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Schwarzwaldstube in Baiersbronn (Dec ’15): “elegant”

19 Jun
During my recent Europe trip,  I wanted to try some German 3*’s since word through the grapevine was that they were highly underrated. The “sexy” stories of the past few years have largely overlooked the region, featuring Nordic food (highly promoted in the World’s 50 Best list), Latin American food (also in their own 50 Best list), and a rash of Japan food stories in the last 1-2 years fuelled by a weak Japanese yen.
My three day trip to the Black Forest kicked off with dinner at the Bareiss, lunch at the Schwarzwaldstube, and ended off with a second lunch at the Bareiss. The two restaurants would be the pride of any metropolis, let alone a town of ~15,000 people. I found the standard of both equal to anything in Paris. Lunch at Chef Harald Wohlfahrt’s Schwarzwaldstube was a delightful affair.
The Schwarzwaldstube is a storied restaurant, popularly considered the ur-restaurant of modern German three-stars. I won’t recapitulate all the details which has been better stated by other writers. (interested readers can find it in the NYTimes feature and on Elizabeth Auerbach’s blog). The one telling detail is that five of Germany’s 10 three-star chefs are apprentices have passed through Wohlfahrt’s kitchen.
I have heard that like the Bareiss, the Schwarzwaldstube as a restaurant is a basically non-profit making affair, serving as a publicity vehicle for their attached family-run hotels, the Hotel Bareiss (ex. Kurhotel Mitteltal) and the Traube Tonbach. I felt prices were a tad lower than in France, this might be also due to the German aversion to be seen fine-dining. It is a painful irony that one of the countries with the highest quality chefs and restaurants, has one of the least appreciative national audiences. That is probably why all of the 3* German restaurants border France, since they must rely on a significant degree of French patronage to stem their losses.
The Schwarzwaldstube is an elegant and noble restaurant that serves the best of classic French nouvelle cuisine and classic French cuisine. There seems to be little trend following here, the “correlation risk” with the “sexy” restaurants is almost zero. Therein lies the charm.
Rating: 19/20

I had the following for lunch:
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  • A glass of crisp champagne (from Ambonnay by Eric Rodez) [95/100]

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  • Snacks: Langoustine croquette with pineapple-mango chutney; duck with hoisin; salmon wrapped in nori with wasabi cream [4.25/5]
    • Well-executed pan-Asian snacks. One thing I’ve find interesting is that the two Black Forest restaurants Bareiss and Schwarzwaldstube seem to have a heavy-handed approach to Asian dishes – they seem to be what a Westerner’s imagination of what Asian dishes would be – a fever dream rather than a homage to the real thing. The snacks were a Thai bite (pineapple-mango chutney), Chinese bite (hoisin with duck) and a Japanese bite (salmon, wasabi, nori) served together- but they would never be seen in a Thai, Chinese, or Japanese restaurant.

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  • Amuse gueule: Variation of pumpkin: [Centre] Muscat pumpkin ice cream with a sheet of pumpkin sugar; [Right] coulis of butternut pumpkin and blossoms; [Left] pumpkin seeds with pumpkin paste [4.5/5]
    • Excellent flavors, would have been even better had it not been served melting.

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  • Foie terrine in Jurancon jelly, grilled foie with Dwarf orange coulis and a pine nut marinade  [Terrine von marinierter und gegriliter Gänseleber in Jurançongelee mit Zwergorangencoulis; Pinienkernmarinade] [5/5]
    • A house specialty of Schwarzwaldstube, the foie was served three ways: a terrine in wine jelly; grilled foie, and a cold foie gras ice cream. The foie was top quality, with hints of the membraneous texture preserved in the terrine, a texture I love.

