Sunday, April 23, 2017

A magical meal at Der Zauberlehrling...

Last night, Bill and I had a dinner reservation at Der Zauberlehrling, a chic hotel/restaurant in downtown Stuttgart.  I was excited about our visit because we had eaten there in 2008, when Bill and I were here courtesy of the Army.  At the time, Der Zauberlehrling was the only Stuttgart area restaurant listed on OpenTable, an online restaurant reservation service we've been using for years.  Now OpenTable has hundreds of restaurants listed in Stuttgart.  I remembered that meal from 2008 fondly.  It was probably the fanciest dinner we ate in Germany before we came back in 2014.

"Der Zauberlehrling" is the German title of a famous poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  Americans may know it better by its English translation, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice".  The hotel and restaurant that shares the name certainly has some unexpected and whimsical elements to it.  Although we have not yet had the pleasure of staying the night at Der Zauberlehrling, we have done some reading up on it.  Each room has a quirky style of its own.  Der Zauberlehrling also offers cooking classes, but I don't know if they are available in English.

Things had changed a bit at the hotel's restaurant since our last visit.  For example, on Saturday nights, the restaurant now offers a candlelight theme night for 115 euros a person (although it says 105 on the hotel's Web site, on OpenTable it was priced 115 euros and that was what we were charged last night).  On the first Saturday of every month, they have a "magic" candlelight dinner, which includes a show by magician, Stefan Handel.  That dinner starts at 6:30pm and costs a little bit more.  The price of the dinner includes an aperitif, snacks, and four course meal with wine pairings and espresso or coffee.

I was a little concerned about the "theme night", because it's not possible to order a la carte when they offer it and I don't always have good luck with mystery menus.  I tend to be rather picky about some things, especially mushrooms and truffles.  Fortunately, there were no major issues last night.

We parked at Zublin, a large garage downtown, maybe a few minute's walk from the hotel and restaurant, although it seemed further in heels.  I enjoyed the charming neighborhood near Der Zauberlehrling.  The streets were cobblestone and tree lined; for a moment, I even forgot we were in Stuttgart.  We were warmly welcomed when we entered the hotel lobby, though we were one of maybe ten couples dining last night.  Regular theme nights always start at 7:15pm, so everyone shows up at about the same time.


Approaching the restaurant/hotel.  I was trying not to get a shot of the large trash bin.

A very professional and well-dressed lady showed us to our beautifully decorated corner table.  I took a look around and remembered how tiny the dining room is.  It has a very cool looking modern fireplace, though.  You can see its hood behind Bill's head in the picture below.


Bill takes a look at what's being offered.  The same lady who showed us to our table poured us a drink with house made gin, grape juice, and locally produced sparkling wine.


When we first sat down, the white thing in the finger bowl resembled a breath mint.  But then a server poured liquid on it and it expanded as if by magic.  We weren't sure what it was at first, but then we discovered it was a moist towel.  I guess that was their way of getting patrons to wash up.


The menu.  I would imagine this changes weekly.


We started with tasty hors d'oeuvres.  There was a tiny piece of quiche, potato fritter, and a cracker with roast beef and horseradish.  We also had mixed nuts and sweet cocktail onions.


Next came crusty bread served with interesting butter and salt.  Our server explained the butter was laced with citrus...


And we could pair it with one of four types of salt.  There was Portuguese salt, that was much like what we're used to, a black sea salt, and a "male" and "female" salt.  The male salt was infused with pepper, while the female sale was less assertively infused with ginger.  Although I'm not into salts, I have to admit it was interesting tasting them with the butter.


Next came salmon with cous cous, avocado creme, pickled vegetables, and enoki mushrooms, which Bill kindly removed for me.  This was the last of the snacks!


The first course was creamy risotto with peas, white asparagus, tomatoes, and dried ham (which they said was bacon).  Bill was marveling at how good the risotto was.  I also enjoyed it, although the ham was a little different for me and took some effort to chew.  This course was served with a 2016 Kirchner white wine from Pfalz.


I really liked the next course, a chilled gazpacho with tomato, basil ice cream, and a spicy piece of watermelon.  This soup was refreshing and interesting.  The basil ice cream was slightly sweet and offered an interesting contrast with the piece of watermelon imbrued with spicy heat.  It was very creative.  This course came with an exquisite 2016 Pfannebecker Goldmuskateller, also from Pfalz.


Next came the main course, olive crusted pork loin with artichoke hearts, snap peas, and tomato filled tortellinis.  The tortellinis were clearly housemade and very good.  The pork was tender and juicy and played well with the vegetables.  I especially loved the red wine with this course, a 2015 Karl Haidle Cuvee made with lemberger grapes.  We'll be looking for that wine. 


Next, we had dessert.  This was a dark chocolate pear creation, with hazelnut ice cream packed with some kind of crunchy cereal that gave it sort of a whimsical effect.  There were fresh pears shaped into balls, molded atop a pear gelatin base with a layered cake.  This was paired with a small amount of very sweet 2008 Carme de Rieussec Sauternes from Bordeaux.  I also enjoyed a little more of the red wine with this, since sweet wines aren't my thing.


And finally, we enjoyed an espresso, which was served with three kinds of sugars.  The dark brown one was the one I used.  It came from Mauritius and was not as sweet as regular white sugar.  Instead, it had more of a creamy caramel essence.  That was just the jolt we needed to get us all the way back to Unterjettingen!

I don't always comment on the toilet facilities in restaurants, unless there is some reason to.  I am happy to report that not only are Der Zauberlehrling's facilities sparkling clean and luxuriously appointed, but the ladies room has what appears to be a German style Japanese toilet.  Check out the video below.


When I opened the stall door, the lid came up and the inside of the bowl was lit, as if to welcome me!  


Here is the control panel for the fancy toilet.  Yes, you can get your private parts washed if you want. Bill reports that the men's room had a more conventional toilet, although the seat had what appeared to be gold glitter on it (and no, not the kind that sticks with you for years).  He also said the men's room had a flatscreen television mounted over the urinal.  

I'm not sure I would have ordered all of the courses we had last night had I been left to my own devices.  A couple of them were a little beyond my comfort zone.  However, I was very pleased with what we had and glad we had the chance to try something very new.  The food and service at Der Zauberlehrling were just as excellent as we remembered it.  

This week, no one stared at us.  In fact, our waiter asked us where we were from and we had a brief discussion about politics.  I left the restaurant feeling welcome and among friends.  One lady, who showed up a little late and had green hair, even bid us a cheery farewell as we headed back to the car at about 10:45 pm.  All the way home, we talked about how much we enjoyed our evening.  The toilet in the ladies room alone will keep us talking for a long while.

I would definitely recommend Der Zauberlehrling for a date night.  Just be advised that on Saturday nights, you can't order a la carte and they are not open on Sundays.  Also, I highly recommend making reservations because the dining room is very small and the restaurant is popular.  It's been fully booked both times we've visited.

Dress is smart casual.  We saw a couple of people in jeans and others, like Bill and I, decided to dress up a bit.  


I got to debut a new shawl!



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