Sunday, October 25, 2015

Maybe, eventually, they'll take David Hasselhoff AND IPAs

After Strasbourg we returned to Tübingen (where we lived in 2013) for a week of nostalgic excursions (at least that was my perspective; J had already been working with collaborators for several weeks). Sarah joined us too, leaving the three boys in Paris.

We had an amazing apartment with a great view of Tübingen's iconic hill (thank you Betty!).

Of course we made it back to Bebenhausen Monastery.

And of course one night we took a nostalgic trip to our old apartment and local pub, which still serves the best käsespätzle around. 

 Here's Ella at the pub two plus years ago.

And here she is last week, in a more subdued mood.

We had our favorite Calabrian wood-oven-fired pizza.

And, after deciding against a traffic-y trip to Böblingen in search of what seemed, online, to be a German-made American Pale Ale from the Schönbuch Brewery, we trekked up the hill to Schwärzlocher Hof, which was a little cold and rainier than 2013. But the peacocks were impressive.

The beer list was not impressive, however, a classic example of how frustrating German beer lists can be -- especially given the cold reality that Schwabenbräu isn't very good. I need to do some research into the question of whether the problem is not just taste buds (stay tuned below for that thesis), but, like in Mexico, a system in which breweries front money to bars and in return enjoy complete dominance. But I don't think Schwärzlocher Hof, which has been serving beer on the site since 1829, needed brewery capital to open ... and restaurants in Germany are usually dominated by the local brewery, not one of the global giants, as in Mexico.

Mike and I had the flavorless Schwarz (or dark), trying to trick our taste buds into thinking we were drinking, say, a red IPA. I think the Dinkelacker alkoholfrei, one of Joe's favorites, would have been better. The onion tart and the ice cream sundae were good though.

Next, we had a very fun lunch catching up with our language-course group. The cafeteria at MPI is as delicious as I remember .... man I love Schweinebraten.

On our last night, Joe and Betty hosted us to play video games, circa 1983, which Joe has on a reconfigured table top arcade counsel. Apparently the East German state stole some code from the West and made a couple of knock-off games, that they even made available in western-style arcades. The graphics must have been ten years behind, which I think provides a new hypothesis to work on concerning the end of the Cold War ... but then again I sort of enjoyed the ski racing game.

Joe's training Ella to become a computer scientist. Here he is yelling "bubble bubble" whenever she needed to fire.

Ella's perfect bilingualism makes her even cuter, if that's possible. We weren't sure if she ever realized we speak restaurant German at most ...

It took 8 months living in Tübingen in 2013, and a week this time around, but on the very last night, success! We found an honest-to-goodness made-in-Germany IPA: a Dolden Sud IPA, to be exact, brewed in the Bavarian town of Riedenburg. This was a pretty mild IPA by American standards, mind you -- clocking in at 55 IBUs -- ha ha, exactly the same count as Cedar's cherished Goose Island IPA by Budweiser -- but it tasted like a slice of heaven to Mike, who's been living in Germany for over a year.

The one image from this trip I wish I had captured but could not was Joe's expression upon tasting an IPA. Remember the 1990s Keystone Beer Bitter Beer Face campaign? It gives you the idea ...

And even better, Joe's father repeated this face when he tried it. The Revolution is probably going to be evolutionary ... Maybe the Avenues Proper can partner with David Hasselhoff to launch a German IPA.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Kein Duck a l'Orange in Strasbourg

J went to Paris and Strasbourg for the weekend to see John and Sarah and Issac and Jonas, who are living in Paris for the year, and also to see Philipp and Maria, who came over from Stuttgart, and for the romance of Paris in the morning. 

But I went to escape the Trumpen Proletariat, and in search of Duck à l'Orange. Sure, we were warned that the traditional cliched dish is primarily served to tourists and old people (usually one and the same), and sure, it's absurd that in the U.S. we call it Duck a l'orange rather than Canard a l'orange or Orange Duck, and sure, John calls it a "pretty unattractive dish," but whatever, I've always liked the stuff.

John's duck confit with duck fat potatoes (better than my potatoes, I have to concede) only whetted the appetite.

And plus, maybe there's something to be said for chasing the classics in a city (Paris) that now serves this (read the sign above the bun).

Then again, at least the French are willing to embrace new things. Which brings me to ... European beer. That's right baby, we're back in business! Not wishing to start off on a disappointing beer foot (that came a couple nights later in Tuebingen), I decided I'd bring my own American beer for our arrival happy hour in Strasbourg. Then ensued an onslaught of IPAs -- a flight with as little variety as that found at a German restaurant. The Americans loved it, but unfortunately it was something of shock to Philipp, who went into something of a delirious hop coma (before he enthusiastically labeled a couple of the beers "fine").**

** There are some green shoots on the German hop farm. The latest hop market report from hop brokers the Barth-Haas Group reports, "Worldwide hop acreage surpasses 50.000 ha (123,500 acres) for the first time since 2010; continued shift towards aroma/flavour in the US and more varietal changes in Germany. . . . As promised, German growers have planted more of the three new varieties with “New World” aroma character that so many brewers (and presumably drinkers) want."

Strasbourg is well know for housing the European Parliament,

but it's mostly a Rick Steves-approved European play-land of half timber houses and canals and a beautiful cathedral.

For dinner we decided to embrace the Alsatian and went cheese-centric. Philipp and Maria and the boys had fondue, John and Sarah had an absurdly great cheese plate,

and J and I had raclette -- or, for those not familiar, cheese melted with a room heater so that it drips over potatoes, served with various kinds of pork and pickles.

I think we only scratched the surface of the cheese available to us this night.

Now, when you end up at a place called Académie de la Bière, you think you might be able to find a variety of beers. And you know, maybe they could label the taps. But this being Europe, we ended up with an unknown beer that, as Philipp pronounced it, "was just a beer." Of course we were all in cheese comas anyway, each of us vowing not to eat cheese for varying durations of time. I'm telling you, I could hardly walk by the restaurant's booth the next day at some festival, as much as I appreciated the mustache. 

Meanwhile, the search for Duck à l'Orange was proving fruitless. And it's not like Strasbourg doesn't embrace the authentic-meets-old-school. See the cheese above. And while I know a true French bakery is becoming harder to find, I'm pretty sure this place was the real deal. 

And check out the butter a bakery gave Philipp and Maria when they asked for "a little butter"  to bring to our apartment.

And yes, some French people really do still wear berets. And some 8-year-old Americans do, too. Isaac's thoughts on Foucault can wait for another entry ...

But in the end, the only ducks we saw were on the the Ill River, from the more-enjoyable-than-we-predicted boat tour. 

J and I are sure going to miss those perfectly behaved little Enfant Terribles, but on to Tuebingen.