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  • Potato blini with mild smoked char and lemon butter, char caviar. [Kartoffelblini mit mildgeräuchertern Seesaibling und Limonenbutter, Saiblingskaviar] [5/5]
    •  How is a delicate hockey puck of flour (what this looks like at first glance) related in anyway to a blini (pancake?)
    • I don’t really have a clue, but a delicate and perfectly cooked piece of char, protected by a hockey puck of potato souffle, was incredible with a light lemon butter fish sauce (with hints of lemongrass and kaffir lime), and globules of salty char eggs.
    • There is an essential similarity with Haeberlin’s salmon souffle an hour away over at the Auberge de l’Ill, but the two dishes innovate in different ways. With Haeberlin, it is a tomato paste that forms the counterpoint to the fish + souffle. Here, an Asian accented French sauce and char eggs form the counterpoint.
    • There is something magical about the orange-fleshed fishes in a light French sauce – was it not salmon in sorrel that was the jumping-off point for nouvelle cuisine at Troisgros?

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  • Halibut with poached Gillardeau oyster, beetroot and mild horseradish sauce [Heilbuttschnitte mit pochierter Gillardeau-Auster, Roter Bete und milder Meerrettichsauce] [4.5/5]
    • Fish bone veloute.
    • Not bad, the horseradish lent it a bitter top-note that felt like an acquired taste.

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  • Wild hare royale with Brussels sprouts leaves, trumpet mushrooms and cranberry [Wildhase auf königliche Art mit Rosenkohlblättern, Trompetenpilzen und Preiselbeerjus] [4/5]
    • A hare royale – hare stuffed with foie and forcemeat – is a rare dish. It is also a bit of an acquired taste, the meat texturally grainy and not distinguished in taste.
    • My own theory on this is the following: hare is a notoriously lean creature, lean enough that explorers who relied on it for sustenance often developed “rabbit starvation” due their unbalanced ratio of meat to fat (about 8-9% fat for rabbit meat). Foie and forcemeat are required to make hare palatable by artificially rebalancing the fat ratio.
    • I personally felt the hare royale, while time consuming and a labor of love, starts out from an unpromising ingredient, and owes its pride of place on the Schwarzwaldstube menu more from tradition than objective merit. It was well done for hare, but its merit is conditional

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  • Cheese from the trolley [Käse vom Wagen]
    • all from Bernard Antony
    • a 42 month old goats cheese was excellent (5/5)
    • a vache d’or, seasonal cheese, was good
    • a Persille de Tignes, a Savoy cheese, was crumbly, and phenomenal (5/5)

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  • Ganache – balsamic vinegar, chocolate, raspberry coulis, raspberry crumble, raspberry cream. (4.25/5)
    •     Good mix of sourness

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  • Fondant of Guanaja chocolate on passionfruit sauce, Tahitian vanilla ice cream and banana compote [Fondant von Guanaja-Schokolade auf Passionsfruchtsud, Tahiti-Vanilleeis und Bananenkompott] [4.75/5]
    • Just pure elegance. No fireworks but perfectly executed classical cuisine

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  • Hazelnut parfait, calamansi sorbet, cocktail of citrus fruits [Stämmle von Haselnussparfait mit Mirabellen-Kalamansisorbet auf Cocktail von Zitrusfrüchten] [4.75/5]
    • A quite perfect citrus dessert. Hazelnut caramel parfait, calamansi sorbet, citrus, persimmon.
    • I appreciated the contrast between chocolate and acidity, and also the labor that went into getting the citrus pips out individually

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  • Petit-fours: Macaron kirschwaldskirsche, grapefruit jelly, chocolate and caramel brownie, christmas cake

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Bareiss in Baiersbronn (Dec ’15): “best French meal of 2015”

1 Feb

Germany rarely comes up as a destination dining country. For the traveller on a budget, this is probably for good reason. Sauerkraut, potatoes, dumplings and boiled fleisch, rarely sets pulses racing. However, the German Black Forest is blessed with a number of multiple-starred restaurants. In the small village of Baiersbronn alone, there are two 3-star restaurants (Bareiss, and Schwarzwaldstube) and one 2-star restaurant, Sackmann.

As a local remarked to me, “we used to go to Alsace [across the German-French border] to have a good meal, now the Alsatians come here.”

Germany has a total of 10 3-Michelin star restaurants. The two closest to each other are Bareiss and Schwarzwaldstube, located in the Black Forest town of Baiersbronn. For a village of 15,000 people, that is exceptional. It bore remark from the New York Times in 2013, which has contributed to a trickle of Americans among the mostly French and German tourists to the region. These restaurants have generally been untouched by the international Twitterati and Instagram celebrities.

