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Archive for April, 2010

Hofbräuhaus

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Platzl 9 80331 München

Consult practically any guide book to Germany, any tourist information pamphlet about Munich, or ask any German about restaurants in the area and Hofbräuhaus will most likely be mentioned.  After all, it’s one of the most well-known establishments in the city.  Today, there are even several ‘Hofbräuhäuser’ in other countries around the world – one of many German exports.  Due to its status as a world renowned restaurant and brewery, Hofbräuhaus should be a top-notch dining experience on all fronts.  However, it falls short in several areas.

Hofbräuhaus can be easily spotted from a distance.  Its grand structure is surely a sight to see.  From the outside, one might even mistake it for a hotel.  Inside, the place is sort of like a maze.  Seating at the Hofbräuhaus can be divided into 4 areas.

 

There is a good sized beer garden outside, with several trees providing ample shading during the warm summer months.  Inside, there is a festival hall as well as the main beer hall area on the ground floor.  Upstairs is a Bräustüberl.  Wooden benches with several engraved carvings make up the seating and dining area in the main dining area.  Overall, the atmosphere is lively.  The live band walks around throughout the restaurant and beer garden and delivers on the oompah German music.  In fact, you will be hearing the ‘Ein Prosit’ song quite often throughout the evening.  Waitresses walk around selling pretzels and sweets.  It’s also a relatively good place to meet people from all walks of life.  Tonight, my group was able to share a table with a welcoming group of Chinese people from France.  A couple of German guys asked to join our table as well as a nice couple from Sweden.

Yet, Hofbräuhaus has become overwhelmingly saturated with tourists that the authentic German touch seems to have escaped eons ago.  This is clear the moment you step inside the building as you will immediately notice the gift shop near the entrance.  The dining room itself is too loud and noisy. In the evening, you will most certainly come across obnoxious drunks that will utterly ruin your experience.  Tonight, an intoxicated, obese Caucasian man approached me and laughingly asked if he could take pictures of me snapping photos of my food.  Such a mundane act of taking photographs of food is nothing to laugh about, yet this idiot insisted on carrying through with his request.  Frankly, my evening was ruined before the meal even began.

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The menu offers an authentic, traditional Bavarian experience.  The list of drinks obviously features Hofbräu beer from their own brewery.  There are also alcohol free drinks, wines, and a few champagnes.  Salads, Brotzeit items, and a couple of soups are highlighted on the first page along with a few vegetarian and fish dishes.  Impressively, Hofbräuhaus has its own butcher to prepare the numerous sausage specialties from the region.  The main dishes are characteristically pork heavy.  You can find steaks and also the Bavarian roasted chicken.  Beef dishes are also numerous.  Desserts are also varied and sound delicious but you may not be inclined on trying them considering the service (more later).

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As a starter, the Bayerische Zwiebelsuppe mit Marjoran seems like a bargain at only 2,50 €.  The medium sized bowl is filled to the top with steaming liquid.  However, the soup is a bit watered down – it isn’t thick at all.  The onions are mushy and dissolve in your mouth.  On the plus side, they are relatively sweet.  Chopped parsley adds a nice touch.  On the whole, the soup still could be a lot better.  In fact, they should just serve French onion soup.

 

A highly recommended item to order is the Knusprig gebratene Schweinshaxn (crispy, roasted pork knuckle).  Served in its own natural juices with 2 dumplings on the side, the dish is priced fairly at 10,50 €.  The skin lives up to the dishes description – it is very crispy and pure goodness.  The pork meat is succulent and tender, though it is somewhat difficult to get the most out of it without digging in with both hands.  The natural juices add wonders to the meat as you can dip a piece to soak up the sauce for that extra burst of flavor.  Schweinshaxn is a hearty dish that goes well with beer.  On the side are 2 large dumpling balls that only help cut down the hefty amount of meat.  Made up of bread and potatoes, the dumplings have a slightly soft, spongy texture that is rather unusual.  It does soak up the juices extremely well, which helps because the dumplings alone lack taste.  Altogether, the dish is well executed though the presentation is sloppy.  It seems that everything is quickly scooped on the plate and served.  This carelessness and lack of attention carries on to another important dining aspect – service.

Be forewarned because the service is downright atrocious.  Outside at the beer garden, the impertinent waiter was utterly rude by demanding a quick decision on our beer orders.  Instead of coming back later, his direct ‘schnell!’ remark (meaning quickly) was enough to raise an eyebrow.  Furthermore, he refused to even take food orders due to the impending rain.  Understandable, as it rained quite a bit later on.  However, guests at a neighboring table were served food a few minutes afterwards.  This attitude merely perpetuates the stereotype that Germans are rude and direct people.

Inside, the change of waiters didn’t help the situation.  It took a good 10 minutes to flag down the worker responsible for our section of tables to order our meal.  Granted the place was bustling on a late Friday evening, but it’s still inexcusable.  The couple who later joined us at our bench waited approximately 40 minutes for 2 beers, despite repeatedly asking about it.  Ultimately, they decided to get up and leave without being served.  Obviously, this type of service would never pass in the United States – the waiters surely should be dismissed.

Come to Hofbräuhaus for the history and the environment, stay for some beers, but don’t expect great food or service.  Considering the long standing record of the establishment and reputation of the beer, you would expect excellence on all levels.  Sadly, Hofbräuhaus fails to meet those high expectations and is merely a tourist attraction.  Come once and never come back again.

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Summary:

Hofbräuhaus, one of Munich’s most famous establishments, is a traditional German brewery and beer hall with a nightly atmosphere comparable to Oktoberfest.  Serving beer from its own brew, Hofbräuhaus also serves authentic Bavarian cuisine.  Good overall atmosphere, but very touristy.  Live band music in the evening.  Reasonably priced.  Decent food, but extremely dreadful service under pressure.

