THE THREE S’s • Brooklyn Paper


  Tastes like Europe: The smoked trout salad appetizer (right), served with Goesser beer, is a naturally delicious pairing at Cafe Steinhof on Seventh Avenue at 14th Street.
The Brooklyn Papers / Greg Mango

Paul Goebert knew he had a good thing going when he opened
Max & Moritz five years ago. The Franco-American cafe with
a German beer garden at 426 Seventh Ave. was an immediate success.

"I opened it on Dec. 18, and by New Year’s, we were fully
booked," said Goebert.

Goebert, who hails from Austria, also started a monthly Austrian
dinner. It was so popular, he decided to open an entire restaurant
featuring Austrian fare. The result: Cafe Steinhof, half a block
from Max & Moritz on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 14th
Street, opened its doors just two weeks ago.

Inside and out, Cafe Steinhof, named for an Austrian beer, has
a European feel. Long and narrow spring windows with black metal
frames curve around the corner of the cafe bringing to mind German
"bier gartens" with a hint of British pub. Round tables
on the sidewalk with large umbrellas suggest a French bistro,
and the interior – all dark wood with a long bar along one wall
– is a pleasant mix of hip and urbane.

The place is busy and alive, with a noise level that would preclude
a quiet tete a tete. (We were there on a Tuesday night, and it
was hopping!) Tables are so close together that a romantic interlude
would also be out of the question.

Austrian cuisine is not one we are often exposed to in Brooklyn.
French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese – we’ve all become fairly
savvy about international food – but Austrian restaurants tend
to be few and far between.

It was refreshing to look at a menu that was so different and
yet so true to its cultural roots: potatoes, cabbage, dumplings,
sausage. The approach to cooking is uniquely theirs. With spaetzle
(small dumplings), schnitzel (meat that’s been dipped in egg,
breaded and fried) and sauerbraten (beef that’s been marinated
for several days and then roasted) on the menu – one needs a
quick lesson in culinary terms before ordering.

We started with the innovative, chilled celery and potato soup
– a beautiful, pale-green soup that highlighted the all-too-overlooked
flavor of celery. It was silky, with the slight crunchiness of
finely chopped celery, and it was topped with speckles of dark-brown
pumpkinseed oil.

Next came the smoked trout and potato salad appetizer. The rich,
smoky flavor of the fish was nicely tempered by the blandness
of the potatoes, while the addition of chopped jalapenos lent
a hint of piquancy.

I felt like I was in a New York deli when I tasted another starter,
the chicken liver pate, so full-bodied was the flavor. But the
addition of sour cherries was an elegant complement to the pate,
creating an almost sweet-and-sour sensation.

For our main course, we sampled the two most popular entrees:
wiener schnitzel and chicken paprika.

"These two dishes win, hands down," said Goebert. "I
can never have enough of them on hand."

I was impressed with the simplicity and unpretentiousness of
the food. The wiener schnitzel was made the way it’s been made
for generations in Austria – with thinly sliced veal dipped in
egg and breadcrumbs and fried in a pan. The schnitzel is served
with a side of parsley potatoes and a nearly pickled cucumber

The chicken paprika, too, was simple, with those two flavors
being allowed to speak for themselves. While there was a tomato
base, there were no subterranean flavors, nor layering as is
so common in our new American cuisine. The chicken paprika is
served with spaetzel.

Goebert is the chef at both of his restaurants (though he has
now trained another chef to man the kitchen at Max & Moritz).

"In Europe everyone knows how to cook," said Goebert,
who, even while studying to be a lawyer, kept up with his cooking.
"I learned from my mother and my grandmother."

He was also inspired by a stint in New Orleans where he learned
about Cajun cuisine. "It’s a lot like Austrian," he
said. "They like their food very spicy and cook everything
in a big pot – the gumbos and jambalayas."

Also on the Cafe Steinhof menu is goulash, meatloaf and for the
vegetarians in the audience, a buckwheat fettuccine with broccoli,
quark (a sauce of unripened cheese with a texture like sour cream)
and red peppers.

Cafe Steinhof also offers 10 beers on tap and five bottled beers
that hail from Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic and Britain
as well as a short wine list.

The grand finale to our meal was dessert – chocolate custard
and linzer torte. The custard was dense, dark and deeply, delectably
chocolatey, with a dollop of whipped cream on top. The linzer
torte (an elegant, rich tart from Linz, Austria, originally made
with ground almonds, grated lemon rind, a buttery crust and jam)
was the best I’ve ever had. This version, made with tart cherries,
didn’t have the cloying sweetness some of those made with jam
do, and was rich and subtle.

For anyone interested in a cuisine that really hasn’t been explored
much here, Cafe Steinhof is the ticket. While it’s not the place
for a romantic diner a deux, if you’re in the mood for a fun
outing, the atmosphere is lively and young.

Cafe Steinhof is located at 422 Seventh Ave. at 14th Street.
Entrees: $9 to $13. Cafe Steinhof also offers brunch on Saturdays
and Sundays from 11 am to 4 pm. For more information, call (718)
369-7776. Accepts MasterCard, Visa and American Express.

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