The Bareiss is a grand family-run hotel, with Hermann Bareiss (the patriach) still making the rounds to greet diners after every dinner. I liked this personal touch, and the pictueresque setting of the hotel was really beautiful, with twinkly lights strung up all over the estate during the Christmas season. I had two meals there before Bareiss closed for the season, one a dinner tasting menu, and once for an a la carte lunch.

Bareiss’s chef Claus Peter Lumpp is a life-long member of the Bareiss establishment, having started his career there and generally spent most of his time there aside from a year staging at various 3* temples across the continent.

While The Fat Duck in Britain and elBulli in Spain were taking centre stage in the international gastronomic world in the mid 2000’s, quietly the gastronomic equivalent of a “Wirtschaftswunder” was taking place in Germany. This “Wunder” started in 2004 (2005 guide) when Michelin appointed Joachim Wissler’s Vendôme in Bergisch-Gladbach as Germany’s sixth three-star restaurant. The next year (2006 guide) Christian Bau’s Schloss Berg in Perl-Nennig was admitted to Michelin’s top category and so was Sven Elferveld’sAqua in Wolfsburg in 2008 (2009 guide). Most impressive however, was the historic three-star hattrick in 2007 (2008 guide), with restaurants Amador (then located in Langen), Gästehaus Erfort in Saarbrücken and Restaurant Bareiss in Baiersbronn as the new laureates. Germany currently has no fewer than 11 three-star restaurants. See this link for a full list. 

Where three chefs of these new three-star restaurants had at some point in their career worked at Restaurant Schwarzwaldstube in Baiersbronn, Claus Peter Lumpp (b.1964) of Restaurant Bareiss had followed a different path and spent the first years of his training (1982-1985) at ‘the other place’ in Baiersbronn, Bareiss (then called Kurhotel Mittaltal). Bareiss is a family-run destination hotel in the Black Forest, which apart from some 100 luxury rooms and suites, also houses several ‘Stubes’ and the fine dining restaurant called Restaurant Bareiss (‘Bareiss’). Before returning as head chef to the then 2-star Bareiss in 1992, Lumpp worked at some of Europe’s most renowned restaurants, including 3-star restaurants Le Louis XV (Alain Ducasse) in Monaco, Tantris (Heinz Winkler) and Aubergine (Eckart Witzigmann), both in Munich, and Antica Osteria del Ponte (Ezio Santin) in Milan. At Bareiss he succeeded Paul Mertschuweit, also known as “the tongue of Bareiss”. – Elizabeth Auerbach

The cooking, both here and at Schwarzwaldstube, brought to mind an earlier era of French cuisine. It doesn’t feel like nouvelle cuisine, but rather modern classic French cuisine – because of the classic and heavy sauces, with incredible terrestial ingredients in foie and game. Bareiss is by far the more formal of the two, possibly because it is the “younger” restaurant measured by age at the three-star table.

There are three features of Claus Peter Lumpp’s cooking that I like. First, it is classical French, updated with innovative touches. His cooking features the generous ingredients of foie, lamb, deer, chicken, all with heavy sauces. It is influenced by regional dishes (cassoulet, tarte flambee). In an age where chefs generally have a light touch, his take-no-prisoners style of salting and saucing is paradoxically and figuratively refreshing, and literally food-coma-inducing. The salt is really on the high side, though never unpleasant.

Second, the classical preparations are moderated by touches of fruit in his compositions. His red-wine-caramel and foie terrine, justly praised, would be a lot more heavy if it were not paired with Williams Pear. His tarte flambee has a delicious plum sauce. His pheasant soup has the crunch of unskinned grapes, his scallops have citrus, and the apple dessert is a marvelous assembly of apple textures.

Thirdly, the preparations are exuberant. He prepares multiple variations on a theme, like Pierre Gagnaire, and allows the diner to try his different experiments. His dishes within a theme often don’t harmonize (they are separate dishes and should be treated as such), but it shows there is a highly creative mind at work.

