Berkeley: Gaumenkitzel - elegant, organic German food … handmade spatzle, heritage turkey schnitzel plus wonderful gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian dishes
- rworange Oct 31, 2011 05:54 PM
Gaumenkitzel has the best vegetable dishes I’ve ever had in the Bay Area. Period.
That includes anything from the superb simplicity of Chez Panisse to the complex magic of Ubuntu.
It is not that Gaumenkitzel does anything special with veggies other than buy the most flavorful produce and manage to coax every bit of taste from it.
I never thought I’d pair the word ‘elegant’ with usually heavy German cuisine. I never thought vegetables would wow me at a German restaurant.
I’ve been to Gaumenkitzel three times – mid-afternoon, breakfast and dinner.
Here's what I had rated from A+ to F -
A …... Butternut squash and apple soup
A …... Heritage turkey soup
A …... Unbreaded heritage turkey schnitzel with spatzle
A …... Complementary spiced nuts
A -...... Emperor’s pancake (Kaiserschmarrn)
A -...... Black forest cake with German kirsch
B …... Complementary bread
B …... Coffee
B …... Augustinerbrau Edelstoff beer
B …... Messmer Spatburgunder Pfaiz 2008 red German wine
B - ..... Some sort of cold cut pork loin sandwich
Service: B -
There was a previous topic on the restaurant, but it started anticipating the opening and what it might be. There were some opening glitches.
I started this thread about what it became almost one year later.
I hope if you have not been there since the opening you will not carry your first impression into this topic. If you look at the over 80 reviews currently on yelp, the one and two stars start turning into four and five stars around August. The few remaining low ratings are of the yelpy service type.
For me, it is one of those places that I will probably work my way through the entire menu.
Details in first reply.
2121 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702
BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND APPLE SOUP: A … Exceptional
The problem with most squash soup is that it lacks squash flavor. This soup put the butter in butternut, the flavor rich and sweetened with the pureed apples. The menu said a hint of cinnamon, but there was nothing subtle about the spicing. It was nicely topped with tasty pumpkin seeds. It looked nicer than the photo which I forgot to take until I ate some of the soup.
HERITAGE TURKEY SOUP: A … Exceptional
One yelper wrote of a tomato soup that it was “magnificent”. And so far that has been my experience with the soups.
The turkey had a rich, deep intense broth. The veggies and herbs wowed … sweet carrots, potatoes, tomatoes all in harmony with fresh herbs. There was a generous amount of shredded heritage turkey.
UNBREADED HERITAGE TURKEY SCHNITZEL & SPATZLE: A … Exceptional
I’m not sure what makes an unbreaded meat spatzle, but this was a nicely pan-fried pieces of Marin Sun Farm heritage turkey breast.
It was the homemade spatzle that stole the dish though. I ate a lot of German food in Guatemala which has a large German population. Even my favorite restaurant never came close to the toothsome yet delicate texture of this spatzle. It was topped with braised sweet tomatoes and onions that again made me almost purr with pleasure.
COMPLEMENTARY SPICED NUTS: A … Exceptional
The night I stopped by for dinner was the only one without heritage turkey on the menu. I asked the nice server if there was any in the kitchen. There was. Later the chef came out to chat about the turkey. She is a really lovely, sweet woman from Munich. She said many of the dishes are recipes from her mother and grandmother.
I sort of gushed all over the place about the food, especially the veggies. So she came out later with a little dish of spiced nuts and said she was planning to put them on the menu in November and what did I think. I said I loved them. There was rosemary caraway and a few other spices in the dry roasted mixture of nuts. I like that they were not over salted. These would be lovely with a beer.
EMPEROR’S PANCAKE: A - … Way above average
The first time I had kaiserschmarrn was this year in Antigua, Guatemala. It took 20 minutes and the huge pancake was more than filling. I thought it was interesting, but wouldn’t rush to order it again. Here’s my report about that version
Here’s some info about it from wiki.
This was so much better, almost like a light, eggy French toast, cut up, studded with raisins and dusted with powdered sugar.
There must be some big deal about the pancake being cut up because the chef specifically asked if my Guatemalan version was served cut (it was).
