THOUGH I HAVE A GERMAN GRANDMOTHER and was raised on sauerkraut soup, I’m more likely to indulge in a pilsner of Paulaner or St. Pauli Girl than eat a German meal—save the occasional mustard-slathered brat. Others whose habits tend toward the same entertain theories that, on a country-by-country basis, the better the beer, the less remarkable the food. They suggest that perhaps good beer is meant to be a substitute for dinner, or else that such a country’s cuisine serves as a bland, dense sponge whose function is simply to absorb alcohol so the diner can keep on drinking. Whatever the case, German food tends to be sturdy and practical fare that pleases the meat-and-potatoes crowd but leaves the seared-ahi-tuna set somewhat wanting.
At the Black Forest, the traditional Wiener Schnitzel (a veal cutlet, pounded thin, breaded and sautéed) has a pleasantly crunchy coating but doesn’t offer a lot in the way of flavor. The potato pancake—lighter and eggier than a latke, but with the same crisp-fried exterior—was far better. The Black Forest seems to do well by carbohydrates; I’d certainly choose one of the broetchen, fresh-baked multi-grain rolls, over the Sacher Torte, a dense wedge of chocolate and almonds spread with apricot marmalade that was neither chocolaty nor sweet enough for me.
What the dishes lack in flavor, they certainly make up for in size: both the stroganoff and the Deutschburger Casserole were served in portions large enough for two, maybe three. Both are built on a base of spaetzle, thick noodles with a buttery flavor and hearty texture—another successful starch. The stroganoff was a suitable rendition, though the beef was a little chewy. The casserole tasted somewhat similar, being a Euro-Midwestern hybrid of spaetzle tossed with ground beef, onions, and mushrooms, then topped with cheese and baked. Much to my dismay, the bratwurst was disappointing: lean and smooth-textured, but sadly underseasoned.
Perhaps the Black Forest’s food is secondary to the ambiance it has cultivated over the past 40 years with its dark, rathskeller-style dining room and bar. The space is painted burgundy and dark green, decorated with gnome murals and a large Richard Avedon photograph marked by two bullet holes. (Avedon himself gave it to the restaurant; it was shot some years later by a regular patron.)
The best seats in the house are actually outside in the biergarten, where the tables are tucked under vine-covered pergola draped with little white holiday lights, and the soundscape is soothed by a fountain that provides just enough white noise to make you forget you’re in the middle of the city. Even lovers of nouvelle cuisine can relax and enjoy a couple of beer flights (cute little shots, from amber to chocolate in color, lined up on a wooden board) or a honey-tinged Hefe Weiss served in a tall, leggy glass. Just be sure to get out on the patio before it’s too cold to wear your lederhosen.
The Black Forest Inn
1 E. 26th St.