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Sep 22, 2013 12:50 PM

German "Oktoberfest" menu at Steins, Mountain View

This is a distinctive temporary offering, so I write it as a separate topic from the earlier Steins thread

This Germanic menu runs two weeks, through Oct. 5-6 when (collaborating with nearby Tied House brewpub) Steins will host in its adjacent city parking lot a German food & beer festival, with German foods in stalls (and family entertainment), link below.

What I like re the six-months-old Steins Beer Garden and Restaurant, even more than the beer range (numerous, if less fanatic than at The Refuge in San Carlos, and maybe other places I've heard about), is its kitchen. A large, capable kitchen, as at leading high-end restaurants; I toured it once. Complete with bakery (Steins's co-founder ran the Paris Baguette bakery restaurants) and bubbling stockpot. Directed by Bay Area veteran chef Colby Reade, who clearly delights in making comfort foods. Me too, but just as an amateur.

Steins has run Germanic comfort-food specialties as dinner specials for a while. From yesterday to Oct. 6, a full menu of these is available, lunch AND dinner, and 15 or so German beers to go with them. Below, menu details and first-hand impressions.

Chef Reade spent time in Germany researching. A few comments about this. Most Germanic dishes I've ever eaten were on their central-European home soil. Germanic cooking has range and subtlety I very rarely see in Bay Area restaurants. Places like the Harry's Hofbrau chain offered German specialties, but narrowly conceived: roast pork, sauerkraut, red cabbage. No hint of the wild mushrooms, diverse Knödel, smoked fish, or meat/vegetable/fruit stew traditions, or the very seasonal specialties that people fuss over, and neghborhood cafés feature, there. Chef Reade clearly knows the real deal and is offering his take on it, with a few Alsatian and Austrian touches.

Tried, on current special menu:

Spätzle w/ brown butter, sage, garlic, white raisins, hazelnuts, $12. Spätzle represent a transition between egg pastas per se and the larger Knödel (dumplings, broadly construed) that are a near-religion around Bavaria, Bohemia, and Austria, such as Nockerl (same word appears in N. Italy as gnocchi). This presentation was kind of playful, with the nuts and raisins. I thought the portion spare, for $12, but it was rich enough with the brown butter and nuts that it seemed adequate. Never saw anything like this at Harry's Hofbrau!

Veal Jägerschnitzel in wine-cream sauce with bacon-potato salad, green beans ($22). Jäger or Jaeger is hunter. As in France ("chasseur") or Italy ("cacciatore"), on dishes it connotes mushrooms. Jägerschnitzel, hunter's cutlet, when I've had it in random cafés around Germany, was usually a simple beef steak with mounds of mushrooms, and some starchy garnish. Steins does more of an Austrian take, a reminder Chef Reade worked under Wolfgang Puck. German cooks are more willing to leave meats alone than Austrians, or rather Viennese, who love to pound them flat, or else stuff them. This was a large thin veal steak in a wine-cream sauce (another Viennese mark) with mushrooms. An ample plate, with the fresh beans and authentic potato salad, warm and lightly dressed with bacon (not the US mayonnaise-type potatoes). Hearty, savory.

Not tried yet:

Smoked Bavarian-style pork shoulder, sweet-sour cabbage, mushroom Spätzle, cheese, pan juices.

Marinated porkloin Schnitzel, caraway bacon 'kraut, dilled potatoes.

Paprika-roast "Oktoberfest" half chicken, potato dumplings, sauerkraut, said to be inspired by chicken-and-Knödel specialties Bavarian cafés lately feature around this season.

Desserts: Prince-Regent Cake (6-layer hazelnut-chocolate). Raspberry Bavarian Cream.

More on Steins' October 5-6 outdoor festival:

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  1. I still can't get over the name "Steins." It sounds like it was contrived for ignorant tourists such as the Hofbraeu Festzelt at Wiesn. A "stein" is a stone and has nothing to do with beer. How can this place be even pretend to be even remotely authentic?

    BTW, I did try to get a beer there once. I sat at the bar for 10 minutes. Not one of the 5 bartenders stopped their conversations and walked over. I got up and left and went over to Mervyn's.

    8 Replies
    1. re: 12172003

      12172003: "A "stein" is a stone and has nothing to do with beer."

      Cassell's German Dictionary (1978 ed.; print, of course): "Stein: [masculine noun]. Stone, rock; gem; monument; ... beer-mug; [etc.]"

      Many beer mugs traditionally (in many countries) are ceramic, aka earthenware or stoneware. Same basis.

      1. re: eatzalot

        Ask for a "stein" in Germany and they'll look at you like you have 6 heads (unless you are in ultra-touristy location).

        "Maßkrug (plural: Maßkrüge), a one litre volume glass drinking vessel with a handle. This is frequently used in Bavarian beer gardens and beer halls and is a staple of Oktoberfest. It is often referred to as a beer stein or beer mug by English speakers."