Hours: Monday – Sunday, 9:00 AM – 11:30 PM 

 

Overall – 2 stars

  • Bayerische Zwiebelsuppe mit Majoran (Onion Soup with marjoram) – 2/5
  • Knusprig gebratene Schweinshaxn, in Natursoße mit zwei Reiberknödel (Pork knuckle in natural juices, served with 2 dumplings) – 4.5/5
  • Service – 0/5

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www.hofbraeuhaus.de/

Written by geschmack

April 30th, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Oktoberfest München / Münchner Frühlingsfest Hippodrom Tent

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Theresienwiese 80336 München

Beer + Munich = Oktoberfest.  The world renowned two-week festival held in Munich attracts millions of visitors every year.  The atmosphere is exuberant and highly charged.  People come to drink liters of beer, sample Bavarian delicacies and sweets, enjoy a trip on the various amusement park rides, and chat with friends, loved ones, or completely random strangers.  But if you aren’t able to make it to the world’s largest fair in the fall, the Frühlingsfest (Spring Festival) also takes place in the exact same area in the spring.  Although not as electric and teeming with crowds, Frühlingsfest will give you a clue as to what Oktoberfest is like.  In other words, Frühlingsfest is rightfully named the ‘mini Oktoberfest.’

During Oktoberfest, visitors have a chance to check out one of several beer tents (last year, there were around 14).  Inside, a particular type of beer is offered as well as a variety of food items.   Even though you will not have as large of a selection of locally brewed beers as you would during Oktoberfest, you can still find a couple of tents at the Frühlingsfest – the Hippodrom and the Augustiner Bräu festival hall.  Seating at one of these beer halls usually consists of wooden benches.  There are also boxed seats, separated from the other tables.

 

One of the first tents people see as they walk through the festival grounds during both Oktoberfest and Frühlingsfest is the Hippodrom beer tent.  Although not the largest on site, it is definitely one of the more popular tents during these festivities.  Here, you will find a mixture of young and old as they cheerfully sing beer songs and dance merrily with one another inside the colorful red, yellow, and green tent.

 

The beautiful waitresses wear their traditional dirndls, the men lederhosen.  During both festivals, a live band plays loudly inside at center stage, amplifying the air  At times, when the tent is heavily packed (particularly during the evenings), the place can also be unbearable as the area gets engulfed with smoke from the large number of smokers.  That being said, the best time to visit during Oktoberfest and Frühlingsfest is early in the morning and afternoon when the masses haven’t yet made it for lunch.  Reservations are absolutely required past 6 PM.

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Aside from ordering a Maß (liter) of beer here, which comes from the Spaten brewing company in Munich, you can also order one of the dishes off the limited menu in the Hippodrum tent.  The menu features various items eaten during German Brotzeit, including a Bavarian cheese specialty Obaztda.  Of course, you will also find several different types of sausages, such as the traditional Bavarian Weißwurst with sweet mustard.  Pretzels are also highly recommended – the large pretzels are gigantic!  Schnitzel, Schweinsbraten, and duck find their way on the menu.  But a really popular dish to eat during lunchtime in the beer tents happens to be Hendl (roasted chicken).  Not only is it popular, but also a nice change from the pork dishes.

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Officially listed under the menu as ‘Mittagshendl mit Alfon Schuhbecks “Bayerischen” Brathähnchengewürz und warmem Kartoffel-Gurkensalat,’ this delectable dish is essentially a half roasted chicken served with a warm potato and cucumber salad.  Priced at 9,10 € during lunch hours (before 3 PM), it’s certainly a good dish to choose while having a drink.  The chicken is juicy and tender; the skin full of flavor and, without a doubt, the best part.  Some parts of the bird, particularly the wing, are crunchy.  The other portions are fall off the bone tender and can be taken apart quite easily.  The spices used are not overwhelming at all.  Unfortunately, they do not penetrate the white meat of the chicken well.  A simply squeeze from the lemon wedge will solve any lack of flavor.  Overall, the roasted chicken ranks as one of the best.  The potato salad is also a perfect side accompaniment.  Topped with chopped chives, it is simple and flavorful but not overpowering.

Oktoberfest is certainly a one of a kind event.  It’s definitely a must if you ever plan on visiting Germany.  However, if you simply cannot make it during the fall, the Frühlingsfest is a nice alternative.  Come for the nostalgia, the atmosphere, and the great entertainment and fun.  But more importantly, come for the beer and authentic Bavarian cuisine.

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Summary:

The Hippodrum beer tent at the Oktoberfest and Frühlingsfest is one of the most popular tents on the festival grounds.  Serving Spaten beer and a fair amount of authentic, traditional German cuisine, Hippodrum is the perfect place to be to enjoy the festivities.  Reservations highly recommended (essentially required during the evening).  Good service even under pressure.

Oktoberfest usually begins in late September until early October; Frühlingsfest in April until early May

 

Overall – 5 stars

  • ½ Mittagshendl mit Alfon Schuhbecks “Bayerischen” Brathähnchengewürz und warmem Kartoffel-Gurkensalat (Roasted Chicken with Alfon Schuhbecks chicken spices, served with warm potato salad) – 5/5
  • Service – 5/5

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http://www.muenchen.de/Tourismus/Oktoberfest/7548/index.html
http://www.hippodrom-oktoberfest.de/
http://www.hippodrom-fruehlingsfest.de/
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Written by geschmack

April 30th, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Alte Gundtei

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Zwingerstraße 15a 69117 Heidelberg

It’s a fact – people of Turkish ethnicity form the largest ethnic minority in Germany.  With more than a couple million people of Turkish descent living here, the cultural influence is clearly evident in the widespread availability of Turkish run fast food shops, namely döner kebab joints.  But there are also numerous restaurants all over the country specializing in traditional Turkish cuisine.  One such restaurant –Alte Gundtei – happens to be situated in the heart of Heidelberg, only a few meters away from the Bergbahn, which leads up to the infamous Heidelberg castle.

 

Inside the double door entrance, Alte Gundtei has quite a visually appealing and pleasant dining atmosphere.  The soft tones painted on the walls pair well with the dark wooden frames and chairs.  Giant colorful light fixtures glitter from the ceilings and provide ample lighting to the room.  Tables are elegantly covered in white tablecloth and adorned with flowers in a vase as well as a candle lit container.  Even the booth seats are fabulously cushioned with fine fixtures.  There’s a pillow at each booth for extra comfort.  All around the window sills are potted plants.  There’s also a statue looking out into the dining room in some of the corners of the restaurant.  Music with a Mediterranean flair blasts from the speakers.  Seating is plenty, but tables are not too far apart.  Thus, when the place gets packed, it can get quite noisy here.

