BAIERSBRONN-TONBACH (BLACK FOREST), GERMANY
PRICE PAID: $241 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10
Deep in the Black Forest, Harald Wohlfahrt has built a gastronomic temple in the most picturesque setting imaginable. Deep pine forests set on rolling hills with shining rivers cutting through- it's the German Middle Earth. Wohlfahrt is credited with training most of the other German chefs awarded three-stars.
A quick note in background- I was set to begin lunch right when they opened at 12 noon. I had a flight out of Frankfurt at 5:05PM, more 125 miles away, to take me back to Chicago. I also wanted to do their longest and most complex menu. This is the fine dining equivalent of asking them to sprint a marathon. David, the head waiter, agreed to go really, really fast. He did not disappoint.
All servers were dressed in full tuxedos for a Sunday lunch service. Attitude overall was insanely formal- at each course, the assistant server would awkwardly present his tray and bow in front of the table before serving. He stared at me throughout like he wasn't quite sure why he was doing this either.
While waiting in the plush lobby couches to be seated, I was given three small silver spoons with a bite apiece. They were a magnificently diverse selection of flavors and textures- from bottom to top, sushi-grade tuna with horseradish, beef with a passion fruit pâté, and a fried beef meatball. A delicious start- 9/10. Soon after, we moved into the main dining room:
Big and airy, and with a touch of a country-club feel to it, the restaurant has gorgeous hillside views of the Black Forest below.
Starting from the bottom left and moving clockwise- Chorizo dabs (red) give a nice slickness to this fresh green onion. On the upper left, passion fruit foam is brilliant and speaks to first bites. The egg is firm but the yolk is light and delicious- almost mayo-like. The cube of mackerel on the upper left is super, super fresh. Veggies and Asian salad remind me instantly of Chihana in Kyoto. 9/10.
Going clockwise from lower left- the quail leg is delicious and goes with pine nuts, but temps are out of sync- quail is warm and nuts are piping hot. Vegetables crisp and fresh, and the sweetbreads are rich and delicious. The pine nuts make more sense with the liver, which is gelled in a Jurançon jelly (a type of wine jelly infused with saffron). 9/10
Next, Breton lobster- presented with sautéed calamari sepia; heavy flavors of capsicum and fennel. I'd say the sauce is 85% butter, and the plate is served lawsuit-hot. 8/10.
This Rouget is served in an intensely aromatic broth of saffron and herbs on a base of small shellfish. The fish itself falls apart like melted butter- literally perfectly cooked. Light, crispy skin. This is a classic Mediterranean dish done right. 10/10.
The menu charmingly described this course as "Venison of homegrown deer." I like to imagine some famous chef patiently raising wild deer in his garage for such a purpose.
The protein is just beautifully cooked, and the is once again absurdly hot. Toweringingly savory! Golden raisins and chocolate/Nutella sauce are a good idea- the protein balances well with the sweetness. Apple circles work well too. 9/10.
The cheese course is a charming Parmesan and salad with Trevisano and dandelion- creamy and delightful, with distinctive Parmesan flavors. 9/10.
A candied Christmas Tree of sugar plum, the decoration pops open to reveal a hollow core of spun sugar. A delightful and playful conclusion to the meal. 9/10.
Petit fours! Run to Frankfurt!