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.)
Earlier this month at Steins I heard of a new, experimental Sunday brunch menu, 9:30 AM to 1PM Sundays only. Just a few Americana-type dishes (type of thing chef Reade loves to make), in response to customers wanting to come early and follow football on the various big TV screens.
Stopping by to try out a little of this menu (chicken & waffles), I found the menu expanded and now a regular Sunday feature (I suppose that might change after football season). Indeed some customers were in colorful team jerseys. (For variety, a screen on the other side of the bar carried a sea-lion rescue documentary.)
Steins's cavernous interior had just a few tables in use, some of them large, late in the morning; other people were gathering at the outdoor tables in the little walled courtyard. A group of young adults near the bar split their attention between a TV screen and their personal Mobile Devices (at least half the group had them in hand at any moment); the Android new-message chirp rang out prominently, once or twice a minute. (It's tempting to bring a jammer for those RF bands. No idle threat, as people who know me could tell you. It's been done commercially in Japan, to suppress uncouth cellphone use.)
Brunch menu was things like pork-belly "Benedict," various sausage plates, chicken-fried steak (the Amurrican Wiener Schnitzel, allegedly derived from same), some vegetarian offerings which this kitchen often does well, and items (salads, sandwiches) from the regular lunch menu. I'm no expert on chicken & waffles but it seemed fine to me. Came with eggs; good rough breading on the several smallish chicken pieces and just a hint of maple & bourbon flavor; more in syrup on the side; $14.
Tried the Oktoberfest menu and was very pleased. The Jägerschnitzel and pork shoulder were both top notch, rivaling what we have had at good places in Germany. I sure hope they keep some of these dishes on the regular menu; they're better than most Local German places and better than the food I've had at Stein's before.
Because it is a separate seasonal menu, through next weekend, I started a separate thread on the "Oktoberfest" offerings:
I think what you were experiencing was a fair representation of what Chef Reade can generally do. After some 20 meals there I have seen plenty of demonstration of his flair for comforty foods, and of the kitchen staff's capabilities. (Especially evident at one large party furnished with "appetizers" where the kitchen had a free hand, and showed off several things not then on the regular menu, although now I see them sometimes rotating onto it, which will continue.)
Within reasonable expectations of consistency, I've found the kitchen reliable. Internet buzz about the place began the moment it opened six months ago, and I have to grant some sympathy to a new and novel restaurant instantly deluged by the customary single-visit armchair experts, writing with no sense of the menu scope or strengths, some of whom rushed to try it the first day or two so they could be in the avant-garde of prima-donna nitpicking. In contrast, for example, to the perspective of a local newspaper editor whom I contacted to suggest writing up another new restaurant that opened, and who told me they always wait three months first so they can report a more typical experience.
Separate point: I'd be interested in any recommendations of authentic German food with some range, around Santa Clara County. Here's synopsis of those I do know about.
Esther's (at the MV-PA-Los Altos conjunction on San Antonio), a few meals there, last couple years. Some very genuine German standards and pub food in a somewhat eccentric setting, including sometimes impossible parking and a few customers who like to camp all day on the very few tables.
Hardy's Bavaria in Sunnyvale WAS the regional temple of varied German specialties, some of them light and seasonal, in its 1990s heyday when I was a semi-regular. But when Hardy Steiner retired some 10 years back, a new owner with abrasive personality took over, and customers left in droves -- even, I'm told, an important vendor (Dittmer's), for the same reason.
Two places in downtown SJ (around St. James Park) I used to frequent in the 1990s but found the offerings on the heavy side, plenty of roast pork, sausages, potatoes, and mustards; little of the Spaetzle, Schnitzel, wild mushroom dishes, aromatic smoked fish, feather-light savory pancakes, etc. that spoiled some Hardy's fans in the same era.
Naschmarkt (Austrian) in Campbell I know about, haven't been yet.
Thanks bbulkow. I locate no recent detailed first-hand reports on this board about Gourmet Haus Staudt (it seems to've garnered part of its fame from the Lost I-Phone Episode some time back); Melanie coveted a Schweinshaxe in a photo, and some people briefly recommended the place.
However I note that it has a very unusual 4.5 star average on Yelp with over 300 ratings. Including reccs from some of the key Yelpers I read individually, e.g. regnant Bay Area German-food expert Kent W.: http://www.yelp.com/biz/gourmet-haus-...
Here's a quick report:
Clearly favored by the 20-something to 30-ish tech crowd. Very "scene-ish" at 8pm when we stopped in. Every conversation I overheard was around which big data layer to use, or similar. My kind of crowd.
The place is huge. I love those old maybe-a-quonset-hut buildings, which are often turned into bars because of the large open space. The old Old Pros (on El Camino, now torn down), the old I-beam / Illusions ( on California, being torn down). The high ceilings and curved walls mean it's not so loud. Tables aren't jammed close. A better place to meet for a beer and chat than Tied House.
We did actually have to wait for a seat. About half their capacity is outdoors, and it was too cold out there - and they had a private event.