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The list of drinks includes a good number of Turkish specialties, including Turkish mocha and various wines from the country.  A popular Turkish beverage, Ayran, is also listed.  Simply put, it’s a yogurt based drink made of plain yogurt, water, and salt.  As a first timer drinking this beverage, I personally had a difficult time managing the cold drink.  Ayran is thick like a smoothie, but is, of course, salty rather than sweet.  For someone who normally associates yogurt with sweet additives, Ayran will certainly come as a surprise.

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Appetizers are also interesting.  There are baked eggplant starters, as well as several dishes containing cheeses.  A lot of traditional offerings can be found on the menu.

 

 

One particular pastry originating in Turkey is Börek – a flaky pastry filled with feta cheese, herbs, and spices.  Priced at 3,40 €, an order of Börek comes with 3 pastry rolls, a tomato-yogurt based dip, and a small side salad.  The rolls are reasonable stuffed inside thin, flaky phyllo dough; the entire pastry lightly fried until crisp.  Surprisingly, it’s not even greasy.  The phyllo is delicate and falls apart easily.  Altogether, with the crisp outer layers and the soft interior, the Börek has a beautiful flavor.  The tomato yogurt sauce adds another flavorful dimension that heightens the essence of the dish and gives the rolls a creamy element.

Likewise, the listing of main dishes is very extensive.  There are numerous lamb, beef, and fish dishes, along with vegetarian delicacies.  There are even meals for 2, as well as a grand special for a group of 5.

 

Among the many meat entrées on the main menu, the Iskender Kebab is merely OK.  Thinly cut slices of grilled lamb and veal are piled on top of small pieces of flatbread.  Swimming in the dish is a liquid tomato sauce whose scent clearly dominates the dish.  The bread soaks up the tomato sauce quite well and provides even more flavor when eaten in conjunction with the seasoned meat.  Included are a small scoop of long grain rice, cooked quite well, and a portion of boiled dinner vegetables.  The dish is served with a side salad consisting of fresh green lettuce, a sliced tomato, a diced cucumber, sliced carrots, and white cabbage, all in a light herb vinaigrette.  The fresh salad shines in contrast to the dinner vegetables on the main dish – carrots and broccoli and cauliflower florets that seem a bit old (crinkle cut carrots on the plate scream frozen, not fresh!).  Large amounts of yogurt and tomato yogurt sauce are walloped onto the plate, surrounding the slices of meat.

The lamb and veal still retains a hint of gaminess.  Though the addition of spices adds an additional flavor profile, the meat remains somewhat tough and you’ll come across some hard tidbits.  Despite the generous amount of sauce, the scare amount of rice and meat is hard to overlook.  Tack on the 12,50 € price tag and the dish is a disappointment.

 

Desserts are also characteristic Turkish.  Baklava, among others, is a good choice to end your Turkish culinary adventure.  With a good amount of chopped nuts, pistachios, and a rich hint of sweetness between the layers of phyllo dough, this delight will surely satisfy your sweet tooth.  As a nice added touch, a plate of baklava is also served with a freshly sliced sweet seasonal strawberry and some whipped cream.

Alte Gundtei is either hit or miss.  The meal can be up and down depending on what entrées you choose.  With a good location not too far the Heidelberg Bergbahn, a well decorated dining room, and being one of the few such restaurants in the city, I was certainly expecting more from this Turkish restaurant.  Unfortunately, the food at Alte Gundtei simply doesn’t live up to the expectations.  It does, however, have the potential to be so much more.

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Summary:

Situated a short distance away from the base of the Heidelberg Bergbahn, Alte Gundtei is one of the few restaurants in the city specializing in traditional Turkish cuisine.  With an extensive listing of items on the menu, including a large selection of grilled lamb and beef dishes, Alte Gundtei is a decent place to begin your culinary adventure into Turkish delicacies.  Prices moderate.  Service serviceable.  Nice dining ambiance.  Weekly menu available.

Hours: Monday – Sunday, 5:00 PMMidnight 

Overall – 3 stars

  • Börek – 4/5
  • Iskender Kebab – 3/5
  • Baklava – 4.5/5
  • Service – 5/5

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Written by geschmack

April 23rd, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Malecón

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Mittelbadgasse 3 69117 Heidelberg

Cuban cuisine has made it to Heidelberg!  Down a narrow street off of Heidelberg’s market square, you can experience a tiny part of Caribbean culture in a cozy, small restaurant and bar named after Havana’s long coastal seawall – Malecón.  Here, it’s all about good food and drinks at very inexpensive prices.

A step inside Malecón is like taking a voyage to the Caribbean – the environment is extremely casual and, for the most part, delivers with its Caribbean theme.  As you enter the place, you will immediately notice the large Cuban flag proudly displayed above the door.  Hanging from the walls are various photographs of Mexico and the neighboring islands.  There are numerous handcrafts and sculptures all around the place.  Maybe a bit over the top, but it makes the place interesting.  Most of the decorative items here are actually for sale, including a hammock bound to wooden poles, as well as countless sombreros.  You can find a random mixture of souvenir items from the tropics, such as bottles of alcohol, T-Shirts, and books.  Capping the experience is regional music blasting from the speakers.

 

A number of lounge couches and modern bar stools make up half of the seating arrangements in the restaurant.  The cleanly polished wooden tables and chairs that make up the dining area do seem out of place and stand out in contrast to the décor – seems more fitting for a café or traditional German restaurant as opposed to a Cuban restaurant and bar.

