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Viewed from Collins Avenue Treffpunkt Biergarten might appear intimidating. The year-old German seafood-and-steak house squats in the parking lot of the R.K. Sunny Isles Plaza, framed by an extensive strip mall. A large square building, the restaurant features tinted glass walls, which at night look black as a thundercloud, prohibiting potential patrons from seeing whether any other customers are actually in there. Patio seating doesn't appear to be a much better option, the carbon monoxide emissions from passing cars more potent in their own way than nine-percent-alcohol Oktoberfest beer. Not to mention the plethora of barricades that litter the construction-ridden roadway, which make entering the parking lot a quickie test of one's stunt-driving skills. And let's face it: Most of us don't consider German cuisine a life-or-death matter.
Should you choose to persevere, you might think the eatery's interior is a little off-putting, too. Faux gray stone patterns the floor under the hostess stand, giving way to what looks like an army-issue carpet, the color of which reminded me of my husband's face after too many candy apples and upside-down roller coaster rides at the Dade County Youth Fair. With a large-screen TV set blasting news and soccer highlights in German, coupled with a staff and clientele chattering away in that same language, the overall effect is European hotel lobby -- and we're not talking about a five-star hotel.
But if you've managed to get this far, it's well worth your while to stick around.
Just don't order the French onion soup. More like cream of cornstarch, the stuff had a thick, jellylike consistency and a metallic aftertaste. Celery overwhelmed the onions, and even topped with a garlicky piece of toast and melted cheese, the soup was a poor translation. Goulash soup, a Bavarian staple, proved far more inspiring, its paprika-sweet broth enriched with shreds of beef, chunks of potatoes, and chopped onions. Sort of a German chili.
Besides the soups (lobster bisque, bouillon, and traditional liver-dumpling soup are also offered) and salads, only two appetizers are available. Smoked salmon with horseradish sauce was sold out on a recent evening, so we settled for "jumbo shrimps 'Palm Beach,'" an item that turned out to be something of a misnomer. (We'd find this to be a recurring theme.) Eight medium-size crustaceans, alternating with slices of lemon, clung to a goblet containing iceberg lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and shredded carrots. A Russian dressing that coated the salad sufficed for cocktail sauce.
Lacking the potatoes, green beans, and egg halves that traditionally garnish the dish, the Biergerten's rendition of salade niaoise was more like a tuna salad -- a scoop of flaked tuna mixed with onions and house vinaigrette on a bed of iceberg lettuce enlivened by black olives, pickled red cabbage, and thin-sliced white radishes. Quite tasty, but the house salad, served to anyone who orders an entree, easily outshone it. A center of crisp iceberg laden with a cream and dill dressing was surrounded by various chilled salads -- carrot, wax beans, cucumber, and sauerkraut -- all marinated in the best German deli tradition.
Not that you really need the extra food. Portions here can be colossal. Geflugel-geschnetzeltes "Zuricher Art", for instance, boneless pieces of chicken breast meat sauteed in white wine and finished with a rich mushroom cream sauce, a dish whose only flaw was too-dry poultry. Or the pfeffer steak mit grunem pfeffer in rahm sauce, a grilled pepper steak that weighs in, according to the the menu, at 250 grams or nine ounces, depending upon what measurement system you (and your country) use.
We passed over the four steak choices (three strip and one filet) for Biergerten-pfanne, the specialty of the house. Served in a skillet whose handle poked up toward the ceiling, a grilled chopped steak not unlike Salisbury was bathed in herb butter and topped with the same mushrooms in cream sauce that blanketed the chicken. The beef was dense, juicy and soft and spiked with cloves of garlic. Home-fried potatoes were sprinkled with caraway seeds, with a slice of bread pudding providing nice contrast. Creamed vegetables, including cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots, and a dollop of sour cream filled in the last empty pie-wedge of pan.
Treffpunkt Biergurten does seafood as well as it does chopped steak. Eight garlic shrimp were browned in a skillet with diced tomatoes and cloves of garlic. Crowned with sour cream, the shrimp were snappy and succulent, though less filling than the other dishes. Fresh fish were a fleshier story. A fragrant fillet of Atlantic salmon, flaky and tender, was a huge serving. Rather than the herb butter and parsley potatoes with which it was supposed to come, the salmon was dressed with the by-now ubiquitous mushrooms.
Despite the amount of red snapper I've consumed in South Florida, I was still entranced by Treffpunkt's version -- and not only because the menu description was completely wrong. Supposedly grilled and then dunked in a white wine sauce and jimmied with capers and fresh herbs, this fillet was actually pan-fried to a beautifully crisp exterior and a moist interior. A wine and cream sauce blanketed the fish, which was decorated with chopped tomatoes, scallions, and cucumber. An excellent preparation, if not quite the dish I thought I was ordering. A choice of home fries, rice pilaf with mushrooms and peas, or baked potato, as well as the aforementioned vegetable medley, accompanied this and all the other entrees.