The slight downgrade was because the fruit served with it. The poached pears were dead cold … delicious … but dead cold. If they had been warmed or even room temperature this dish would have been another A.
Even so, I ate every bit.
BLACK FOREST CAKE WITH GERMAN KIRSCH: A - … Way above average
This was very delicious and balanced. The booze complemented the cake without taking it over. The whipped cream and cherries were excellent. What was different was the pie crust on the bottom. I asked if the chef if this was common in Germany and she said it was. The cake was light, but a little denser than most black forest cakes. It was topped with shaved chocolate
COMPLEMENTARY BREAD: B … Above average
They make a Tuscan bread that is either white or whole wheat. It has a crust with a pleasant chew and a nice smooth crumb.
This is a place that pays attention to presentation. The sweet butter was served in a small pink ramekin that matched the color of the napkin.
COFFEE: B … Above average
The current coffee is from Ecco of Santa Rosa and is described on the menu as “organic, single origin, Brazil”.
I read some negative comments about the coffee at opening, but I could not be more pleased with this coffee. Although I like strong brews, this was a nice, mellow medium roast.
It was stylishly served on a striped tray with sugar, cream and a glass to hold the spoon for stirring the coffee.
The price was $3, but refills were offered. I liked it.
AUGUSTINERBRAU EDELSTOFF BEER: B … Above average
I know little about beer, so I just gave it a “B” because I personally liked. It. It went well with the turkey and is described on the menu as coming from “the oldest brewery in Munich (since 1328) … fine and fresh tasting beer”. It was and just what I wanted.
A nice touch was it was served in the glass from the German brewery.
None of the beers are on tap. The owner explained what is necessary to serve good beer from a keg and said at this point the business would not support that and they’d probably wind up tossing a lot of beer.
MESSMER SPATBURGUNDER PFAIZ 2008 RED WINE: B … Above average
There was a quote from a reviewer that said this was the best messmer ever made. It was a pleasant glass of wine that was nice with the spicy squash soup.
Some of the wines by the glass on a bit high, up to $13, but this wine, like most was in the $6 range.
SOME SORT OF COLD CUT PORK LOIN SANDWICH: B - ... Very good
I can understand some of the mixed reviews that continue on yelp. On my first visit, I stopped by at tea time where there is a limited menu. As one poster on Chowhound wrote “it is traditional to sit down for an afternoon snack (Jause) where you have coffee, bread or some sweets”
So there wasn’t much going on in terms of food. I didn’t have time to stop, the place was empty and on that first visit had a cold and stark feeling.
The sandwich was fine, but if the emperor’s pancake had not been on the menu I probably would not have returned. It didn’t seem that special and there weren’t that many baked goods in the cases.
I could tell this was a good quality sandwich and the bread was lovely. But there were only two thin slices of deli-sliced pork that didn’t taste ‘smoked’ as described.
It said it came with ‘salad’. This seemed to be a translation thing as that meant lettuce and tomato on the sandwich. Even so, that was my first hint that veggies are perfect here. Those tomatoes were sweet and full of late summer flavor.
SERVICE: B - ... Very good
OK. The thing with service here is that it is not flashy. The servers are sort of quiet and almost shy, but are really pleasant if you get to know them. Let’s say that on two visits I tipped more than 20% because I was so happy with the service.
AMBIANCE: B … Above average
It has a modern, clean look with high beamed ceilings. At first it struck me as stark. There is a large communal table in the center (that I never have seen occupied). There are long banquettes with chairs, a few tables and some window seats.
One wall has groceries such as beer, jellies and such. Two bakery cases hold baked goods. Large sunny windows brighten the place. The tables have white table cloths with pastel napkins.
There’s a rack with magazines and newspapers and one toy set for children.
There are nice touches everywhere … seasonal vases of flowers. High up on one beam there are a pair of ducks. Pretty red bougainvilleas peek into one window.
In the evening, there are lighted votive candles on the tables. When the sun goes down it takes on a romantic feeling and, IMO, it would be a great spot to take a date.
It isn’t a crowded restaurant, but has enough customers so it doesn’t feel empty (except mid-afternoon).
It had some opening issues, so the hoards didn’t descend on it. But it seems to have found its customers … people who recognized the good quality, skillfully prepared food. There seemed to be a lot of regulars, and quite a few of Europeans.