The menu at Malecón definitely lacks focus.  Although the restaurant boasts being a Cuban establishment, there are dishes and specialties from Mexican (no, you won’t find tacos here!), Kurdish, and Persian cuisine featured on the menu.  Heck, there are even a couple of Japanese dishes thrown into the mix.  We’re not talking about fusion cuisine that mixes flavors of the Caribbean with the Far East.  Instead, each of these ethnic dishes is given its own section, separated from the other menu items.  Quite odd, indeed.  For vegetarians, there are also a few dishes to pick out from each page.  Drinks range from your standard hot drinks (coffees, teas, Japanese tea) to your typical sodas and cold beverages.  There is a bar counter with bar stools here at Malecón with a good number of alcoholic drinks.  Aside from the normal Heidelberger Pils beers, Malecón does serve up Corona cerveza.  The wine list is limited.

 

Aside from the décor and souvenirs, the varying lunch menu makes Malecón an attractive place to visit.  Every 14 days, the menu changes.  Items from the normal menu are found on this lunch special, but for far less than you would normally pay.  For each day, Monday to Saturday, there are 3 to 4 dishes to choose from (including vegetarian dishes).  A small portion will only set you back 3,60 €, a large 5,60 €.  Students get a further discount!  As an example of the possible dishes to choose from, today you could order the Montañez – a Cuban vegetarian dish consisting of fried rice with vegetables, Pollo a la Tropicana – roasted chicken, prepared Cuban style, with rice, Papas rellenas – potatoes stuffed with a mix of vegetables, or Estanboli – a Persian rice dish with ground meat, tomatoes, potatoes, and parsley.

The papas rellenas is prepared vegetarian style, meaning you won’t find any seasoned ground meat that is typically found in traditional recipes.  The mashed potato balls are stuffed with zucchinis, corn, tomatoes, parsley, peppers, carrots, and various herbs.  On the side is a scoop of short grain white rice with the same combination of vegetables on top.  Frankly, this mixture of vegetables and the rice overshadows the main star of the dish.  The rice is cooked so perfectly and the veggies pack a ton of flavor that the papas rellenas just become an afterthought.  Even though the stuffing is the same as what’s on the bed of rice, the potatoes just take away from the strength of the individual elements.

 

Pollo a la Tropicana is executed better.  A large portion comes with 4 small pieces of chicken and 1 leg.  Prepared Cuban style, the chicken is marinated in lemon, roasted with the skin on, and blanketed with a slice of cheese.  This texture combination is delicious with the juicy chicken, the crisp skin, and the gooey, melted cheese topping it off.  Moreover, the chicken is salted and prepared well.  Accompanying the meat is a bed of the perfectly cooked rice piled with a tomato-pepper-herb topping.  On the side is a small amount of chopped lettuce drenched in a light creamy dressing.  Chicken and rice – you simply can’t go wrong with such a dish!

Overall, Malecón is a good place to stop by for a quick bite.  Although the menu is rather limited, the mix of cuisines is questionable, and the true essence of Cuban cuisine isn’t there, what food they do offer is appetizing and delicious.  Factor in the inexpensive lunch menu and you have a winner!

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Summary:

Located on a street off of the Heidelberg Marktplatz, Malecón is a Cuban restaurant and bar offering a rather limited selection of international cuisine, including Cuban, Mexican, Persian, Kurdish, and Japanese dishes.  Malecón does have a fairly extensive offering of drinks – highlighted by Cuban cocktails such as mojitos.  Combination of a restaurant, bar, and Caribbean souvenir shop.  Extremely pleasant service.  Very affordable prices, better to go during the day.

Hours: Monday – Sunday, 11:30 AM – 1:00 AM

 

Overall – 4 stars

  • Papas rellenas – 3/5
  • Pollo a la tropicana – 4.5/5
  • Service – 5/5

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www.cubamarket-caravana.de/

Written by geschmack

April 20th, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Posted in Heidelberg

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Alter Kohlhof

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Kohlhof 5 69117 Heidelberg

You’d think that with all of the trees and natural vegetation located up the hills in Heidelberg, there wouldn’t be a hidden hotel or restaurant in the middle of the woods.  After all, how could such an establishment be successful in such a sparsely populated area?  Well, with a magnificent scenic view of the neighboring region only a few minutes away, Alter Kohlhof happens to be one countryside inn, winery, and restaurant flourishing in a landscape of trees.

Alter Kohlhof is approximately 20 minutes from Heidelberg’s Altstadt, located in the Odenwald Mountains.  A narrow, elevated, winding road takes you up the mountain slopes; the surroundings full of trees and countryside.  The trip up there can become frantic as you must maneuver your way through many sharp turns and share the road with buses and other vehicles.  At times, the path becomes extremely tight and head-on-collisions are always a possibility.

If you manage to survive the adventurous ride up the summit, you may also have a difficult time locating the place.  Signs directing you to Alter Kohlhof are few and far in between.  Moreover, some of them are obscured by vegetation or too small to recognize from a distance.  However, once you ultimately reach Alter Kohlhof, you can breathe a sigh of relief.  After all, Alter Kohlhof is not only an enchanting German restaurant; it’s also a comfortable countryside inn.

The exterior is well maintained and modern.  Tables and chairs are set up in front of the restaurant doors, making up the beer garden dining area.  There are also large wine barrels opposite the beer garden.  Step inside the polished wooden double doors, you immediately feel welcomed.  A family owned and operated establishment, the place simply exudes an aura of friendliness.  One of the first things you notice is an open guestbook for visitors to write in comments.  Excellent!  You will also be impressed by the wide open layout of the restaurant – the dining room is almost as large as a banquet hall.  Upon entering the restaurant area, the bar and counter will almost surely catch your attention because behind the glass display are a couple of mouth-watering desserts.  Seating here at Alter Kohlhof consists of your standard cushioned, antique wooden chair.  Along the walls are booth bench seating.  Pink tablecloths, overlapped by a flower designed cloth, decorate the tables.  Each is adorned with a pink candle, along with salt and black pepper grinders and a sugar dispenser.  All of the tables are set up nicely with 2 forks and knife and a folded napkin.  English popular music quietly plays from the speakers.

