There really is a little bit of every cuisine in the Bay Area. Last night we went out with friends to Speisekammer to see for ourselves if the German food merits the good reviews – and it does. Four distinct menus with tantalizing options (specials, regular items, beverages, and desserts) are fun to read, and potentially embarrassing to pronounce when ordering, making for an all-around enjoyable meal.
We contemplated writing a Specialty Brews post for the boot, but thought instead we’d feature it in its proper context. Radeberger Pilsner clocks in at 4.8% ABV and was too hoppy for most at the table, so it was up to August to make a dent in it but she didn’t get very far at all. It’s just so much beer in a 2 liter boot! Check out the Radeberger website; it’s almost like a movie trailer.
The escargot on the day’s specials menu were stuffed in button mushroom caps with garlic herb butter. Typically we see tiny snails but these were gargantuan in comparison! Protruding from the mushroom caps, they were tender and not like eraser bits that we’re accustomed to expecting. The butter sauce was rich and hearty with garlic and fresh herbs, and the mushrooms were a nice change from plain escargot or puffed pastry wraps.
This was an appetizer that everyone dug into, for all at the table liked seafood and there was plenty of variety here. Poached shrimp, gravlax, pickled herring, and smoked trout came on a mound of greens. The shrimp were very fresh and slightly warm still actually, prepared in a good, spiced boil and somewhat buttery. Gravlax, or raw salmon cured in salt, sugar, and dill, was different – none of us expected fish to be sweet, but regardless it was a pleasant flavor. Pickled herring is one of August’s favorite snacks from childhood, so she took full advantage of having it here. The smoked trout had a relatively flaky texture with its smoky flavor and a hint of sweetness.
“A variety of domestic and imported cheeses served with seasonal fruit” was super impressive. Surprisingly, Zach the Supertaster wasn’t able to identify immediately all the cheeses; for example, we had to look up the sage derby with mild flavor and bright green veins. We added a pretzel for a tiny upcharge, and one of our friends who loves pretzels highly approved of this one. All the fruit was exceptionally fresh and great pairings for the cheeses.
August and the pretzel-loving friend both tried the sautéed venison medallions in plum sauce served with spätzle and red cabbage. Be prepared, this is game meat, so it’s not the most tender but it is full of flavor because it is very lean. The sauce was sweet but not sugary, blending in well with the buttery and tender spätzle. The red cabbage took our friend by surprise because she didn’t think it would be more sour than sauerkraut, but August grew up with red cabbage so she welcomed the pucker.
Our other friend got the bratwurst with cracked spices, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes. He ate every morsel and was so distracted he didn’t say a word, therefore it must have been good!
For a side we got creamy spätzle baked with caramelized onions and European cheese, plus we added bacon for a fair upcharge (black forest ham was another option). Like what came with the venison plate, the spätzle was tender but amped up, made super creamy and gooey with cheeses and smoky with the bacon. The caramelized onions added a sweet/savory flavor. For basically being a German-style mac n cheese, it puts a lot of American versions to shame.
With five different sausages and a grilled smoked pork chop served over sauerkraut, this is a platter easily for two to three people, or Zach and a whole lot for Bea the Dog back at home. It included bratwurst, thürlinger, bockwurst, two kleine nürnberger sausages, and a mystery sausage that wasn’t on the menu nor could the server identify it. Each was very high quality with no gristle chunks, very juicy, and great snap to the natural casing. Bockwurst is Zach’s favorite in general, and here was a good version and he liked that he could see actual chives in the mix. Being a ham fan, the smoked pork chop was essentially an extra lean pork loin with a bone, smoky yet tender and juicy. The sauerkraut didn’t have an overwhelmingly processed sour flavor; he could tell it was made in house, and it had a slight sweet flavor that set it apart from other sauerkrauts we’ve tried.
We will definitely come back to Speisekammer another day. It’s worth multiple visits to enjoy the food, and also the live music that plays two to three times a week starting at 8:30. Despite having a very, very extensive alcoholic beverage selection, this is for sure a family place, welcoming to all ages.