It is not huge, heavy Alpine German portions and so some people complain about the portion size.
No, they are not huge, but, IMO, are in line with other upscale New American restaurants. Considering the top-notch ingredients and talent in the kitchen, I think they are on target.
It will be the first restaurant I recommend when someone is looking for vegetarian or vegan food in the East Bay.
I asked if they were planning anything special for Chrismas. The chef thought for a minute (I guess she hadn’t thought about it yet) and then said “Maybe goose”
She can cook my goose anytime. Hoping they will be serving it.
The muesli is exceptional. I guess the freshly flaked oats account for some of the difference. They also use a lot of grated apple, so it's much lighter than you might expect.
The red wine by the glass is a classic German-style Pinot Noir.
If it's not breaded, they shouldn't really call it schnitzel.
We went for dinner tonight and thought it was bit of a mixed bag, but liked enough items that we'd go back.
- To start we had the spiced nuts (now on the menu) and the butternut squash soup, both very nice.
- My wife ordered the spatzle entree, which was like a mac and cheese (lots of gooey cheese) with butternut squash - very different than the side dish version in your picture, rworange. I liked it better than she did -- she found all that partially congealed cheese pretty unappealing. Also, the spatzle itself was a tad overdone (we would have preferred more toothsome). On the whole, we liked Speisekammer's spatzle quite a bit better, but again, maybe we'd have felt differently about the side dish version, which appears cheeseless. I think you can also get the entree without the squash for like a dollar less. She also got a side order of the Bavarian white sausage, which was fine, but less exciting than it sounded.
- I ordered the (breaded) heritage turkey schnitzel, which was excellent. Nicely fried without seeming too heavy, and a lot more flavor than you'd expect from turkey breast. However, the side vegetables (potatoes and diced carrots that were either boiled or steamed) were quite bland. (On the whole, this isn't really a restaurant for people who like very strongly seasoned/spiced food.) The spatzle wasn't listed as an option for the breaded schnitzel, but next time I'll ask if they'd be willing to do that pairing.
- I wasn't a huge fan of the black forest cake, which appeared to be the only dessert option. It was balanced, as reported, and not overly sweet, which was nice. Anyway, it's no fault of the restaurant that cakes that are more cream than cake just aren't my thing. I would have liked one or two other options.
- Service and ambiance were both very good. Little tea lights and some opera music playing. Prices were quite reasonable for what you get.
Next time I'd consider trying one of the fish options. The special tonight was a fish ragout -- described as a kind of seafood stew -- and I'd give that a shot if it was available again.
2424 Lincoln Ave, Alameda, CA 94501
Thanks for the report back. I appreciate it was current and not an opening experience. It gives a balance view for people considering the place.
All the rest of ths is not being argumentative or, as I sometimes do, a veiled put down. Your tastes are usuallt really similar to mine and from your write up it sounds like your dinner wasn't all that.
However, I wanted to add this comment in an informative way for people who may like salt in their food. One of the number one complaints on yelp is the food is unseasoned, which one yelper said, if they weren't going to put enough salt in the food, put salt shakers on the table (they did).
The dishes have lots of fresh herbs which don't pack the same flavor profile as dried. Since I cook at home with zero salt this winds up being to my taste. But anyone who likes the food pre-salted may find the dishes at this restaurant underseasoned.
Now salt may not be the issue in your case, but I wanted to point out for some peopl i may be
It seems the black forest cake is the cake of the moment. They do other desserts, not including the baked goods. I've seen some sort of pudding type or other things in the case.
I do like well-seasoned food, but usually don't mind if a restaurant errs on the side of slightly underseasoning to showcase the freshness and flavor of the ingredients.
In a case like this (boiled/steamed carrots and potatoes), I'm not sure that them adding more salt would have made me like the veggies a whole lot better. I would have much preferred if the vegetables were, say, roasted or served with some kind of sauce, though their simple prep certainly made the meal feel very healthful. (I think the potatoes did have some kind of sauce, but it wasn't very flavorful and there wasn't much of it.)
Anyway, that's what makes me think they'd do a nice job with fish, just like they do with soups -- dishes where it's enough to just let the ingredients shine.