Alter Kohlhof offers a vast assortment of traditional German dishes.  The menu is elegantly and professionally designed and offers something for everybody.  There are various salads, home made seasonal specialties, vegetarian appetizers and main courses, and traditional dishes from the surrounding regions.  For dessert, there are different types of ice cream and a handful of cakes to choose from.  Included in the seasonal listings is also a special limited time dessert.  Impressively, Alter Kohlhof lists a variety of after-dinner drinks.  The standard drink menu includes your typical warm drinks – coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and such – as well as regular cold beverages.

Adding to the list of impressive features, Alter Kohlhof serves different specialties practically every month.  There is an Alter Kohlhof exclusive culinary calendar that describes special events and regional specialties served only during certain times of the year.  Ranging from wild game to traditional holiday foods, Alter Kohlhof is a great place to experience true southern German cooking.

 

Instead of trying one of the monthly specialties, I decided on traditional German dishes – Käsespätzel and Schnitzel.  Appealing about these menu offerings are the accompanying descriptions about being made according to grandma’s recipe.  Nothing like good old family tradition recipes!

The Badische Rahm-Käs-Spätzle (Baden region creamy cheese spätzle) is offered as both a regular main dish, at 8,90 €, and as a small side portion for 6,90 €.  Simply put, this dish is a must!  The cheese sauce is rich, thick, and creamy.  As advertised, this dish is certainly not for those calories counters!  The spätzle egg noodles are firm and contrast with the creamy, thick cheese sauce.  Added amongst the noodles are crisp, sweet onions that have been sautéed until translucent.  The end result is a magnificent flavor combination that will have you dreaming about Käsespätzle for days.

 

Priced at 11,90 €, the Schweineschnitzel ‘Wiener Art’ (Vienna style pork schnitzel) is executed well.  The pork is pounded relatively thin and coated with a very heavy layer of breadcrumbs.  On top of the meat are a lemon, rind taken off, and a single parsley leaf.  The pork itself could use more salt and is a bit underwhelming, though, the schnitzel is served on a good amount of thick, rich mushroom gravy that provides all the essence required.

Accompanying this dish are Rotkraut (pickled red cabbage) and geschwenkten Kartöffelchen (potatoes tossed in butter).  Served steaming hot, the pale red cabbage is the perfect side dish to the schnitzel.  With it’s slightly sweet nature and subtle crunch, it gives the schnitzel a good flavor.  It’s also served on the same plate as the pork, so the juices blend in well with the gravy.

 

The round potatoes are cooked perfectly – not too soft to the point of falling apart, but also firm enough to hold its shape.  Garnished with chopped parsley, they are served in a small side dish.  Despite spots of butter being visible in the afternoon light, eaten alone the potatoes still seems lacking.

 

Desserts are not only simple, but also inexpensive.  Sweet tooths will not enjoy any of the cheese cakes, as German style cheese cakes are not typically heavy on the sugar.  However, the Käse-Kirsch-Streuselkuchen (cheese cake with sour cherries topped with streusel) is pleasing enough.  Eaten altogether, especially with the crumbed topping, the cake completes any meal wonderfully.  And at 2,00 € a slice, you won’t have to dig too deep into your wallet!

Be aware that as the weather gets better, many locals and well-informed visitors visit this place and thus the place can get packed quickly.  After all, it’s a nice escape from the overly touristy parts of the city down below.  Alter Kohlhof is a good find in the middle of essentially nowhere.

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Summary:

Nestled away in Heidelberg’s mountainous region near the Königstuhl summit, Alter Kohlhof is a quaint, charming restaurant, country hotel, and winery offering a lovely escape from the hectic city.  The restaurant offers an extensive selection of traditional German cuisine, as well as seasonal offerings that will keep you coming back for more.  Pleasant atmosphere, both inside the restaurant and outside in the beer garden.  Excellent, friendly service.  Prices reasonable.

Hours: Varies depending on Season
            April – September: Daily from 11:00 AM – 11:30 PM
            October – March: Wednesday – Sunday, 11:00 AM – 10:30 PM

 

Overall – 5 stars

  • Badische Rahm-Käs-Spätzle nach Omas Rezept – 5/5
  • Schweineschnitzel „Wiener Art“ (wie bei Oma in der guten Stube) – 4.5/5
  • Käse-Kirsch-Streuselkuchen – 5/5
  • Service – 5/5

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www.alterkohlhof.de/

Written by geschmack

April 16th, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Sushi Circle

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Q 7,16 68161 Mannheim

Color coded plates, topped with eye pleasing, intriguing bite sized morsels of food, steadily move down the line as patrons watch with amazement.  Even passers-by take a few moments to peek in through the windows to take in the show.  Is this some sort of assembly production line?  No!  It’s the conveyor belt at Sushi Circle, where sushi train style of service is implemented.  With the widespread popularity of sushi in Germany, it was only a matter of time before conveyor belt sushi made its way here.

To my surprise, Sushi Circle was incredibly hard to find.  I was literally walking around in circles, going around the Q block in Mannheim, trying to find this particular sushi bar.  The problem is that the adjacent building is currently under construction.  Thus, the restaurant front is obstructed by scaffolding and made even more unattractive by the presence of a Porta-Potty.  The pedestrian sidewalk is also made narrower right in front of the place.

With all of these minor setbacks, Sushi Circle is like a hidden gem tucked away from plain sight.  The interior is modern, well designed, and well lit.  The conveyor belt and surrounding counter seats are rightfully positioned in the center of the restaurant.  At each polished wooden seat, there is a graphic placemat presenting all of the featured types of sushi, along with their respective prices.  Bottles of Kikkoman soy sauce – original and sweet – are positioned all along the line.  Plates with sliced pickled ginger and dollops of wasabi are free and can be picked up off of the conveyor.  Sitting in one of the wooden seats, you are easily within reach of any plate.  The conveyor belt itself moves at a slow pace in a counterclockwise direction, making it easy to grab them.  In order to simplify the entire process, each plate has a specific color signifying a particular price.  For instance, food items on plates with a blue rim are 0,95 €, red plates are 1,95 €, and yellow ones are 2,95 €.

