NEW: Steins Beer Garden, Mtn View - Any reports?
- hhc Mar 31, 2013 08:10 AM
Read about Steins Beer Garden is now open in Mtn View. It's got 30 draft beer, they are going to make their own breads, pretzels, lots of in-house items like pastrami, etc.
Steins Beer Garden
895 Villa St, Mtn View
Nice beer list. That's in the "888 villa" space, which is a pretty big space - important for a friday when you don't want to have to worry about getting a table.
Was there opening night. Very crowded so it's a little rough to make a judgement, but the beer was good enough. I think you can get better beer at the hot dog stand on the corner of Castro and California. Food that I had was good bar food for a fairly expensive bar.
overall, it was more of scene than a culinary experience, but that may well be what they were shooting for.
I went for a late lunch yesterday and was not all that impressed. Had a tasty cocktail which went down in 3 sips. Good but small. The mini "corndogs" were battered meatballs which may have been good, piping hot, but were lukewarm when delivered. Fried chicken sandwich was nuggets on a ciabatta was ok and large but the burger was not good. Ordered medium rare, it came back hard and crusted and the bun was doughy. Beer flights are overpriced I did enjoy the pickled veggies given instead of bread. will be interesting to see how it competes with the more established Tied House once the newness wears off.
I went for a pre-theater dinner on Saturday and it was fine. The beer is the star and the food seems interesting and good enough to go with it. My smoked chicken entree was fine, though fairly lightly smoked. The highlight was the very tasty greens. But the jus on the dish came across more as greasy than jus-y.
The draft beer list is good and interesting, but it pales in comparison to what I've been getting in my many business trips to the Midwest lately. Milwaukee and Minneapolis take their beer seriously and you can find great lineups of craft brews even in the techie suburbs.
I've found techie suburbs - everywhere - to be very serious about their beer.
Take Jane's Beer Store, also on Villa - that's some serious beer!
We got a 4 of Sierra Nevada's belgian (with the cork in it), a bit of Clown Shoes I wanted to try (pleasant but a little soft), and the Green Flash Saison, and a single bottle of an unusual belgian stout.
I've eaten there over a dozen times, working through menu, learning the kitchen style, strengths, weaknesses, people, consistencies, some of the beers; attended a neighborhood party; actually first met the key players long before Steins opened in March, as explained below.
The property is owned by a local businessman who started the Golden Wok restaurants in the 1980s and sold them. It was known by locals as the Golden Wok for decades. When that G W location's later owners closed it, "Villa 88 buffet" opened briefly but didn't last.
Ted Kim, an inveterate beer geek who ran the popular Paris Baguette restaurants, and chef Colby Reade, with roots in Escoffier and taste for comfort food, are managing partners. Huge kitchen includes bakery for custom buns and breads, an enormous stockpot bubbling away incessantly, and a 1907 "Guide Culinaire" 1st ed. on Reade's shelf. A chat re Escoffier is what led him to give me a kitchen tour. The chat started when I remarked, while eating, how good his French fries were, and he said they were fresh cut. But In & Out Burger famously cuts theirs fresh, and they're never this crisp, I said. In & Out uses one frying, he answered; Steins uses two. The classic French way, I said. Then he took me to show off his 1907 G. C.
Gestation of Steins hit a weird hitch last year at a city zoning hearing, which I attended -- it's where I met the principals. (Reade was showing off phone pix of comfort-food test batches, 10 months before Steins even opened.) A family of neighbors with past complaints about a nightclub objected to a new beer garden opening, and managed to persuade a city administrator effectively to block it at the hearing. Publicity then brought growing community support; by the time the City Council overturned the zoning ruling (I attended that packed meeting too), they'd heard from the original six complainants, and 600 community supporters of the proposed new business. (I think even the original objectors remitted eventually -- I later saw most of them dining at Steins.)
The Golden Wok space was remodeled and modernized (one big dining room, couple smaller DRs to rear, outdoor side patio), and the big main room revealed a problem frequent in remodeled restaurant interiors: harsh acoustics. It was mitigated recently with ceiling acoustical changes, but only after many people found the main room uselessly loud at crowded tines like Fri and Sat nights. I don't favor eating out at those times anyway, and had fine experiences at less busy times, at the bar counter, and outside.
Menu has evolved and been jiggled steadily, so some things I tried months ago are gone. It's an unusually eclectic menu, embracing hearty meaty foods and creative vegan main-course salads. A simplified small-plates menu prevails mid-afternoons. Everyone chatters about the mini-corndogs (more accurately, in cooking terms, meatball fritters), but I find them very rich and bland, and prefer, for small bites, the nicely seasoned lamb meatballs or the various smoked-fish appetizers which will likely have changed again by time you read this. Phenomenal, destination-quality slider sandwiches of wine-braised beef short ribs with bitter greens were an opening specialty, but later rotated out. Other good sandwiches I've had are the grilled portabello mushroom (3 times so far) and the rather fancy hamburgers (classy meat, custom brioche bun, grilled consistently to order and with all sorts of interesting garnish options). Just a bit pricey, vs. the comparable pub grub at nearby competitors SteakOut and Tied House (both of which also have elaborate hot-sandwich menus currently, and both of which I've tried many times too); Scott's Seafood nearby on Castro (formerly and fondly "Cantankerous Fish") has excellent diverse slider sandwiches in its bar menu, discounted irresistably during happy hours every day of the week. But Steins's kitchen has turned out both more elegant and FAR more diverse fare than any of those.