Beer list is exceptional. Not QUITE up to Liquid Bread in Campbell, IMHO, but in the same league. Ninkasi, two Clown Shoes, about 4 belgians (st bernardus quad, for example) - it's a nice list, even though their nitro tap was down last night.
Food was pretty good, although a long delay. We got the fresh pretzels (spoiled recently by Esther's), they were solid but not Esther's. Burger was good but not perfect. The meat was highly seasoned - a little overseasoned for my taste, mostly pepper and salt obscuring the beef taste that may or may not have been there. The added veg was very fresh and tasty, bun was just about right. I like my burgers a little thicker, but this was in the good range. My favorite of the area is still the Palo Alto Creamery, and I remember Tied's being thicker and a little juicier (but with worse veg & bun). I would strongly dispute the idea that "one can't comment on the burgers of the area without tasting Stein's". It's a solid addition, is all.
Last, the jagerschnitzel. This was a bit of a disappointment. The schnitzel itself was badly trimmed, with a bunch of gristle having made its way into the fry (in germany, the point of a schitzel is it's all meat goodness, tender, super since it's obscured by deep fry), and the size being a little small. Taste was good. I may have just gotten a poorly trimmed one. The sauce was fully of very nice mushrooms, and the side veg (green beans & potato) were fresh and tasty. I can't really comment on the fine points of the sauce because of the beer I drank.
My ability to fully taste might have been off toward the end of the meal because of the beer. The first was a porter which didn't fuzz out my palate too badly, but then I switched to Tricerahops, which is such a hops bomb that I can't trust anything after the first sip.
Loved the PayPal checkout, looks like a few places in that area have it. Just type in the code into the app, hit pay, walk out. Should have a bar or QR code and scan build into the app (type?really?) but it's pleasant not to do the extra round trip of card & sign.
Overall - a very solid addition to MV. Fills a niche similar to Tied house, but better beer and less loud, almost competing with Scratch due to high food quality ( and a fairly upscale setting ). I have two friends who I will start meeting here, maybe even start doing some Friday Beers here with a group I have - the outdoor seating is excellent for that (but not as nice a corner as SteakOut).
Just saw bb's account here after another visit to Steins myself (appx #28), details below. I've had about twice that many many meals at Scratch, incidentally, and find both to be basically "New American," Scratch aiming more up-market (and distinguished by a phenomenal happy-hour deal, maybe the best value in the neighborhood for those who can manage its limited hours).
I personally continue to share with mdg (per an exchange re an exceptional print restaurant critic elsewehere whom we both were privileged to read) ongoing wariness about characterizing how any restaurant, or even dish, "is," from any single meal, however experienced the observer. (That critic was among the most experienced in the US, and dwelt on that issue.)
Example: one foodie friend acquired a specific impression of Steins's hamburgers a few months back that was misleading, and since been withdrawn (one cook was making them at the time, and seasoning them eccentrically, against chef's instructions, but that interval ended after customers pointed it out). Just as some people got early accurate impressions of harsh noisy acoustics, but Steins installed "cloud" baffles late Summer that have considerably softened the main room.
I've now had 7 or 8 Steins burgers, often with garnish options (and increasingly, salad replacing fries -- v. good fries IMO, but filling). These burgers have fluctuated a bit, as restaurant food does, in seasonings and doneness (usually ordered "medium"), but been more consistent than at the other hamburger sources nearby (my rough burger experience to date: SteakOut 12, Tied House 6, Workshop 8, Clarke's 6, Scratch 2).
Recently stopped by, weekend mid-afternoon when many nearby restaurants were closed. (That's a Steins feature I like: stays open between lunch and dinner times.) Ordered a hamburger, blue cheese garnish. This one was quite perfect, one of the best restaurant hamburgers I've ever had. (My dad and I ground them fresh at home, 40 years ago, with a crank grinder, which spoiled me; but today I rely on restaurants.) At least half the Steins hamburgers I've had were nearly as good. The flavorful beef-cut blend ground in-house, done exactly, seasoned lightly; the soft brioche bun, also made in house; the simple scrupulous vegetable garnishes. At $12 + any extra garnishes, I consider this an expensive hamburger -- and Steins also is not one of the restaurants that specializes mainly in burgers unlike Clarke's, Workshop, Counter, etc. -- but when it has been "on" it's been near-perfect. (That's why my previous insistence on including Steins in any comparison of nearby burger joints, and I believe many people here would concur on that, given similar experience levels of them.)
Sorry about this not being on the topic of Stein's.
I'm willing to write after a single meal, here, because I believe readers of ChowHound are able to average among the different tastes, days, and authors. I hold CH in high regard in that fashion.
If I was to write about restaurants where I've only had 10+ meals, I would write about only 4 or 5 restaurants. That's not a good service to the chowhound community. Even if I did 3, I wouldn't be able to write a note about the new chef at Koi Palace, which I ate at after only one meal.
We have three "big lists" over the last decade: all the sushi of silicon valley, all the tacos of redwood city, Melanie's Ramen list. None of those would be possible with a "3 minimum" listing standard, and all three of those have great value to me.
