Gastronomy in Germany? Ja, Sicher!

photo: diners in Bad Lauterberg listen to the bawdy stories of Fra Davolo

Goettingen, Germany. Most people don’t come to this German university
town in search of great cuisine, and I didn’t either. I came because my father
is recovering from quintuple bypass surgery at a clinic near here.

Everything you have heard about prices in Europe is true,
mostly. I pulled off the Autobahn to get a quick bite at a rest stop, and spent
$4 for a bottle of water (same price for soda pop), and $4.50 for the German
equivalent of a hot dog. (Of course, this was a much bigger and better hot dog
than you get at SuperAmerica for $1.39, but still…)

For a town of 130,000 or so, Goettingen has a pretty
impressive selection of restaurants. You name it, they’ve got it – Thai, Greek,
Italian, Indian, Turkish, Middle Eastern, Chinese, etc. About the only cuisine that’s
hard to find here is German. This part of Germany has never been known for great food, and the local populace has eagerly embraced foreign cuisines.

My first night in town, my mother and I headed to what we
are told is the best restaurant in Goettingen, the Gauss-Keller, on a hot
tip: They offer a late-night three course menu for 18 Euros (about $28,
including tax), including a glass of Bordeaux, a bottle of mineral water, and a
cup of espresso. This turns out to be a truly great meal, and an amazing value,
since their regular prix-fixe menus range from $59 for three courses to around
$89 for five.

It’s actually four courses – if you count the
appetizer-sized amuse bouche of chicken pate, served with a marinated cherry
compote and herb infused oil. The courses are simple but ample: a salad of
field greens; Serrano ham and melon; followed by a main course of maultaschen,
the German version of ravioli, stuffed with minced beef and bathed in a rich
mushroom sauce accented with chanterelles. The dessert was a strawberry
pannacotta, accompanied by a house-made strawberry sorbet and fresh
strawberries. The after-dinner espresso arrived with a little plate of tiny
sweets, and when the bill arrives, it is accompanied by a pair of tiny white
chocolate truffles.

 

The next morning, before visiting my father at the rehab
center, we strolled the Goettingen farmers’ market, which offers a great
selection of local fresh fruit and vegetables, plus stalls and wagons selling a
big selection of cheeses, meats, olives, etc.

Bawdy tales: The next night’s dinner was a journey from the sublime to
the ridiculous– a special outing organized for cardiac patients and their
families to a nearby café (in the resort town of Bad Lauterberg), for a Tuscan
theme dinner, organized around the fictional adventures of a Tuscan monk named
Fra Bartolo. About 40 people sat around a U-shaped table garnished with
abundant tomatoes, heads of iceberg lettuce, red and green peppers, parsley,
onions and other seasonal veggies, plus what seemed to be an unlimited supply
of cheap but decent Italian wine.

The first course was a do-it-yourself salad, assembled from
the table decorations, and dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The
remaining courses were served by two waiters dressed as monks, in brown
cassocks with white rope belts, and between courses one of the monks
entertained the diners by reading ribald stories about Fra Bartolo’s
adventures, gastronomic and amorous. Who says Germans don’t know how to have
fun?

The courses of penne
tossed with ham and tomato, and roasted chicken cacciatore with mashed
potatoes, and the dessert of semifreddo custard with Amaretto and biscotti were
all only a notch or two above the Old Country Buffet caliber of volume cooking,
but a good time was had by all. Cost for the whole extravaganza – a mere 10
Euros, or $15.60, all-inclusive.