Zum Wohl!

Photo by Brent Fleury

Photo by Brent Fleury

A friend who is planning a trip to Germany wanted to see what awaits her across the pond, cuisine-wise. This prompted a visit to the Black Forest restaurant in Arden. Opened over 25 years ago by German Master Chef Herbert Schlenker, we were told the restaurant has maintained a loyal following of those who love German cuisine.

For good reason, as it turns out.

Set back off US 25, the restaurant has a decidedly European look. During the summer months, you can sit out on the deck overlooking the lawn and enjoy a cocktail and appetizer while watching a mountain sunset. Then head in for dinner, where you’ll find an eclectic and wide-ranging menu.

George Ettwein, co-owner and Executive Chef, was trained in both traditional German and French Classical cuisine by Chef Schlenker (who left for other pursuits in 1997). Although the menu is heavily weighted toward German and Italian dishes, you can find something to please just about anyone…and in our case, our waiter seemed willing to jump through hoops to customize the meal.

A recommendation from a young man at the next table led us to try the potato pancake appetizer; the crispy yet tender pancakes came with sour cream and applesauce. Full of real potato flavor, they went extremely well with an Ayinger Jahrhundert-Bier.

Steaks also came highly recommended, so for an entrée, my husband chose the Filetto Cremolate, a fancy name for a gorgeous and tender fresh-cut filet that was bathed in a Marsala cream sauce. He decided on a polenta cake as a side (you can request pasta if you prefer). I opted for the rack of lamb, which came beautifully presented, fanned out around garlic-roasted potatoes, mushrooms and roasted red peppers. It was cooked to perfection and tender as could be.

Our soon-to-be world traveler went for the Black Forest Platter, which gave a sampling of kassler ripchen (smoked pork loin chops), bratwurst and jäger schnitzel. Jäger schnitzel traditionally comes with a red wine Bordelaise, but she was hesitating…and our waiter accommodated with a lemon caper sauce on the veal cutlet with a side of Bordelaise for her to taste. Sauerkraut, red cabbage, German potato salad and spätzle rounded out the generous plate.

Though German food is, by nature, earthy, filling and rustic, Chef Ettwein’s versions of the classics were subtle and multi-layered in flavor.

To accompany your meal, you can choose from a wine list that features some out-of-the-ordinary German wines as well several from Italy and other wine regions of the world. We played it safe with a Fife Zinfandel — the peppery, rich red complemented everyone’s dinner. For dessert, a hazelnut torte was a pleasant finish and came with a cinnamon ice cream that disappeared quickly. At 8:45, as we were finishing up, people were still coming in for dinner, so this is a place that welcomes a late start to the evening.

After you’ve had your fill of schnitzel, take a peek into the lounge area or, better yet, ask if you can see some of the private dining rooms. Original murals are painted on several walls throughout the restaurant. The story goes that Werner Oppelt, an artist and museum curator in the real Black Forest, liked the restaurant and Ettwein family so much that he stayed for two weeks to paint these elaborate murals. He jokingly said he only needed to be paid in beer. By the looks of these intricately-done works of art, they probably paid him in kegs.

The restaurant offers music on the weekends and special events like Oktoberfest and Children First, an annual benefit for a local charity.

This is a place that prides itself on its history and freshly-made traditional food, presented with care. With kitschy curtains, renderings of sailing ships and widely spaced tables (or cozy booths), The Black Forest is an inviting place to spend an evening.

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