When Steins first opened, with all the advance publicity, crowds descended and every single customer, it seems, then sounded off online. More so, the less Steins experience they had. Some ranted about acoustics (see above), some about poorly trained employees (a real problem: last-minute City-imposed physical changes badly delayed employee training -- but that has improved with time), and some people have condemned the place for not fitting their preconceptions (e.g. Steins doesn't do table reservations in its big room, at least not at the busiest times). However in sober thorough comparison with its nearby competitors and allowing for the almost inevitable opening hitches, I find the place a fine addition and it's a particular kind of concept I admire: a pub whose food, far from being just an adjunct or afterthought to the drinks, is a serious attraction in its own right.
The thing about writing stuff like that in late morning is, it makes me hungry. Consequently I'm writing this follow-up at Steins itself,after a satisfying, and big, hamburger (big, from a couple of the garnish options) and cup of tomato bisque.
Chef Reade has lately been doing favorite Central-European comfort food specials, gearing up for Oktoberfest -- like Wiener Schnitzel (complete with customary clear-dressed potato salad) last week, and this week, veal Jaegerschnitzel;* also dishes of new seasonal vegetables, like summer beans. The Jägerschnitzel currently runs thru August 18.
* Just in case this isn't familiar, European cooking traditions associate mushrooms with forests and hunting, yielding food names like chasseur, cacciatore, forestière, or Jägerschnitzel -- hunter's cutlet -- a combination, popular in Germany and Austria, of a meat steak, plenty of mushrooms, often Spätzle (which Reade said he was doing earlier); currently at Steins it comes instead with potatoes pan-fried in duck fat, and a colorful cabbage preparation; $22 at dinner. This is beyond the sort of food range I see at most Bay Area pubs.
The Wiener Schnitzel was at Steins last week, but I wasn't. I just heard about it at the restaurant when stopping for lunch today -- along with the current special, mentioned above.
Most of my experience with Viennese cutlets (Wiener Schnitzel) is on their home turf, so I'd likely be fairly critical of it. But Chef Reade spent time in C. Europe researching this stuff, and when today he again whipped out his trusty tablet phone and showed off pictures of last week's Wiener Schnitzel, I noticed the authentic type of potato salad accompaniment (no mayo) in the picture. I don't recall if he'd also included a lemon wedge, which is the other standard garnish in Vienna.
(I quipped that, thanks to a certain US fast-food chain borrowing the name to sell sausages, which have nothing remotely to do with Wiener Schnitzel, he may have had some customers who bought into that pop-culture misconception, and were surprised to see what the real thing was.)
I think though that Reade is planning to bring back these specialties all together for an Oktoberfest menu, so check back then.
Yes, this definitely warrants more visits. It's promising and the type of place we don't have and I usually really like. That's why I wanted to like it more than I did, but of course this was just one visit. That schnitzel (along with a side order of spätzle) looked interesting on the menu, but after a bit too much red meat this past week I had to pass.
The best Midwest beers tend not to be distributed out here; Bell's has been hiding itself away from me for 25 years. For my taste, the overall quality of Midwest craft brews exceeds the California craft brews. I won't notice it as much in winter when I try to cut down my travel there.
It is also amazing to see some of the weird takes that surface online about a new restaurant like this. When you have gotten to know the place's ins and outs and rituals and personnel somewhat, you have the perspective to judge comments that appear in places like Y*lp. Occasionally, you even learn the back story behind some of the more extreme ones -- the parts their authors didn't bother to mention.
Before posting here today, I looked there, and saw a recent "review" to which Steins's Ted Kim had posted the unusual owner comment "Unbelievable!" Now I first met him in mid-2012 and in my many visits to Steins since, I have witnessed Ted Kim being among the most gracious, accommodating restaurateurs I've seen -- I could testify in detail. It seems this recent Y*lper asked repeatedly to reserve a big table at a crowded time, which Steins doesn't do. At length after so many requests, Ted Kim agreed to make an exception; but rather than welcome this and do the deal, the customer went ahead and posted a harsh tirade about not being treated in the manner to which evidently she felt entitled. That prompted Ted Kim's "unbelievable" comment (which then spurred another tirade). This is what you have to deal with in the restaurant business. (In another recent case at a restaurant near Steins, a customer posted a harsh, detailed tirade, even challenging the honesty of other more positive reviews. Then another customer posted that she had witnessed the first complainant, storming around the restaurant with an attitude, speaking curtly to employees, not even trying dishes she'd then complained publicly about. Sadly, you seldom hear the rest of the story like that.)