Look! There are gnomes in the vines! Or maybe those were just the grape pickers. It was hard to say for sure as we spent all day Saturday - of our wine country getaway weekend - cruising the Mosel.
First stop, Bernkastel Kues, a short 10 minute drive downriver from our base in Müllheim, a sweet medevil town on the river enclosed by vineyards. What you don't see in this photo are the tourist buses parked in the bottom left hand corner. There were no hidden gems in the Mosel.. at least that we discovered. The towns worth visiting, i.e. picturesque in setting, beautifully restored architecture, cobbled pedestrian areas and vineyards offering tastings and local specialties, were worth a visit for these reasons. And were no secret.
The stops in between, where the roads were too narrow for parking buses, were empty. I don't know if its a chicken-or-egg question but we stopped in a few of these towns in my quest for the real Mosel, the off-the-beaten-path Mosel, the "Hey Hans, where do you buy your lederhosen?" Mosel. But alas, we did not find it. At least not in the random villages that we picked. The aging slate houses advertising tastings were locked up, the backroads led us to Brunhilda's unterhosen hanging out on the laundry line, and Brunhilda and her neighbor's all wore the same expression that nearly audibly wondered, "What the hell are they doing here?"
Burg Eltz, a dreamy medevil fort in the middle of noooowhere. A brisk hike into the valley and gravity coupled with federweisser made for a slow haul back up the hill.
This photo illustrates two things: that grape pickers in the Mosel valley must have an extremely nuanced sense of balance and that my husband has poor taste in winter hats.
This is Beilstein - a little village that we found by chance when we pulled over to look at the map and realized we were sitting in front of a car ferry dock. We drove on and wound up here... and I will just let the Mosel Tourism website do the talking (this is the site's English translation, presumably taken from babblesfish or some other online word-for-word translation service):
"The fascinating nice small town hatchet stone lies with one of the most impressive Moselle loops, at the exit of a narrow brook valley, embedded between vineyards and Moselle valley; not free of charge it is called the Sleeping Beauty of the Moselle.
Worth seeing in this romantic Moselle place appear the picturesque market with the unique tenth house and the former parish church Saint Christopherus, the cloister stair which leads to the Carmelite's cloister with the black Madonna, the showpiece of the baroque minster.
Also the knight's hall and many homely half-timbered houses, lanes and corners are visits-worth. Already with the first stroll one understands that hatchet stone often enough served as a romantic film scenery."
And let that be a lesson to anyone considering using free online translation services.
On the aforementioned cloister stair...
Climbing flights of cloister stairs should always be followed by tasting flights of wine. We ducked into this cavern where groups of tasters were taking their task very seriously. The owner informed us that if we did a tasting, we were obligated to buy at least one bottle of one of the wines. We opted for a simple federweisser instead, no strings attached.
A little wary and none the federweisser (ha!), we headed back to the hotel for dinner at the Culinarium R Restaurant, saving the best for last. There were four different four - five course menus and it was understood that we would not be getting the same one. The advantage of having a dining companion in my opinion is not only avoiding the pitying glances of other diners, it is a free pass to taste different menus. They all looked amazing: however, the vegetarian option sounded a little mundane next to its meaty opponents. The fish menu, while tempting, was still slightly lackluster when compared to the "Menü Cluinarium R" and the "Menü Decouvert" - Ingo opted for the former, I choose the latter. And the competition was ON.
Ingo's Tortchen von Gänseleber und Spanferkelbäckchen eingelegt Quitten und Winterpostelein
How do I explain this - it was like a cake - like baumkuchen for those of you who know the German Christmas treat - but replace the chocolate with goose liver and pork cheek - accompanied by quince preserve and field greens. The cake was going to float off the plate but the goose liver gave it gravity. The greens were fresh and the quince cleansing. A winner.
vs.Jiff's Feines von der Wachtel Terrine-geräucherte Brust -Essenz
Quail terrine, smoked breast - essence
I guess I am not a terrine fan - it's like an opaque jello, a firm and flavorless custard, dried Elmer's glue. