Germano-Italo-Franco-phile

Last night we ate at Spints, a new German restaurant on NE 28th in that trendy little area near Burnside. You may not know about it but the Gangster is a Germanophile. It’s hard to be a Germanophile in an increasingly Franco-Italophillic world. Everybody loves the Italians and the French. They love their food, their wines, the funny way that they talk like zis. Even I love the French and the Italians. My people hail from Alsace and so I get to have two cultures at once, which does not create an internal conflict. What does create a conflict is that, outside of the sausage places, there is really no where to get decent

This is what Over-the-Rhine looks like.

German food in Portland.  Neither is there any good German food in Cincinnati, which is strange because in Cincinnati they like to say Zinzinnati and they have an old neighborhood called Over-the-Rhine that is now a big, decaying ghetto, despite repeated attempts at gentrification.

As a matter of fact, I’ve never actually visited Germany. I’ve been to Alsace and it was awesome and the food was great and Germanic, but not wholly German. The closest I’ve been is the train station in Munich and I tell you, that train station had some of the best goddamn food in the entirety  of Western Europe. They had pretzels and roasted chicken and potato salad with bacon and sausages and all types of hardy braises and beer, large glasses of German beer. Truly the best layover that a weary traveler could hope for. I can’t wait to go back. But until I do, I’ll have Spints.

My Alsatian family.

Spints may be the first restaurant in this city, maybe the whole west coast, to take German food seriously. Everyone gets to do a “take” on French or Italian or Japanese or Thai, but bloggers and “professional” reviewers alike get real confused when they go to a restaurant where the cooking is rooted in the German aesthetic but serves items outside the predictable pretzel, fondue, saurbraten formula. I’m not confused, these are my people.

We started with a friseé salad that had a creamy garlic dressing and smoked salsify. The garlic dressing was plenty assertive; served with anything but a bitter endive it would have been aggressive. The smoked salsify was cut into little batonnetes and provided the perfect punctuation. I will say that, when I tried a piece of salsify without salad, the smokiness took on that acerbic quality that a vegetable can take on when it is aggressively smoked. I might have noticed in the context of the salad too, but I was starving and drinking fast.

Then als Hauptgerich, I ordered the pork shnitzel which came with a little cabbage gratin and a sherry butter sauce which I will not here refer to as a beurre blanc. She ordered the brisket Pelmeni which turns out to be a sort of ravioli. Imagine wrapping a spaetzle around a beef forcemeat. That’s a Pelmeni. They are delicious, although these were a little over-salted. Nothing a gangster like me couldn’t handle though.

The schnitzel was tasty, not as tasty as the cabbage gratin but tasty nonetheless. It could have benefited from a little more pounding; slice it thicker and pound more. The butter sauce was well executed but the sherry was a little assertive for this guy.

For desert we shared a ricotta/ chocolate layer cake. delicious. It could have been at room temperature to be more delicious.

The beer selection really shines here. I had an Upright Rye and a Heater Allen Dunkel. I then had some Cynar with dessert.

What else really shines is the atmosphere. The owner seems to have done her own interior design, blasphemy in the age of hyper-specialization and questionable “services”. The lighting is the same throughout. Believe it: at the bar we ate under the same frosted white globes as any of the roughly seventy five or so other patrons at the restaurant. I despise the trend that requires a restaurant to have at least ten different types of lighting; it is the height of pretension. The furnishings are simple and sturdy.

What’s great about Spints is that they take an underappreciated cuisine seriously enough to play with it. It’s so commonplace to do a “take” on any other cuisine in southwestern Europe. For fuck’s sake, there isn’t anything but “takes” on Spanish cuisine (which should be a post in the very near future). German food is treated largely like the bucktoothed, knock-kneed orphan of anything worthwhile, which perhaps explains more about why I identify with it than my provenance does. I could as easily call myself French, but that would be too conventional.