The mere idea of a rotating conveyor belt with plates of well-presented sushi is truly a sight to see and definitely something to experience.   If you are not big on sushi, Sushi Circle still offers something for you.  Here, you can find soups (Miso soup or Udon noodles in soup), salads, yakitori, egg rolls, and samosas.  With the exception of the soups, which must be ordered separately, all of these items can be found on the conveyor.  If, for some reason, you are unable to find a particular type of sushi (perhaps another guest took the last plate), you can simply ask one of the sushi chefs behind the counter.  For dessert, there is a fruit salad plate, sesame balls, and also various muffins.  Muffins?  That’s right, Sushi Circle offers chocolate and vanilla muffins on the line.

 

If the thought of a moving line of Japanese food still doesn’t appeal to you, Sushi Circle also has a special lunch menu for the extremely attractive price of 7,50 €.  Included is your choice of soup, 3 plates of any color, and unlimited tea (either green or Jasmine tea).

The chicken Udon noodle soup is served extremely hot.  The chicken broth is clear, but only mildly flavored.  Adding a little hint of soy sauce will provide that extra jolt of flavor.  The udon noodles are firm and cooked well.  Obviously, they aren’t homemade, but acceptable.  Included in the soup are small chunks of chicken breast, chopped green onion, and pieces of crisp red, yellow, and green bell peppers.  Overall, this udon noodle soup is decent, but you can find a more traditional bowl elsewhere.  It just tastes a bit westernized.

 

Some of the sushi plates include various types of Maki, nigiri, inari, and inside out rolls.  Unfortunately, the Sushi Circle here does not have any California rolls.  The Inari sushi had to be ordered from the sushi chef, but he was happy to make it.  Watching the sushi chef make it, you can see that the fried tofu skin pouch has been marinating in a dark soy sauce mixture for a while.  Although the inari isn’t as sweet as I had preferred, it is still delicious nonetheless.  Being freshly made makes it even better.

 

One of the inside-out sushi rolls has cress herbs all around the outside, with crab meat and avocado stuffed in the center.  The combination is interesting and the flavor follows suit.

You can also find yakitori – grilled chicken skewers, glazed with a thick teriyaki sauce and garnished with sesame seeds.  Although 4 pieces may seem small, the flavor is concentrated.  The sauce is more savory than sweet and the sesame seeds add a wonderful dimension to the chicken.  One drawback is that the chicken is rather cold – it would be amazing served hot off the grill.

 

For dessert, you might want to try the sesame balls.  These little globes are made from rice flour and stuffed with a plum paste.  The inner core is only slightly sweet; the strawberry jelly and custard cream decorating the plate supplies even more sweetness to this treat.  Unlike some places, where they skimp on the filling, these pastries are fairly well crammed with delectable plum paste.

 

The service at Mannheim’s Sushi Circle is remarkable.  The German server is extremely attentive and always has a smile on her face.  She even visits a few times during the course of the meal to ask if everything is going well.  The Japanese sushi chef is also friendly and free to chat.  Today’s visit probably ranks as one of the best overall experiences in Germany in terms of service.

One potential problem associated with having prepared foods, including raw fish, sitting on a conveyor belt is the health hazards.  Sushi Circle addresses this by using a coded system, ensuring that food items containing raw fish are not kept longer than 2 hours on the line.  This guarantee is somewhat assuring, however for the other items, such as the chicken yakitori and even the sushi, it can still be a concern.  When the restaurant is not brimming with guests and there isn’t a fast turnover on the plates, the items can start losing their quality – the sushi can eventually become dry and the chicken even colder.

Nonetheless, Sushi Circle is well worth the visit.  Not only is the food exquisite and the service flawless, but the price of the lunch menu is unbeatable.  With the large variety of plates to sample, another visit is definitely foreseeable in the near future!

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Summary:

With 18 restaurants located all around Germany, Sushi Circle is a growing chain of sushi bar restaurants featuring rotating conveyor belt sushi.  In addition to a large assortment of sushi, Sushi Circle also serves other Japanese food, including soups, sashimi, yakkitori, salads, desserts, and tea.  Exceptional service, attentive staff.

Hours: Monday – Saturday: 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM,
           Sundays & Holidays:  4:00 PM – 11:00 PM

 

Overall – 4.5 stars

  • Chicken Udon Soup – 3.5/5
  • Inari Sushi – 4/5
  • Yakitori (Chicken) – 4/5
  • Inside Out Sushi (Crab Meat) – 4/5
  • Sesame Balls – 4/5
  • Service – 5/5

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www.sushi-circle.de/

Written by geschmack

April 12th, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Posted in Mannheim

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Charisma

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Bergheimer Straße 59-61 69115 Heidelberg

Charisma – a special personality trait characterized by the ability to influence or inspire a large number of people through devotion and enthusiasm.  Charismatic – possessing an extraordinary ability to attract; charming, alluring, enticing, attractive.  Although linking these terms to any food item may sound absurd, döner kebab is certainly one type that fits the bill, especially in Germany.  After all, not only is this meat extremely popular, but its mere presence has the unusual ability to attract interest from all persons of every age group!

Charisma Kebap & Pizza is your typical kebab and pizza fast food eatery.  On the menu board, you will find an assortment of freshly made pizzas, falafels, pide, Lahmacun, Seele, and kebaps.  Also featured is a vegetarian döner (after all, Charisma is located next to Alnatura, a German supermarket chain exclusively selling products grown without pesticides).  Aside from the standard sodas and drinks located in a refrigerator, Charisma also sells warm drinks, including Turkish tea (Turkischer çay), as well as alcoholic beverages, including a couple of Turkish beers.

 

Just like all the other kebab joints in the area, a döner plate at Charisma will set you back 6,50 €.  Included is your choice of either fries or rice, and a salad.  The accompanying salad is quite the standard – chopped green lettuce, red and white cabbage, sliced carrots, ringed raw white onions, red kidney beans, corn kernels, diced tomatoes, and garnished with chopped parsley.  Added on top is creamy yogurt sauce with garlic.  Needless to say, the medley of vegetables adds a lot of color and is a healthy side to the salty dish.  The vegetables aren’t exactly the freshest, as they have been chilling in the trays behind the glass display case.  However, they are refreshing nonetheless.  The spiced short-grain rice is tasty and has pieces of red tomatoes hidden in amongst the grains, adding extra bursts of flavor.   Only potential downside is the rice being scooped from one of the trays and heated up upon ordering.  But after all, it’s a fast food restaurant so this is expected.