The weaknesses of his cooking are more minor. His Asian preparations aren’t all that – a Japanese tartare of scallops with soy and seaweed, or slices of lamb breast prepared with an Indian tandoori sauce, or a cold kingfish sushi served as appetizers, are obvious and in some ways “basic” interpretations of the Japanese and Indian style. But this is to be expected of a restaurant which caters 90% to German and French on either side of the border, and 10% Americans. These dishes however are only on the a la carte menu, and apparent to repeat diners.

The wine service is well-led by Jurgen Fendt, one of the best sommeliers in Germany (he has represented the country three times at the Sommelier World Cup). A selection of red wine from Fendt’s own vineyard was probably my favorite wine of all he offered me at Bareiss.

For those who care, the differences between Bareiss and Schwarzwaldstube are:

  • + Schwarzwaldstube has better cheeses, from M Bernard Antony. Bareiss’s cheese selection is very good (they served a variety of sauces and grapes) but in excellence Schwarzwaldstube is more consistent.
  • + The service is more formal at Bareiss, surprisingly Schwarzwaldstube has a younger serving crowd.
  • + Jurgen Fendt’s wine service at Bareiss was my favorite between the two restaurants

Overall rating: 19.5/20 (first meal 19.5/20, second meal 18.5/20)

Most memorable dishes: Foie terrine with red wine-caramel jelly, Apple dessert, chicken cassoulet, boiled beef with horseradish, pheasant tarte flambee

Notable links

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  1. Apéritif etagère (4.5/5)
    1. Kingfish sushi – not bad, though served cold (with a sweet starch and long sour aftertaste). Kingfish AKA Mackerel doesn’t have Japanese name as far as I know. It was nothing like Japanese sushi,  though I found it commendable that they tried and prepped the rice.
    2. Chestnut cream
    3. Old cheese cake
    4. Fig and chestnut tart – Had a complex and satisfying taste with something piquant, maybe cinnamon.

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  1. Cold & warm Amuse Bouche
    1. Cold amuse bouche: Variation of kohlrabi. (4/5)
    2. The first two courses were a study in spiciness, not a common accent in French food. The German Kohlrabi has a sharp, unpleasant, bitter taste when cut raw, similar to raw onion. A butter sauce helped soothe it. It was an ebb and flow of discomfort, but not my favorite dish. This was a world away from the sugary kohlrabi I had at Blue Hills at Stone Barns.
    3. Warm amuse bouche: Boiled veal with beetroot and horseradish, beet sugar. (5/5)
    4. This was served as an amuse. It was shocking. It looked like a typical nouvelle cuisine dish, elegantly constructed. But an intense horseradish kick broke the rules of engagement – no spiciness! The sauce was at first sweet from the beet juice, and transitioned to savory as it began to resemble a veal red wine sauce. It was a “three-body” sauce, orbiting spicy, sweet and savory until it vanished. Superb.

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  1. Variation of goose foie gras with Williams pear soaked in red wine and wintery spicy punch (5/5)
    1. First plate: foie terrine with red wine and caramel jelly, with a pear sponge on top. Various preparations of pear with foie, including cream, ice cream. Second plate: Kugelhopf with foie cream. Drink: wintery spicy punch. A perfect expression of the generosity of the season.
    2. Fruity, rich, the red-wine-and caremel jelly between the lobes of foie in the terrine were the best part of the trio of dishes. This was what I had come for – classic cooking that was innovative without resorting to molecular tricks. The red wine and caramel jelly has to be tasted to be believed, it is a perfect accompaniment to the foie gras. Fully understandable how this is Lumpp’s signature dish.
    3. The foie terrine is served with different accompaniments according to the season. This season, it was Williams pear, the fruit element of which lightened the dish.

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  1. Breton scallop with potato mousseline chives and roasted panko (5/5)
    1. I thought this was a really fantastic and classical tasting dish.
    2. Clearly, no one comes to the Black Forest to taste hand-dived scallop with its unique crunchiness. But the sweetness of the scallop was excellent, served with fried garlic, mashed potato, togarashi (flying fish roe), and a rich sauce. Very little could be improved.
    3. These scallops were twice-weekly deliveries from the Brittany from a dedicated fisherman.

