It's really interesting to find out what you learn when you dine at the same restaurant two days in a row. You begin to see what it's like to be a restaurant critic at a serious publication like the New York Times, New York Magazine or the Los Angeles Times. Publications of that caliber give their critics the financial resources and the time to visit restaurants at least three times before writing their review.
So I had my Frank Bruni (currently the restaurant critic at the NY Times) moment this week when I ate dinner on consecutive nights at the "newish" casual German restaurant (maybe gastropub would be a better descriptor), Blaue Gans, owned by chef-restaurateur Kurt Gutenbrunner, who also co-owns Wallse,Thor, and Cafe Sabarsky. At dinner on Thursday night, I loved just about everything we ate at Blaue Gans. The Burenwurst was a pork and beef sausage positively bursting with flavor, accompanied by delicious sauerkraut, a not too spicy mustard and pungent horseradish. The bread that showed up at our table was kind of a limp, wan version of German dark rye bread, and even though it was accompanied by a tasty, smooth liptauer spread (made of farmer's cheese, paprika, and onion) we ordered a pretzel to accompany our sausage and the terrific smoked trout that was more terrine than filet. The pretzel was a revelation: crisp enough on the outside, tender on the inside, with just enough interior and exterior salt. If it had been baked a little longer I would have declared it the best soft pretzel I have ever eaten.
Our main dishes were a mixed bag. The meaty part of the roasted pork belly tasted great, but beneath the meat was a three inch slab of fat. Now I love pork belly, and I love fat, but I definitely would have preferred some of that fat to be rendered in the cooking process. The Jager Schnitzel, on the other hand, was a very successful cholesterol festival of a dish: pounded pork in a creamy sauce made with veal stock topped by bacon and mushrooms. And the spaetzle that accompanied the schnitzel was perfect, firm and slightly chewy with the right amount of buttery give. The Swiss cheese plate was a waste of time and calories, but the fried quark (cheese) dumplings on a pool of rhubarb compote were ethereally light and crunchy on the outside, and cooked through on the inside.
The next night the pretzel and the sauerkraut were just as delicious, but the spaetzle was limp and overcooked. Perfect spaetzle one night, steam table quality spaetzle the next. How do you explain that? I saw the chef-owner there both nights, so that doesn't explain it. Potato salad was underseasoned, the boiled beef shoulder wasn't particularly tender or flavorful, and needed six shakes of salt to bring it to life, and the wiener schnitzel's crisp crust separated from the pork inside it way too easily. It didn't have the cosmic oneness between crust and flesh a great piece of fried chicken or pork should. The apple strudel was buttery and wonderful, and it came with a hillock of schlog. Two other fine desserts were the Salzburger Nockerl, cloud-like meringues perched atop a huckleberry compote, and the kaiserschmarren (sounds like a Mel Brooks invention), tender, slightly spongy little pancakes made just sweet enough by powdered sugar on top, that don't need the dull-tasting apple compote that comes with it. I hope the next time I go back (which will be soon, as this is a fun restaurant to be in) the spaetzl will be up to snuff, and the beef shoulder will be more tender and flavorful.
Bruni gave it one star (out of four), Robin Raisfeld and Rob Patronite gave it two stars (out of five) in New York Magazine, and Ed Levine Eats gives it a 90 (out of a hundred), which means I would love to have it in my neighborhood.: Blaue Gans, 139 Duane St. near West Broadway, 212-571-8880. No reservations taken, but I have found if you get there by 7:30 most evenings you can snag a table for dinner without waiting. Open 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week.
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