Open now for just over a month, the Swan’s Marketplace location of Rosamunde is the fourth (after two in San Francisco and one in Brooklyn, NY). Each shop has something that sets them apart from the other three – the one on Mission St. in SF has 27 beers on tap! – and the Oakland Rosamunde, being so new, has yet to figure out its niche. We ordered five different sausages to taste the variety, and there’s still so much left on the menu, including several vegan options.
All of the sausages come with your choice of up to two sides (sauerkraut, grilled onions, sweet peppers, hot peppers, and beef chili), so we mixed it up with each one to best suit the different sausages. With the first, we noticed the French roll was fresh and grilled well, resulting in a nice crispy, crunchy outside but still soft on the inside with a good chew. The two duck and fig sausage links were juicy and flavor-packed with a mild sweetness, but definitely more savory that sweet. There was no gaminess to the taste, so the true duck came through. The onions were tender and beer-braised, a tangy complement to the duck.
We got the truffle sausage plain in order to savor the flavor. The meat was finely ground for a super nice texture, and the truffle flavor was more than a mere essence, as there were visible slices of truffle within the link.
The “Mission Street” is a knockwurst link wrapped with bacon, and for this one we tried the beef chili. The knockwurst itself had a mild spice with a lightly smoky garlic flavor, and it was juicy but with a good snap. The meat of the chili was tender, and the chili flavor was spicy in its own way, with cumin and curry to make the meat just slightly sweet. August said, “The curry makes me almost like chili!” (she usually avoids it).
Boudin blanc here is Cajun style, as opposed to French, meaning it has a mix of rice, pork, and special Cajun spices. This one we also ordered plain in order to see what the Cajun spices were like. The flavor was mildly spicy with a nice green onion background. The meat was soft and tender with some good, tasty char marks.
The wild boar sausages we dressed up the most, with grilled onions and sweet peppers to go with the apples and cranberries inside the sausage. There was no gaminess at all which was nice since wild boar is one of the gamier meats due to the diet. In fact, the meat taste was very mild and spiced in the same way as the duck but with a sweeter aftertaste from the fruit stuffing.
This was a good version of a German potato salad – creamy from the oil, vinegar, and mustard as opposed to loads of mayonnaise. Traditional bacon and green onions were there, and the potatoes were cooked but still had a little bit of give to the bite.
Tonight there were about 18 beers on tap, as they were getting rid of the last of the leftover kegs from the SF Beer Week. We couldn’t quote you the menu, since Mieko the friendly manager was swapping out the beers as they ran dry and adding new ones. However, standard is the wide variety of real sodas, which were helpful to sip between tasting the different sausages so as to clear the palate.
Brian, Bobby Moon, and Peter were a great team behind the counter, pumping out tantalizing meals for the numerous patrons, since there’s something here for everyone Brian helped us navigate the best options for each sausage, and Mieko was effervescent and very knowledgeable about the quartet of restaurants. With good beer, great sausages, and the anticipation of the something-special that the others won’t have, you can bet we’ll be coming back.
With its own brews to support its restaurants, EJ Phair is one of the highlights of Todos Santos Plaza. We come here often enough to have established our favorites. Tonight we had a friend with us and wanted to share this place with her. What made our evening more interesting was the trivia games – we had no idea Tuesday nights were Trivia Night!
We started with lumpia, one of the day’s specials. EJ Phair’s version of lumpia was more like a fusion of the filipino staple with a Chinese egg roll. The sauce was sweet and spicy, kind of like a typical sweet and sour sauce, but house-made.
The French onion soup was our favorite part of the meal. Made with EJ Phair’s own IPA, it was well seasoned, had a great balance of salty, sweet, and savory, and the onions were tender.
Our friend ordered a Caesar wrap with chicken. She asked for garlic fries instead of regular fries, and the garlic was fresh.
Zach ordered fish and chips. Usually he gets jägerschnitzel but tonight he wanted to be different.
August got the jägerschnitzel, since she loves it too. With a breaded, pounded pork loin, stewed cabbage, spätzle, and mushroom sauce, this is a fully house-made plate with lots of flavor.