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  1. Crisp fried bass with glazed black salsify and Madeira (4.5/5)
    1. This was served with a second preparation: Bass ragout in a tomato-based sauce. The first preparation had a skin crisped to perfection, thinner than paper. The technical merits of this were very good. The ragout was a bit less interesting, though delicious in its own right.

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  1. Cassolette of black-feather chicken with braised celeriac and Perigord truffle (5/5)
    1. Savory chicken from Alsace, a cousin of Bresse chicken. This was another excellent, if classic dish. The matchsticks of black truffle, were of top quality, and added an enticing smell to the dish. The chicken was heavily salted, and it was served with beans in a pseudo-cassoulet form. The dish was unrecognizable from its peasant-dish origins, and with a rich sauce, delicately cooked chicken, and top grade truffle, was a fully paid-up member of the haute-French establishment

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  1. Saddle of roe deer fried with aromatics and braised shoulder from the Bareiss hunting grounds with caramelized red cabbage and sweet chestnuts (4.5/5)
    1. The deer was classically excellent. The saddle of roe deer possessed a crumb of bitterness., but it represented a welcome break from the train of dishes with savory sauces, because the sauce was predominantly sweet and featured sweet chestnuts. The combination, while not as strong standalone (because who naturally craves a sweet sauce with protein for a main?), was an intelligent progression in the menu. The braised shoulder of the roe deer was heavily stewed, a sweet heap of meat in the style of Mexican pulled pork or Singaporean rendang.

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  1. Assorted cheese from the trolley
    1. Highlights were (1)  36 month aged Gouda, (2) Shropshire blue, as well as (3) petit fiance cheeses. They were served with grapes and various jams, in the overwhelmingly generous fashion that characterizes the more classic and out of the way country-side 3* restaurants.

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  1. Valrhona chocolate tartlets with mandarins, almond ice-cream and grand Marnier (4/5)
    1. Vanilla nougat macaron, Grand Marnier custard. While the macaron was soggy and dunked like a Oreo into mandarin sauce (it baffles me why), the rest was pleasant if non-descript. The chocolate cake was served with a passionfruit sauce. Dessert was not one of the great strengths of Bareiss tasting menu, but it was a minor blip in this meal, and the dessert in the next meal was much stronger.

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  1. Friandises
    1. “Blackforest cake” cornets and white chocolate rum bonbons.
  2. Confectionary & chocolate from the trolley
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  1. Apéritif etagère (4.5/5) – the same excellent set of bites was served

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  1. Cold & warm Amuse Bouche
    1. Cold amuse bouche: Wintery herbs, with mushroom soup, crouton slices, and grilled onions. (4.5/5) It was served with shavings of a savory hard cheese called Belper Knolle. It was fresh tasting, minty, with distinct plays of cheesy textures and crispy croutons
    2. Warm amuse: Cod poached in olive oil with black forest mushrooms with bits of bacon glass, where the bacon was rendered crisp and translucent (4.75). Excellent.

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  1. Scallops (4.5/5)
    1. Rosette of gratinated scallops with chive cream and imperial caviar (4.75/5)
    2. Tartare of scallops with roasted sesame and sea vegetable salad (4/5)
    3. Fried scallop with chicory, spice and citrus flavors (4.25/5)
    4. I opted for a different preparation of scallops from the a la carte menu. The scallop ensemble had three interesting themes. The first (A) was classic French – a cut rosette of scallops with rich caviar, and served on a potato gratin; the second (B) was Japanese – barebones with only a scallop tartare, soy and seaweed to mark is at Japanese – served with a crisp sesame tuile; the third (C) was in the vague international style, (or a synthesis?) between the two, fried scallops with endives and citrus such as grapefruit, the kind of dish that could have been served in any restaurant in the world, due to the ubiquity of ingredients and minimal stamp or style on the ingredients.
    5. Of course, the best was the classic preparation (A), on the strength of that, I rate the ensemble 4.5/5.
    6. Overall the scallops were sweet and firm, though they didn’t have the most crunchy of textures, which is expected because as mentioned above, Bareiss only takes twice weekly deliveries from Brittany.