        So what I wrote is correct. Only ignorant or uninformed tourists and the restaurant call it a "stein." :)

        1. re: 12172003

          This also may be the first time I have seen someone evidently acquainted with US beer halls claiming not to be familiar with the common US idiom "beer stein" (quite aside from its prominence as a dictionary idiom in German as I quoted). Several local taverns, including Tied House and Hardy's Bavaria, even have programs where regulars keep individual earthenware mugs on the wall.

          For anyone else here unfamiliar with Steins Beer Garden and Restaurant, the menu is not normally German (hence the unusual special temporary menu in this thread), and Steins has never even "pretended to be remotely authentic" in any particular -- such a statement just reflects someone's mistaken assumptions. Steins was inspired by experiences its creators had in Europe, but is only loosely related to European protoypes. It opened in some haste, six months ago, and was instantly mobbed by customers, some of whom rushed to gripe online about things like service problems, which settled down over time, as they usually do at brand-new restaurants.

          I know that you can get remarkable food and good service at Steins, because I went there several times and actually got to know the place a bit before commenting here about it, and I re-visit periodically to see how it is and to enjoy the evolving comfort-food menu. Plus a stein or two of beer ...

          1. re: eatzalot

            >Steins has never even "pretended to be remotely authentic"
            >in any particular -- such a statement just reflects
            >someone's mistaken assumptions.

            From the MTV Voice:
            "I wanted to make it very German, a very authentic German Oktoberfest,..." ~Ted Kim owner of Steins.

            1. re: 12172003

              Yes, 1217etc. As explained at the start of this short-term topic (separate from the main Steins discussion on this board), Steins is doing a special temporary Oktoberfest menu, and outdoor events this next weekend. Deliberately very German and, as I and mdg separately testified (mdg in the general Steins thread linked above), serving remarkably authentic German cooking and a purely German beer menu. That is what Ted Kim referred to in the quoted MV-Voice remark. Again I recommend trying these special items while you can.

              My own comment which you just quoted referred to Steins at other times, where it is not particularly a German restaurant, nor makes any claims to be, in the MV Voice or any other media. The restaurant name uses a beer-mug term long common in the US, and the beer garden format is shared by many restaurants including two others in the same neighborhood. On the other hand, right now and for a few more days, the restaurant IS claiming German food and beer, and delivering just that. I find no evidence of any pretension anywhere here.

              And while it had some early service issues as many new restaurants do (Steins was particularly mobbed in its first days -- I recently heard an owner mention serving 5500 people the first weekend), after things settled down a bit I have seen nothing but decent professional service from its bartenders, in 20 or so visits.

          2. re: 12172003

            I agree that they did themselves a disservice with the name. From these reports, it seems a pleasant and authentic place, and Stein's sounds like a fake plastic rip off.

            1. re: bbulkow

              What do you think of the name in view of practical experience there, bbulkow?

          3. The special Oktoberfest menu is only available after 3 PM.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ssfire

              Clarification: Lunch and dinner Saturdays. Sundays, after 3PM (Steins _currently_ also does an interesting brunch menu Sundays, and after the brunch menu stops, the German menu will be available). Dinner only, M-F.

              I had been there Saturday for lunch, and there was confusion among the hostesses up front regarding the new German menu. When the chef came by, he clarified "lunch and dinner," basis of my original info above. So I just now called Steins and asked him.

            2. To report on the Oktoberfest weekend event itself on its first day, I thought it was reasonably civilized for a sizeable gathering in a city parking lot (these peninsula small-town downtowns have periodic street fairs that are larger, and sometimes a little chaotic).

              Two German restaurants had booths. Teske's Germania from SJ sold various platters, I tried the Gulasch with Spätzle, found the Gulasch not bad (I could nitpick, but it's a dish I make regularly so that might be unreasonable comparing to a festival booth); Spätzle appeared freshly made. A second main-course booth from another restaurant with German connection had several kinds of sausages served with Kartoffelsalat etc. And bbulkow, were he to attend, could get his Esther's fresh-baked pretzels at another booth, selling those and soft drinks (the booth didn't advertise Esther's, but told me that's where the pretzels came from, and they were tasty). One or two other food booths offered other specialties (fries, kebabs, smoked turkey legs).

              A partly covered dining area had tables, and on its side away from the food booths and band area, German breweries dispensed steins of beer (you paid for the steins for admission to the event). Crowds were moderate around noon, but by 2PM the German food booths had significant lines waiting and it was harder to find seats at the dining tables.

              This goes on through Sunday, per details linked in first posting above.

              1 Reply
              1. re: eatzalot

                The Oktoberfest weekend was described as "First Annual," so maybe this topic will be useful again in Fall 2014.

                ssfire had posted another report Saturday from the event, very much on topic, with photos, but as a separate thread. I don't know what happened to it, I'd asked if it could be merged into this one, but it seems to've been deleted instead.

              2. Tried the pork shoulder and the schnitzel the other day. Both were fine/acceptable but not super flavorful - the sauerkraut wasn't sharp enough and so the meat flavors were somewhat one note. Liked the beer selection and loved the Prince-Regent cake (though it is very very decadent).