restaurant and hotel are located in one of the mos beautiful places on earth, near Baierbronn, in a valley surrounded by several thousand foot high mountains. Along with the nearby Bareiss (another first class hotel and restaurant) these are major destinations for Germans seeking several day escapes. Generally I would compare them in America to The Inn at Little Washington although both are superior for their cuisine and the rooms are on par but priced considerably lower even with the weak exchange rate.
Below is the link for Traube Tonbach. The restaurant and hotel sit halfway up a several thousand foot high mountain overlooking the valley below. The view out of the windows in Schwarzwald Stube is spectacular. The room itself may be even more spectacular. Handcarved wood is everywhere with the most ornate, carved wooden ceiling I have ever seen anywhere. Exquisite detail. Some of the rooms also feature this same carved detail.
Tables can occasionally be available for lunch when the same menu is served. For dinner six months is the norm for a table. This is not an exaggeration-I have tried for several years to get into this restaurant only succeeding for our visit last week.
I believe it is a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner although I could be wrong. If it isn't it would only be because they haven't submitted it. Heavy on French and Italian with 50% markups from the American price (i.e. 100% markups on the French/Italian price). Probably one third of the fifty or so pages were devoted to German wines including several for tba. We had a bottle of '97 Dal Forno Valpolicella (I love this wine-it's better in Europe than here-and couldn't resist ordering it.) We also had several glasses of white for several courses including an Auslese Reisling to accompany the foie gras which was excellent. And, I believe E6.50 a glass-a real bargain! After the dinner we had two glasses of a beernauslausee (sp?) which the sommelier recommended. These were also extremely reasonable, about E7 or 8, but excellent. I would compare to an excellent British Columbia ice wine or maybe Beringer Nightengale in a good year. Speaking of this, Steve, I don't remember a single American bottle on the list but I really wasn't looking for this.
Decanters were Spieglau as were the glasses which were similar to Reidel Sommeliers in size. Curiously, the nearby Bareiss (which has an incredible wine cellar-25-30,000 bottles and you can tour it!) uses Reidel Sommeliers and exquisite Sterling Silver overlayed Topazio decanters from Portugal which sell for E500 to E 600 in their store.
I've linked the website for Bareiss below which has two Michelin stars and 18 points from Gault Millau. I was there about three months ago. Similar experience in that Americans never visit. I believe that many people go to both building their trip around the first reservation at Schwarzwald Stube and then, reserving Bareiss. Note that both of these have three or four restaurants each with the signature restaurants only having 8 or 9 tables with most occupied by two people. I am convinced that BOTH of these are loss leaders and used to sell rooms in their respective hotels.
re: Joe H.
Also, on this page of the Bareiss website:
http://www.bareiss.com/engl/gastro/re... is the note that they have 20,000 bottles, their sommelier is listed as Germany's best and they were awarded the Best of Award of Excellence in 2001 from the Wine Spectator. I honestly feel that this restaurant could have three stars also; there is only a "hair" separating it from Schwarzwald Stube which is about three miles away.
My wife and I ate at Schwarzwaldstube in May 2006, and found it to be captivatingly delightful. This truly is a dining experience that has to be enjoyed personally to be fully understood. For me it felt like attending a wonderul performance by a polished symphony orchestra with a true maestro conducting. Everything in the dining room was flawless! I thought the original reference to Taillivent was perfect. That was my favorite dining experience until Schwarzdwalstube. If you are anywhere near this region, do try to book a table. You won't regret it!
A minor correction in that Mr Wolhfart would certainly not have been the first 3 Star Michelin chef in Germany. I have fond memories of brilliant food at both Tantris and Aubergine in Munich in the early to mid 80s and both had 3 Stars then.
Perhaps a Michelin authority could advise us when they received their 3 Stars. There was also a restaurant in Koln that had 3 Stars as well around that time. See www.andyhayler.com for more information on Michelin 3 Star restaurants