The chicken / turkey (Hähnchen – Puten) döner meat is tender and succulent.  In fact, you can see the meat glistening in the afternoon light – it’s that juicy.  Overall, however, the flavor is comparable to other Döner Kebab joints in the area.  The wonderful seasonings penetrate the meat extremely well, resulting in a tasty end product.  Important here, though, is that there weren’t any tough, chewy portions this time around – no hidden bones or overly fattening sections, just plain delicious meat.  On top of the döner, the workers pour on some more yogurt garlic sauce.  You can also request a red spicy (scharf) chili sauce that provides an unexpected kick.   When you taste it at first, you only get a slight tingle thinking that it’s another mild sauce. Later on, though, your lips may start tingling as the fire builds up.  There are also bowls of chili powder and chili flakes to add even more spice to your life!

Worth mentioning is that it is always entertaining watching the workers slice the meat from the rotating spit.  Observing them work their large knives to carefully slice the extremely thin pieces of meat is simply fascinating every single time!

Overall, the food at Charisma isn’t out of this world.  Rather, it’s simply basic and gets the job done.  If you’re in the area and hankering for chicken döner, Charisma isn’t a bad place to stop by and enjoy one.  It’s safe to say that the food at Charisma is definitely charismatic though!

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Summary:

Charisma is a standard kebab & pizza fast food restaurant featuring döner, pizzas, falafels, pita, lahmacun, and other quick service items.  Extremely quick and efficient service.  Outdoor seating available.  Only Hähnchen-Putenfleisch kebab (Chicken/Turkey Kebab) available.

Overall – 4.25 stars

  • Döner Teller (Döner plate) – 4.5/5
  • Service – 5/5

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Written by geschmack

April 9th, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Posted in Döner Kebab

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Little Saigon

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Seckenheimer Strasse 81 68165 Mannheim

Despite another Vietnamese restaurant with ‘Saigon’ on its storefront, I was eager to go out and find a good place that does justice to phở here in Germany – even if it means having to travel great lengths for that one tasty bowl of white rice noodle soup.  The ongoing search takes me to the city of Mannheim to one of the handful of Vietnamese restaurants in the city – Little Saigon.

  

From the outside, with its plain paint color, Little Saigon looks like any ordinary shop.  Without noticing the menu encased in glass, you may think it a specialty store selling exotic antiques.  Inside, though, the restaurant exudes a tropical vibe with the bamboo themed décor.  On the ceilings are various Asian ornaments.  The tables are elaborately set with folded napkins and a vase filled with flowers.  The dining room is simple, yet charming and lovely.

The menu here is quite extensive, well organized, and certainly appealing.  Written in Vietnamese with descriptions in both German and English, it is also pretty accessible.  There are specialties of the house priced around 15 €, as well as traditional Vietnamese soups, salads, and snacks.  Main courses include a plethora of chicken, pork, beef, duck, and fish dishes – even a fondue meal for 2 people!  For vegetarians, there are a few dishes specifically to meet your needs.  Traditional Vietnamese desserts and drinks can also be found on the menu.

 

For a neat little show, order the Vietnamese coffee, prepared traditionally in front of your eyes.  At 3,50 €, the coffee is pricier than the average brew, but this one is made with sweetened condensed milk.  The dark coffee is individually brewed in a glass cup using a Vietnamese drip filter.  As you eat your appetizer or mingle with your friends, you can watch the coffee slowly drip over the condensed milk.  After a while, one of the servers takes away the hot metal filter, leaving you free to stir the concoction and enjoy.  Alone, the Vietnamese coffee is strong, but with the sweet milk it is a true treat.  Now if only they served it with a cup of ice, the coffee would be even more enjoyable!

 

The first two items featured on the menu at Little Saigon are two variations of the popular Vietnamese rice noodle phở – one containing slices of beef and the other with strips of chicken.  You may order this soup either as an appetizer, which will set you back 6,90 €, or as a main entrée.

Upon service, the aroma of the chicken phở was truly authentic.  For a moment, it was reminiscent of Southern California phở eateries.  Glancing into the bowl, the soup looked clear but was teeming with various green vegetables, bean sprouts, and red onions.  Not a single piece of chicken and only a few strands of rice noodle were visible – not a good sign.   Sipping the broth for the first time brought on a major amount of displeasure.   The true essence of phở was masked by the overly aggressive amount of acidity already added into the bowl.  Although there was a good amount of chicken pieces under the cover of greens, both white and dark meat, and a small portion of firm rice noodles, the overall taste and flavor combination was off.  Essentially, the chicken phở is a sour chicken noodle soup.  Seriously, what is wrong with this region?  Can’t anyone find a tasty bowl of white rice noodle soup served with the garnishes on the side?  Add to it the hefty price tag and you will definitely be unsatisfied for the rest of the day.

 

Fortunately, to alleviate the damage done to your wallet, Little Saigon offers a daily lunch menu with prices ranging from 6 to 9 €.  An order comes with your choice of the soup of the day (today it is spinach soup) or two vegetarian spring rolls.  The vegetarian spring rolls come with a light fish sauce based dipping sauce.  Despite being petite and barely filled, these rolls are hot, crispy, and bursting with flavor.  The small amount of vegetables and rice vermicelli packs a lot of flavor.  Of course, the delightfully light dipping sauce augments the taste superbly.

One of the items on the lunch menu is Gà Chiên Giòn – fried slices of chicken served on a bed of cabbage, carrots, and bean sprouts in a savory Hoisin sauce.  Also on the plate is a small scoop of white rice and chopped green parsley garnishing the dish.  With the skin fried crisp and the meat juicy and succulent, the chicken is very well done.  The sauce is sort of reminiscent of the red sweet sauce served with Chinese BBQ pork, only it is not thick but watered down.  Allowing the meat to soak up the sauce softens the chicken, but gives it extra flavor.  Moreover, the rice becomes even more manageable after sitting in the sauce.  The dish is tasty and filling, but not overly impressive.