Thanks for the thorough report.
This was one of the only spots in town I know of that lists soft-boiled eggs on its menu (and does a fine job with them!), so their egg breakfast combo (which came with a salad, their good bread, and jam and butter) was in my regular rotation for a while. But then they stopped doing weekday breakfasts, presumably because of lack of business (I was almost always the only person there), and I haven't been back since.
Have they brought breakfast back, or did you go for weekend brunch?
Anyway, good to know that the rest of the menu is noteworthy as well.
No, just weekend brunch,
I was doing a little more searching on the web about the place and there is some amazing stuff, especially this blog
Chef/owner Anja Voth grinds her own flour daily and hand flakes the oats for the porridge.
"Voth, who lives in the neighborhood and walks to work, definitely outdoes grandma, however, by also producing her own yogurt, jam, mayonnaise, pickles, tomato sauce, fruit juices, as well as the marzipan (from ground almonds, sugar and rose-water) that goes in her Nusskuchen cake."
I forgot to mention about the sandwich. For some reason you have to ask for the sandwich menu and it isn't on their website. The first time I went in mid-afternoon, I didn't want pastries and I asked about sandwiches and that is when they brought out the brief sandwich menu.
I have not been there myself for while, although I keep checking their menu, but when my friends from Austria where here I sent them there for brunch (after telling them about all the stuff people had complained about. They thought the food was lovely, serving size normal, and they liked the coffee (which is more German style I guess). FYI, they also went to Local 123 and Paisan for breakfast - all of which they liked too. They bought me two of the home-made jams from Gaumenkitzel - and WOW the meyer lemon/orange is fantastic!
Having the Austrians go there and enjoy the food, confirmed my opinion of the place. i also loved it when we went to the Farmer's Market and while I was shopping they bought two pretzels from Octoberfeast Bakery, and when I caught up with them they had the most sour look on their face - I needed no explanation was just laughing. What a horrific pretzel sell. Don't understand why it is popular.
2049 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702
2121 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702
2514 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702
Second visit tonight. You have to have the red cabbage. Have to. It usually comes with the beef roulade, but we had it as a sub out for a different veg tonight. Thank you to those above. We went for visit 1 after reading this thread. Both meals were warm, hearty, tasty. Service both nights was warm, friendly, considerate. Tonight, after we started eating some cake that was a bit on the dry side (I thought it was perhaps the style), the server came out with a fresh version of the same cake saying the chef thought this one would be better and for us to take the second cake on the house. Seriously? Who does that? A bit under the weather so I will report in more detail, but we will be pleased to return. Again, thank you to those above. We live relatively close to here and needed a quiet, charming, spot to add to our list. This fits the ticket quite well. Oh-- and get the red cabbage.
Went last night for a late-ish dinner. The special last night was roasted local pasture raised pork belly with crispy skin, with red chard and raisins. the pork was absolutely wonderful - fatty, crunchy, tender, moist, porky - exactly what i wanted it to be. the chard was bitter/sweet, but better than that was the braised red cabbage we ordered on dcfb's recommendation - great stuff. all the vegetables held varying degrees of crunch. they were out of breaded schnitzel, so my sister ordered unbreaded pork schnitzel, which came in a tomato/onion sauce which i didn't taste. I did taste her pork, tho, and it had the same deep pork flavor as mine. we both subbed spaetzle for our starch, and both thoroughly enjoyed it - crispy yet tender and buttery. the sauce on my sister's plate came from the kitchen, oddly, cold, but they re-heated it immediately without reheating the perfectly cooked pork, and apologized profusely. my father ordered the 3 grilled Nürnberger Bratwürste with potato salad. I didn't try his sausages (they're the size of breakfast sausages) but he liked them. I especially liked his potato salad, which was very fresh and crunchy, flavored with dill. The potatoes were too hard for him to chew, however (they were slightly undercooked, but he has denture problems) so most of them came home with me. Same problem for him with the raw carrot salad and raw cabbage served with his meal, but overall we really enjoyed this restaurant. I'm dying to try the breaded schnitzel. I had a Reutberger Export Dunkel - nice, mellow, sweet with a bit of coffee flavor, and a slight fizz. The price was right for this meal too. All in all, I'd definitely go back.