Last night we went out to celebrate a birthday, and chose to dine at Wallse at the recommendation of one of my coworkers. I first realized I was in trouble when I sat down at the bar while waiting for Linnea to arrive, and realized that the wine list was completely over my head. The list has an incredible collection of Austrian wines, and I know absolutely nothing about wine from that region of the world, other than that the more syllables you get in the name, the better the wine is supposed to be (trockenbeerenauslese is better than beerenauslese is better than auslese). I actually spent about 10 minutes on my BlackBerry trying to learn about the wines on the list so that I’d have at least a fighting chance when it came time to order.
I found myself quite relieved when we agreed that we’d try the tasting menu for dinner, including the wine pairings. And so, when the Matt Damon-esque sommelier brought over the first wine, described the flavor and characteristics we could expect and then finished with the comment that, “The Auslese is a good place to start,” I knew that we were in for a treat.
The first course was actually an amuse bouche of a bit of their chestnut soup, with a sweet prune at the bottom. The soup had an almost velvety texture an was quite delicious. That was followed shortly by the auslese wine and a serving of foie gras, with a caramelized peach. The foie gras was quite delicious, and it combined well with the peach, though I’m not really sure why one would choose to do that and disturb the pure flavor of the foie gras.
Course number two was the pan-seared sea scallop with a grated apple topping and a puree of beet. It was pretty good, and I love scallops, but the apple was a bit strange on top. This was paired with a rather light white wine of no particular distinction, other than that it tasted exactly like what they said it would.
Course number three was a small piece of bass, paired with another nice (but nothing special)white wine. The bass was actually quite good, with the crispy skin side seasoned with salt & pepper, and a broccoli puree and tiny artichoke heart (one of the two of ours ended up on the floor, but I’m not pointing fingers at anyone).
Course four was lamb chops, served with fingerling potatoes, Brussel sprouts, ciopilinni onions and a delicious red wine reduction sauce. I’m a big fan of lamb chops, and these didn’t disappoint. Plus the various veggies were all top notch, and the sauce was a great balance of sweet and rich to accompany the lamb. We also finally got our one red wine of the evening, a St. Laurent.
And then it was time for our first dessert. We were each served the bittersweet chocolate cream with hazelnut crisp (Linnea’s with a birthday candle), as well as a bonus piece of apple strudel as a special birthday wish. But if the auslese is a good place to start, certainly finishing with a trockenbeerenauslese is a phenomenal way to end. The trockenbeerenauslese has floral and honey flavors and was a delicious pairing with the desserts but even better on its own.
As we wrapped up dinner, I realized that perhaps we had made a mistake in ordering the chef’s menu rather than picking a la carte for ourselves. Among other reasons, we hadn’t tried the spaetzle yet. They are rather known for it, and seeing as how were weren’t planning on being back in the immediate future, I felt compelled to give it a go. So as they were clearing our dessert plates I found myself ordering up a serving of the spaetzle with braised rabbit, corn, Brussel sprouts and mushrooms. I can see why they are known for it – quite tasty.
The other main reason that I’m disappointed in myself for going with the tasting menu is that I was actually hoping for something fun and different to come from it, not just the chef picking a few items off the regular menu and serving them up in smaller portions (and the portions were a bit small – as were the wine pours – in my opinion). There was no real creativity or excitement in the service. I’m not suggesting that the chefs keep a whole different menu stocked at all times, just in case, but it can’t be that hard to have one or two other, special items available to serve to folks willing to put themselves in your hands and experience cuisine the way the chef wants it to be. Maybe it is because they’re between chefs and no one wants to get in trouble, but it just wasn’t quite as exciting as I’d hoped it would be.
On the plus side, however, I didn’t have to pick a single wine to go with everything, so there is definitely some value in the tasting menu.
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