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  1. Pheasant (4.5/5)
    1. Essence of pheasant flavoured with juniper, candied walnuts, breast of pheasant and quince jelly  (4.5/5)
    2. Tarte flambée with braised leg of pheasant with dried plums preserved in cognac and sweet chestnut (4.75/5)
    3. Soups at Bareiss are split into a heartier soup and a lighter soup. I chose the lighter option of pheasant consomme over cream of chestnut soup. The preparation here was hearty French, with touches of elegance, such as unskinned grapes in consomme.
    4. (A) The pheasant soup, with unskinned grapes, was a hearty one. The breasts retained a delightful crunch as the hot soup was poured on top. It was clear and restorative. (B) The plum-pheasant tarte flambee was textbooks, with an enviable crispness. The tarte must be heard to be believed, a knife through its heart produced a crackling that resounded through the small restaurant.

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  1. Lamb grown on Älbler Wacholderheide (4.25/5)
    1. Fried lamb chop on cumin sauce with raw marinated cabbage salad, smoked potato cream and fermented garlic (4.25/5)
    2. Focaccia with braised lamb shoulder compote (4.5/5)
    3. Lambs’ sweetbreads aioli and red onions (same as above)
    4. Glazed breast of lamb on tandoori purée and crostini (3.75/5)
    5. Overall – (4.25/5) The lamb, grown in the Albler heath (Wacholderheide means heath) was the recommendation of the manager. The overall theme of this ensemble was vaguely Indian. (A) The first preparation was a crackling crisp lamb chop, delicious on the bone. (B) A soaked focaccia with lamb shoulder, sweetbread, aioli and red onions was an onslaught of richness, only alleviated with pickled onions. The sauce was savory, with pickled onions to cut the richness. Very good. The (C) slices of lamb breast were perhaps the weakest of the ensemble, which was served with tandoori sauce puree. It was nothing more than it sounds. I was also getting stuffed at this point, which may have interfered with my enjoyment a bit.
    6. My reference high-end “Asian lamb” dish is still the Fat Duck’s reinterpretation of a lamb Kebab) If I were to nitpick, I would say the weakness of this dish is that it wears its theme (Indian) in too safe a way, the heavy sauce is exactly how it would be served in an Indian restaurant, albeit in an Indian restaurant it would have been in curry form. The imaginative leap is not as far as it was in the Fat Duck (cucumber & green pepper oils to lighten the dish, instead of vegetable slices). It is a similar theme with the Japanese preparation of scallops, these two “Asian” preparations were obvious and imitative of food you could conceivably get in an Indian or Japanese restaurant. But not to dwell too much on it – Bareiss is after all, a restaurant that caters mostly to a local French and German clientele, and the chef’s strong suit is not his international cooking but his interpretations of classical cuisine.

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  1. Apple (4.75/5)
    1. Baked apple sorbet with braised apple and butter biscuit cream (4.5/5)
    2. Vanilla parfait with apple ragout and caramel sauce (5/5)
    3. Green apple foam (4/5)
    4. The dessert ensemble, was a step up from the previous day. I chose Apple over the three C’s Chocolate, Citrus fruits, and Curd and exotic Fruits, because I wanted something classic. It delivered. (A) The first preparation of baked apple sorbet with a slice of braised apple and butter biscuit cream was a pleasing melange of the flavors of apple pie. But the highlight of the ensemble belonged to (B), which was an even better interpretation of apple pie, a structurally pleasing tower of different types of apple, arranged onto two discs of wafers and topped with vanilla ice cream. The crispness of pastry, the varied crunch of different apple (the best desserts are often the richness of different fruits cooked differently and reassembled), it needs nothing more than vanilla ice cream to be perfect. (C) the last preparation was more a coda than anything else, a technically impressive green apple foam, somehow maintaining enough structural integrity to be coated with chocolate.

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  1. Friandises
    1.   “Blackforest cake” cornets and white chocolate rum bonbons.
  2. Confectionary & chocolate from the trolley