"You have a great job," acquaintances declare when they find out what I do. "You're so lucky!"
"Yup," I agree unequivocally.
Then they turn to my husband. "And do you get to go along?"
"Of course," he nods. "I wouldn't let her go without me."
"Then you have an even better job!"
It's true that my constant companion -- in the past four years, he has missed only three "review" dinners -- has it pretty easy. As much as I enjoy this occupation, it's still work; no matter how delicious the meal, I have to concentrate what I have in the way of analytical, investigative, and writing skills (not to mention sense-memories). All he has to do is eat.
Still, the key word here is "job." Every once in a while, I realize that I rely on his company to the point where I've made my work his work. Sometimes I even feel sorry for him, like after really hard days when he comes home from work only to be told, "Hurry up and get ready. Our reservation is in an hour."
"God," he'll groan. "Wouldn't it be great if we could just go to Dab Haus?"
Dab Haus is a consistently good German restaurant not far from where we live that has a welcoming, neighborhood feel to it. In a perfect world, we like to relax there on Fridays after a long week, toasting the weekend with honey-garlic Brie and a big, big beer. In reality I'm often reviewing on Friday evenings and dragging my overworked husband with me. So it was with equal parts pleasure and relief that I informed him on a recent Friday that we'd be dining at Edelweiss, a Dab Haus-like establishment on Biscayne Boulevard just north of downtown that's run by former Haus chef Alex Richter and his partner Gabriel Erhard.
Richter has a penchant for decaying neighborhoods -- or maybe a nose for bargains. He last owned Movies, which flopped quickly in an equally dicey Biscayne Boulevard location (at 84th Street). But since he's been working on Edelweiss -- the location used to be a rehab center -- he says he's seen the neighborhood improve, and I have to agree with him: New Times recently moved in just up the block. The cops that dine regularly at the new gasthaus and restaurant don't hurt either.
Cops or no cops, the fare is a draw in itself. The menu is similar to Dab Haus's; Richter says both are typical of such lists, which are common in northern Europe. In fact, one of the only noticeable departures from the Beach's Bavarian is the honey-garlic cheese appetizer, made at Edelweiss with Camembert as opposed to Dab Haus's Brie. Otherwise, the starter that comprises chunks of garlic, smooth honey, and a small, melting wheel of cheese is identically delicious. Served sizzling hot with a small loaf of warmed bread for dipping, this is a terrific appetizer for those not-quite-cold-yet Florida nights.
The decor, too, is suggestive of cooler climes, conjuring up images of the Von Trapp family singers running around the hills of their homeland. The interior is innlike -- more like a house than a restaurant -- with two small dining rooms plus a bar, wood paneling, checked cloths on the tables, and dried flowers garnishing shelves crammed with Austro-German knickknacks. You almost expect to warm yourself at a hearth glowing with fragrant logs, but remembering where you really are you settle for the subtler fire of soup. We leaned for a moment toward the French onion, gratinated with Swiss cheese, but ultimately chose the bracing bowl of goulash. This hearty stew consisted of hunks of falling-apart beef and tender white potatoes, moistened with a paprika-enriched broth. Coupled with more bread, this can be a bit filling; but then, German cuisine doesn't register as one of the lightest in the world.
Sauteed oyster mushrooms, a more delicate appetizer for the daintier appetite, was a special on the evening of our visit. The pale, ruffled mushrooms were scrambled with a good quantity of butter and garlic and served with yet another long loaf of crusty carbohydrates. We were hungry enough to ask at the beginning of the meal for an order of toasty garlic bread (not on the menu); this turned out to be unnecessary.
All entrees were preceded by a refreshing little salad, crisp lettuce topped by shredded red cabbage and a light, tangy vinaigrette. Other than that, fresh greens are scarce in this restaurant unless you order a salad plate (topped with your choice of pork tenderloin, marinated baby shrimp, or sauteed chicken breast) or one of these three items: a vegetable crepe garnished with Emmentaler cheese, bread dumplings with mushrooms, or spaetzle with fresh vegetables. Having a soft spot for this last, we ordered a dish of the small rolled noodles and were served a generous portion, with verdant broccoli, red pepper, and fresh mushrooms interspersed throughout. Sauteed rather than steamed or boiled, the vegetables had something of a grilled flavor that added to the overall appeal of the dish.
Deciding between types of sausages was difficult. We avoided the problem by ordering a mixed entree of veal loaf, bratwurst, and bauernwurst (hot garlic sausage). The sauerkraut that accompanied the dish was authentic and aromatic with caraway seeds and juniper berries, and a scoop of creamy-chunky mashed potatoes had a nutmeggy flavor. The veal loaf -- meat that has been cured, ground, reformed into an oblong shape, and sliced, was a bit salty, we thought, while the bauernwurst had a tough, overcooked skin. Bratwurst, a mild veal sausage as thick as a wrist, was best, particularly when dipped in the strong grainy mustard served on the side.
Wiener schnitzel options include chicken and pork versions (one with an onion-mushroom sauce), but we went with the traditional veal. We weren't disappointed. The crisp, breaded cutlet was of a generous size, tender and juicy inside its crust. Mashed potatoes rounded out both this main course and an unusually good fish entree, Idaho trout. I'll take trout -- not a popular fish here in salty South Florida -- wherever I can get it, but I'll especially take it here. Two huge, boneless fillets were sauteed in a rich sherry sauce, the sweet flesh of the trout glistening under flecks of fresh garlic and creamy butter.
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You might have to force yourself to eat dessert, but the tart apple strudel is worth it. Soft, nonfibrous apples spiked with a healthy dose of cinnamon were crowded into a supple, multilayered crust and served hot with whipped cream. Swallowing the last bite of her strudel, one of my guests leaned back her chair and surveyed the northern European surroundings of Edelweiss, named for Austria's finest flower."You have a great job," she observed.
This time, before I could open my mouth, it was my husband who answered: "Yup."
2655 Biscayne Blvd; 573-4421. Open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. (Saturday and Sunday 4:00 to 11:00 p.m.)