Personally, I also make a decision about whether to return after two meals with most restaurants. Sometimes after 1 meal. Is that "fair"? Honestly, I don't care. If I'm going to eat another 3,000 dinners in the next 10 years, I can't spent 10 meals per restaurant. That would mean eating only between RWC and MV.
It's better for me to eat once or twice at as many restaurants as possible, than to eat over and over at a restaurant which has performed poorly in the first one or two tests .... unless I have information from an outside source (professional, semi-pro, yelp, word of mouth) that it's worth a few more meals.
The best math for modeling this kind of choice is the "multi-armed bandit" problem, which is a formalization of when to "pull an unknown arm" vs when to pull an arm with more data. One can then argue about how many "pulls" on an arm constitute good data. 3 is a nice number for restaurant samples (especially on different nights), but can only be judged compared to the number of "arms" in the system.
You focus much closer on a few restaurants, which you can speak authoritatively, which suits you. It suits a full time professional reviewer, who then writes to the one-or-two-restaurants-a-week format (instead of the 5 to 15 restaurants per review style I was trying), who will likely need to learn about "hidden gems" from outside sources (like chowhound!), then invest 3 meals.
Especially in an area like ours where there are thousands and thousands and thousands of restaurants which never get written about (yelp has changed that, but the noise is too high), noisier sources are welcome into the mix.
I have very little argument with any of that whatsoever, bb -- I'll try to clarify here the very narrow point of my reference. And indeed this is a topic for a separate thread if we really want to get into it. But I have no issue at all with single-visit reviews, that was not my intended allusion.
I, too, often post on this site from single visits. Often it is impractical (or, as you mentioned, not a priority) for someone to visit a given restaurant multiple times, but their obervations can still have great value. Lately I spend a lot of time around Mountain View and therefore lean on its restaurants, so those are where I happen to have the most observations. But I still cannot write about how such a restaurant "is," only about my particular experiences of it -- which might differ from later ones, even for me.
My point, growing from an exchange with mdg regarding Estrellita, concerned only how single-visit observations are expressed. I am wary of "is" conclusions (as in "It's a solid addition, is all"), and I cited a real example above, of someone else whose own view of how Steins burgers "are" changed radically (along with the cook). Now obviously, you and I might well have different opinions even of a single hamburger shared; but your account of overseasoning and submerged beef flavor resonated with my own experience of the outliers rather than the typical burger I've had, so far, at Steins.
(I find the "is" issue particularly characteristic of Yelp, many of whose posters seem actually _unable_ to discern even a careless transient impression from a restaurant's defining nature. It was a point in MCslimJB's celebrated article on effective restaurant comments: http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/2013/04/... )
That was the only point there. I continue to read and appreciate your descriptive restaurant posts.
Two visits this week to Stein's. Becoming more appreciative of the place.
The beer list remains stellar. As it is SF beer week, one might expect more turn over and special stuff than other weeks, yet on Wednesday they had about 8 of a brewery called Braueri or similar, and by saturday night they were all full of Clown Shoes on the rotating taps. Bartenders / servers are very up on what's what in their tap menu, and recommendations are very on-point - give these guys some latitude and they'll steer you right.
On the topic of the burger, that's what we've been going for. One of my parents must have been haunted by how good the burger was, thus has mentioned how Menlo Park Creamery, and Village Pub, had better burgers, but still, Stein's was very nice.
I've taken to the Flank Steak sandwich over the hamburger. I can't quite say why, mostly because my GF orders the burger first and I am compelled to order something different. The beef in flank steak is always full of flavor, higher fat content, and they must marinade them well - and it's a rarer dish than the burger.
The pretzel tends to sell out at 7pm, so I hear.
The place seems very "spotty" in terms of how full it is. On a wednesday at 9:00 we were lucky to find a table at the bar. at 7:00 on a saturday, the place had several empty tables and lots of space at the bar. Go figure.
But --- they're doing strong business, and I suspect they need no help from me in terms of being a thriving concern.
One note. On the most recent visit, the GF's burger was well done (grey and not juicy) when ordered well done. I mentioned she should say something, otherwise the kitchen can't improve, and she demurred. I finally mentioned to the guy getting the check, and said we really don't want to make a fuss, just felt we should say something to help out the kitchen, and he still insisted on taking it off the bill. The head bartender mentioned they had been rushing a few things recently, and he looked put out, I imagine they'll be a discussion between him and and the kitchen.
Finally, they're back on board with PayPal (where there's a code on your bill and you can pay by cell phone), and it didn't work. $10 off, the bartenders suggested it, and the app kept saying "your server has your bill open". When finally we tried to pay by credit card (having tried the app 8 times), the paypal transaction went through, and the head bartender looked even more miffed because the act of trying to put my card through closed the check, and my last attempt at using the app snuck through in the short time window. Apparently some PayPal rep was in the house, and she'd get a talking to as well.
I am more than willing to overlook both of these problems as they were taken care of with aplomb although it would be better if every burger came out as ordered.
By which I meant,
The burger was cooked to a standard of "well" (grey inside and not juicy) when it had been ordered medium rare, a clear error. GF would not "make a fuss" but I pointed out the kitchen needed the feedback, and mentioned it to our server / barguy....
hopefully that's clearer.