Despite the mixed reviews on the food, the service at Little Saigon is exceptional – the graceful waiting staff do not rush with the service and bombard the guests with dishes, rather they wait until you are finished with a dish (for example, the appetizer) and then proceed from there.  The workers are attentive and often bring a welcoming smile to the table.

Little Saigon has a great environment and extraordinary service.  Despite the moderate prices, the food is acceptable.  With a good selection of traditional Vietnamese cuisine, Little Saigon is worth paying a visit to experience a taste of Southeast Asia.

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Summary:

Situated near the Mannheim planetarium, Little Saigon serves up original Vietnamese cuisine in a quaint, relaxed dining atmosphere.  Excellent service.  Prices moderate.  Lunch menu daily.

Hours: Monday – Friday: 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM,
            Monday – Saturday: 6:00 PM – 11:30 PM
            Closed Sundays

 

Overall – 4 stars

  • Vietnamese Coffee – 4.5/5
  • Spring Rolls – 4.5/5
  • Phở Gà (Chicken & Rice Noodle Soup) – 3/5
  • Gà Chiên Giòn (Fried Slices of Chicken served with Rice and a Hoisin Sauce) – 4/5
  • Service – 5/5

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http://www.little-saigon-restaurant.de/

Written by geschmack

April 6th, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Posted in Mannheim

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Saigon Sonne

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Hauptstraße 170 – 172 69117 Heidelberg

One of the things I miss most about living in Southern California is the overabundance of Phở restaurants.  Around every corner, in practically every big city in the area, there is some sort of Vietnamese joint featuring this delectable rice noodle dish on the menu.  Not only is this noodle soup inexpensive, but also a good soul soother on a cold, rainy spring day.  Walking down the Hauptstraße here in Heidelberg, I was elated to find a Vietnamese restaurant a few steps away from the Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit) at market square.  Named Saigon Sonne (Saigon Sun), this Vietnamese restaurant has a few bright spots on this busy, touristy street.

 

Taking a step inside the single wooden door entrance, you won’t exactly feel as if you’re in an Asian restaurant.  That’s because the spacious dining room area is plainly decorated with various odds and ends – oil paintings, plants, and sculptures.  Aside from a few colorfully decorated conical straw hats hanging on the simple white walls, along with bamboo plants on each table, the dining atmosphere seems a little flat.  The tables are, however, covered by an eye-catching red and orange tablecloth that adds some style to the place.  Seating, for the most part, consists of dark wooden chairs.  The restaurant is a step up from basic fast food eateries, but also not the most impressive place to dine.

On the other hand, the menu at Saigon Sonne is anything but plain and ordinary.  There is a fairly large listing of Vietnamese and Southeast Asian dishes on the menu, ranging from braised, grilled, or fried meats such chicken, beef, duck, and fish, as well as vegetable stir fry entrées with rice.  There are also various fried rice and fried noodle dishes typical of Asian restaurants in Germany.  The list of appetizers includes traditional Vietnamese wraps and rolls such as spring and summer rolls.  Desserts include a couple of authentic sweets, but also standard Asian treats like fried bananas.

 

For starters, the Nem Tom is an excellent choice.  This Vietnamese spring roll is filled with a prawn stuffing, together with diced onions, chopped mushrooms, bean sprouts, julienne carrots, and rice vermicelli.  Accompanying the rolls is a brilliantly light fish sauce dip.  The rolls are served on a bed of green lettuce and herbs, including Thai basil and mint leaves.  Alone, the spring rolls are hot and crunchy and have a great flavor.  However, the cool lettuce and exotic herbs, along with the tasty dipping sauce, make the rolls a lot more interesting.  The Nem Tom can be ordered either as an appetizer or as a main dish.  The appetizer will set you back 5,00 €.

Unfortunately, there are only two types of phở offered on the menu – either with cooked chicken or beef.  You won’t find rare meat or beef brisket here, only beef flank or chicken breast.  Each one can be ordered as a starter (Vorspeise) or as a main course (Hauptgericht).  Both opinions, however, are fairly expensive – a beef phở appetizer costs 4,90 €, while the large bowl 9,90 €.  Considering that phở isn’t as popular or trendy here in Germany as it is elsewhere, these prices may seem reasonable to the local resident.  However, for the price you pay, the phở is fairly disappointing.

 

Firstly, the beef phở broth is slightly cloudy and isn’t as rich as good phở broth should be.  It should be meaty and flavorful, but it seems watered down a bit.  Simply put, it fails to meet expectations.  The typical garnishes for phở – cilantro, basil, lime, bean sprouts and onions – are already added into the soup.  This is frustrating because the phở soup can be a bit too acidic for some.  On the plus side, the noodles are well cooked and there is a decent amount of beef floating around the soup.  At the bottom of the bowl, you can find traces of some of the signature seasonings used in making phở, which aren’t too powerful.  Condiments such as Sriracha hot sauce and Hoisin sauce are available upon request.

Being the only Vietnamese restaurant in Heidelberg, Saigon Sonne does a decent job of serving up traditional cuisine to serve all the tourists visiting the city.  The service is great and quick to help.  However, for true culinary enthusiasts, the food may be a bit substandard.   Some of the dishes (such as the Nem Tom) are well executed and have me curious about the others, while there are some entrées that have me left scratching my head.  Tack on the high end prices and it’s even more difficult to swallow.  It’s a mixed bag, you just don’t know what the end result will be.

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Summary:

Located along Heidelberg’s Hauptstraße, Saigon Sonne is a Vietnamese restaurant serving up traditional and original Vietnamese and Southeast Asian cuisine.  A quiet getaway from the boisterous and congested main street.  Prices moderate.  Lunch menu featured daily.

Overall – 4 stars

  • Nem Tom (Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Prawns) – 4.5/5
  • Phở Bo Ha Noi (Beef & Rice Noodle Soup) – 3.5/5
  • Service – 5/5

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Written by geschmack

April 3rd, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Posted in Heidelberg

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