Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dinner in Munich

After a whirlwind visit in Italy with Mylène and Ryan, Gary and I drove to Malapensa Airport outside Milan, dropped off the rental car, hustled to the terminal with baggage akimbo, and flew to Munich. From the airport, we hopped the train into the city after getting directions from a helpful and knowledgeable representative at the ticket desk. The trip into the city, plus a full 24-hours of any other public transit we might use, came to a mere 11 euros total for both of us.

Gummi Bears on my pillow!
Trains into the city arrived at surprisingly frequent intervals, especially compared to the ones at Philadelphia International Airport, and in 41 minutes (yes, 41 exactly), we were in downtown Munich. Police officers helped us to figure out how to get to our hotel from the train station, although they seemed a tad incredulous that we wanted to make the 15-minute trek on foot. Was it because we are Americans? Was it because we are of a certain age? Was it because of the long, multi-use tunnel we had to pass through to get to our destination? Whatever the reason, we proudly trudged toward downtown Munich and checked into the TRYP hotel, which I would recommend. It is close to museums, churches, the famous town hall—plus they left mini packets of Gummi Bears on our pillows.

After driving the four hours from Pisa to Milan (that experience will be left untold, but let’s leave it at scary, especially after the GPS conked out because the cigarette-lighter-power things (yes, I know that is a highly technical term) were not working in our Ford rental), cooling our heels at the airport, and sitting cooped up in coach, we were both ready for a hike. We had walked 13 miles one day in Italy, and we needed to stay in practice. We figured we would have our choice of German restaurants along the way. We were wrong.

In Italy, you can’t take three steps without encountering a trattoria, a pizzaria, or some place that serves Italian food. Yes, we found restaurants in Munich, but they were Thai, Japanese, Italian, Indian, Mandarin. Where were the real German restaurants, with beer steins and schnitzel and men in lederhosen? The diversity says a lot for the cosmopolitan nature of Munich, but since we were only going to be in the city for 24 hours, I wanted real German food. I certainly didn’t want pizza.

With iPhone in hand and Yelp on my iPhone (yes, I finally splurged on an international data plan), we saw that the closest restaurant described as German was about 4 kilometers away, and we gamely headed in that direction, although we were fading fast. The most direct route took us through the aforementioned tunnel, a path I really, really, really did not want to take again, so we meandered.

The meandering led us into an area of Munich that looked much more promising, and when I saw a man in an apron leaning against the wall of a restaurant, I did what I do—I asked a question, “Do you serve authentic German food?”

He answered that he served German food, but we could also have Italian or... I stopped him before he could continue his list. “We just left Italy. We want real German food.”

He smiled and led us inside, where we found something between a sports bar and a trendy modern restaurant. Huge flat-screen TVs served up soccer over colorful banquettes. Our new friend seated us at a window table and disappeared. He returned with two foot-high glasses of “authentic German” beer (Reutberger Fass) to drink with our “authentic German” food. Our waiter explained what he was going to serve us: kraut, pork and kugel. The kraut was served as a cold salad, a blend of shredded cabbage, maybe onions, and red pepper in vinaigrette. We each received three thick slices of roasted pork with a crisp layer of fat and two kugel, each the size of a golf ball. When I asked how they were made, our waiter told me that they grated potatoes, added flour, egg, cheese, shaped them into balls, and boiled them. Hmm, they sound a lot like gnocchi, I thought, but in execution, they were very, very different. I don’t know that I can duplicate them based on his basic description, but they were wonderful.

We were stuffed, but our waiter was so happy that we Americans had done such a good job eating German food that he insisted we have dessert, an Austrian dish called Kaisershmarm. Fortunately, it took a while to prepare so when it appeared we were able to do it justice. The waiter told us it was “like a pancake,” so I imagined a clafouti, but instead it was a sweet batter cooked into a half-inch thick cake that was cut into bite-sized cubes, tossed with raisins and slivered almonds, and drizzled with warm chocolate. It was served with a side of tangy applesauce swirled with strawberry puree for dipping. It was a delicious balance of sweet and tart, soft and crunchy, warm and cool. After we had a chance to experience all these sensations, the chef came to our table to make sure we liked his specialty. We assured him it was perfect.

Mind you, we never saw a menu, so as we waited for the check, we speculated on just how much this authentic taste of Germany was going to set us back. We both agreed it would be a bargain at 60 euros (around $75). After all, we had three courses, beer, and coffee in a comfortable cosmopolitan setting. Given the economy, we were expecting German food to be expensive. When the waiter returned with the check, it was only 28 euros ($36). We were certain he had made a mistake, like leaving off the entrees, but a careful check of the bill showed us that we had stumbled into the best deal in town.

If you are ever looking for a restaurant in Munich with great food, superior service, and a friendly atmosphere, check out the City Lounge. We are certainly glad we did!

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