raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens...
you know the song. it’s julie andrews (i know the character is maria, but i will always ever know her as julie andrews) in the sound of music, singing about her favorite things.
cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels,
doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles!
see, those are the only things - apple streudel, schnitzel and noodles, and perhaps a little wolfgang puck - that i know about austrian food. and since knoll’s black forest inn has shut down to give way to the new wilshire restaurant in santa monica, and the few times i’ve been to rockenwagner i’ve not gotten anything near german, the only palate knowledge i have about germany is beer brats and pretzels during oktoberfest. well, there’s also wienerschnitzel, but that’s like saying taco bell is mexican, right? right.
and well, i am so ignorant that i just lump the sound of music, which is about austrians, right in there with germans, because, well, they sure sound they same, and they all speak the same language. but hey, americans and british both speak english and we sure don’t have the same food. what is brown sauce again? ;)
so this all leads to my little lesson in austrian food, which, according to my german source whom i shall call lufthansa, is similar to austrian food in tastes. we are at schatzi on main. yes, it is a stop for many a tourist in santa monica who care about being in the restaurant owned by our gover-nator, but we were there, not this time for some local libation, but edu-ma-cation. yah? goot.
i had never dined in the restaurant part of schatzi on main, and even during the few happy hours i’ve gone for drinks on the patio, i didn’t actually go inside even to use the restroom. the front patio is a weird califonia version of a beer (and cigar) garden, enclosed by giant birds of paradise and lit up here and there by multi-colored christmas lights. the mixed crowd is loud and lively, talking, drinking and watching the tv screen, showing whatever sport is in season. there’s an interesting scent that hangs in the background, a mix of light smoke from the small firepit on the patio and cigars, locked away in a hidden humidor. i love the smell of cigars. i guess arnie does too.
this time, though, we dodged and ducked our way across the patio behind the very thick-accented hostess to the dining room. inside, i expected a dark, wooden german whatever “german” means) interior, but it’s light, bright and yellow. it sure didn’t feel austrian. (see, i keep mixing them up.) in fact, with white tablecloths on the tables, rattan chairs, greenery along the walls, and snapshots of the “who’s who” of hollywood all ofer the walls, it feels more like a plantation. in hollywood. in 1981. actually, at one point it feels sort of like a truckstop because there is a freezer case peddling pints of charly temmel ice cream in the front.
but this isn’t about schatzi so much as it is about my culinary lesson in geography. the wine list is short and rather boring, so we pass, and instead order a couple of beers. the chef sends out a complimentary pasta/dumpling and cabbage concoction that had no name. leftovers from yesterday? i didn’t ask, but it was a little sweet, and tasted alright. nothing, and i mean nothing, special. except for the greek salad i ordered, our starters, the weisswurst with mustard and the fried cheese, are german. the weisswurst wasn’t bad, especially slathered with mustard. lufthansa says that camembert, breaded then fried, is very german, but it sure sounded like french to me. it tasted good as any fried cheese would, but i wondered how the accompanying toasted what-looked-like wonder bread and jelly played into it. maybe that’s what makes it german.
our gorgeous server is a teeny tiny dark-skinned, short dark-haired pixie. on her lower back, she has an intricate tattoo that peeks out from her bellybutton-ring-baring tanktop. she doesn’t look very german or austrian to me, so imagine my surprise when she and lufthansa are suddenly conversing in german! awesome. i love hearing foreign languages, even though i have absolutely no clue what they are saying, though i suspect it was something about the menu. i heard the word “schnitzel.”
spaetzle comes out first. i know spaetzle, because dad always talks about how much he wishes he could have authentic spaetzle (quite odd coming from a 65 year old asian man). droplets of dough are first boiled to cook through like any other noodle or dumpling, but scahtzi’s were then either sauteed or baked with butter and cheese because there were parts that had formed a bit of a brown crust like macaroni and cheese does. the spaetzle was delicious.
everything else comes out all at once. no wienerschnitzel, but something better, lufthansa tells us, zuricher gescinetzeltes. come again? he had to write that one down for me. it originates from zurich, hence the name, and is cut sauteed veal, served with a light brown cream sauce. i’m not so interested in the veal as i am about what’s in sauce. i want to ask, but my mouth is full of the browned potatoes and fried julienned leeks (or green onions? not sure). with the sauce, it’s not bad, and definitely better than the next thing i tried.
the rouladen is thin, flattened beef, rolled around pickled vegetables. i am unfamiliar with the cuisine, so perhaps it is supposed to taste that way, but the meat seemed a little tough and dry. and the sauce, as dark and glossy as it was, had very little flavor. i liked the pickled vegetables inside the rouladen, but i couldn’t take more of the rouladen, pick out the vegetables, and leave all the beef. lufthansa might get offended, and well, lufthansa signs my paycheck.
we also have a side of sauerkraut, which was sweeter and less tart than what i am used to on my stadium bratwurst, but i liked it better. the ‘kraut saved me, because i found that while german/austrian food is good, and schatzi presents it nicely, is just too bland for me.
we had the option of getting some of the charly temmel ice cream we passed on the way to our table, but as a final chapter in my austrian food primer, we have traditional kaiserschmarm. lufthansa tells me how his mother used to add raisins and sliced apples to a thick sweet batter, cook it like a pancake, cut it up, and serve kaiserschmarm. i listen to his reminiscing about his childhood in germany, all the while gobbling up pieces of pancake with raisins, soaked in syrup and heavily dusted with powdered sugar. it has the soft, custardy texture of a bread pudding. there’s lingonberry jam there, but why? as if fruit would make me feel any better about killing the diet that i used to be on.
so my lesson is over. i’ve learned about german/austrian food, but i don’t think i love it. it’s heavy, and lacks a bit of the spicy kick that i prefer in food. thankfully, there will be no follow-up quiz, unless it’s about desserts.
schatzi on main
3110 main street (@ marine)
santa monica, ca 90405