Diner: Standard Fare

A trip to the Black Forest triggers existential food questions

Mar 3, 2004 at 2:06 pm

Whose standards? That's what I'd like to know. Mine? Yours? My mother's? My editor's? I guess, since I'm the new guy, I haven't had this problem — until now. It never occurred to me that I'd have to consider things like my own preconceptions and past experiences. I might have to think; I might have to go deep on you. You see, I don't know how to judge the Black Forest Restaurant in Pisgah.

I'm not sure what measures to apply.

I've probably passed it a thousand times and never gone in. Perhaps this represents some hidden prejudice or perhaps it just means I don't rush into German restaurants very often. I've been to German places before — and Polish and Korean and ... that's not the point. I liked some things and didn't like others, which makes sense. But was the food I thought I didn't like really good, and I just didn't recognize it? Did I let my own culinary cultural history hinder my ability to enjoy what others clearly do?

Case in point: The Black Forest Appetizer Platter ($9.50). It included crispy breaded chicken fingers, a ramekin of beer cheese dip, California Avocado Crabcakes and Sauerkraut Balls. The crabcakes were deep-fried with a decent amount of crab and noticeable pieces of avocado, but the only sauce on the plate was the ubiquitous cocktail sauce. However, the cocktail sauce was really good on the sauerkraut balls, which are meatballs of ground pork, sauerkraut and spices; breaded and fried. They were really tasty, the kraut provided a little crunch, and the meat was savory and moist. But, for some reason, I didn't want to like them. They're just, well, weird?

And spätzles: What are they? Are they supposed to be sort of gummy? Are they usually fried? Are they made of potatoes? I don't know. But they were really good on my Castle Linderhof Medley ($16.50), a classic duo of Wiener Schnitzel and German Sauerbraten served with the spätzles and red cabbage. I'm cool with the schnitzel, a pounded veal cutlet, breaded and fried. Heck, I make them myself. This one was thin and well executed.

But, um, what's up with sauerbraten? The menu translated it as "Sour Roast" — and sour it was. The marinade was nearly all vinegar and pickling spice, as far as I could tell, and the question kept ringing in my head: Why? Why would you pickle a perfectly fine eye of round and then boil it? Why not just cut it up and make stew with it? Vinegar, for heaven's sake.

And then it hit me. I might be a food snob. I tasted it again and thought about the food with my mouth and not with my head. The acidic vinegar and rosemary and fennel; the sauce finished with a little butter, smooth and rich; the beef had a marvelous texture, fork tender and sliced thin. It was really good. Different, but amazing.

Maybe it's because of people like me that the Black Forest has some more accessible menu items — like rotisserie chicken and a strip steak, blackened salmon and the Black Forest Chicken Cordon Bleu ($14.45), which we tried. It was classic and well presented, erupting with butter and cheese when we cut into it. It had an appealing white wine sauce and was served with red cabbage and boiled new potatoes. The cabbage stained everything it came in contact with and seemed a poor aesthetic choice, but it was certainly fresh and, probably reminded some old-timers of home in the Alps. But I didn't enjoy it.

This really has me thinking. How can I tell you I didn't like something adored by whole cultures? People eat and love the damndest things — myself included. (I love peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, so who am I to say?) I can only tell you what I personally think of a menu item. But I fear at times my opinions might be woefully inadequate.

I can't, however, imagine that anyone wouldn't like the Hazelnut Buttercream Torte ($4.50) we had for dessert. The cake was moist, and the buttercream wasn't too thick and didn't make it a butter bomb. The tortes at the Black Forest are fresh from a hometown favorite bakery, Servatti's.

I would like to think that as a reviewer I know our culinary zeitgeist: that I can tell you what is good, what you will like and what you should order. This might simply not be true, and I'm afraid my naiveté might get in your way should you find yourself somewhere I've been. So, try what you'd like, be adventurous and remember to taste with your mouth not your head. ©

Black Forest Restaurant and Lounge
Go: 8675 Cincinnati-Columbus Road, US 42, Pisgah

Call: 513-777-7600

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, 4:30-11 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sundays.

Prices: Moderate

Payment: Major Credit Cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Sp#228tzles Primavera, Vegetarian Plate

Accessibility: Handicap parking, ramps and bathrooms

Grade: B-