Alpine Dining with Beer Hall Fun
2400 Polk St. (at Union), San Francisco
Russian Hill neighborhood
Open daily, 5:30 to 10 p.m. (till 11 p.m. on Friday, Saturday)
No reservations, major credit cards accepted
Walking into Leopold's gasthaus (German tavern), you definitely feel like there's going to be a party. The place is packed and everyone seems to be having a good time. Who wouldn't with free-flowing beer and Alpine-style comfort food?
Leopold's opened in the past year, replacing a longtime Italian restaurant. The new place focuses on Bavarian food, which was explained to me as an area that encompasses Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Northern Italy. I haven't really eaten this type of food (unless you count the Ikea cafeteria), so was willing to explore and learn.
My friend David actually suggested this place, so I met up with him recently for dinner. Because Leopold's doesn't take reservations, we waited briefly at the back bar before being seated at our table. While at the bar, David pointed out the boot-sized glass that some parties would order for their beer. When empty, the boot glass didn't look that big, but I didn't want to push it and just got a normal size mug of Spaten.
The menu was an interesting mix of sausages, traditional Bavarian dishes, and some offal like pig trotters. David and I started off our dinner by sharing the Grilled Duck Crepinettes ($10.25). In learning about crepinettes, I found out they are not mini crepes but instead is similar to a sausage.
Leopold's makes its crepinettes with duck, and serves it wrapped in white cabbage and placed on a mound of mashed potatoes and duck prosciutto. The duck crepinette had a lot of flavor, although it wasn't densely pack but more loose meat inside. The cabbage, nicely tender but not over cooked, totally matched my impressions of the food of this region.
For our entrees, David ordered the house specialty and one of the more traditional foods for this type of cuisine -- the Wiener Schnitzel ($15.25). Of course, David had to order it not just because it's the specialty, but because it's deep-fried so I knew I wouldn't get it. The wiener schnitzel is a pounded piece of meat (I think it was veal or pork?) and then breaded and deep fried, just like a cutlet.
I tried a bit and it tasted OK, but nothing spectacular. David felt the same, but that wasn't the case with the warm potato salad that came with it. The salad had slices of cucumber, which transformed the simple potato salad to a new dining experience for both of us. I especially love the freshness of cucumbers, and wouldn't have thought of adding them to a potato salad. But trust me, it's an amazing combination.
I ordered something different on the menu, the Braised Pork Cheek ($17.25). My plate arrived with a huge mound of potato gnocchi, fennel sausage, mustard greens, cherry tomatoes and corn. But the braised pork cheek was just a little chunk sitting on top.
Still, the pork cheek was tender and richly flavored with the deep, intense flavor of red wine. I enjoyed mixing the pork cheek with the rest of the ingredients. David said he liked my plate better than his, which is a first for me because typically when we eat out, he usually orders the better dish. (Ha! I win this time, David!)
Continuing our culinary lesson, I felt we needed to order dessert because one of the items had the word strudel in it and that seemed so traditional. It was an Apfelstrudel ($6.25), which is an apple strudel. It looked pretty with a dollop of warm vanilla cream. The strudel was nice thin layers of apple and pastry, and I thought it was expertly done. I did wish it was a bit more warm though, like the comfort of a warm apple pie.
Throughout dinner, people kept coming in (and this was a weeknight) checking on availability, and the hosts up front were always friendly and accommodating. In fact, the service was friendly all around. The only downside about the restaurant is the high din of noise, making it really hard to hear each other talk. It really had the acoustics of a beer hall.
The noise, however, just adds to the festive environment, and Leopold's is a welcoming neighborly spot with food that holds up to the noise.
Single guy rating: 3.75 stars (heavy but worth it)
Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner
Thursday, September 01, 2011
Alpine Dining with Beer Hall Fun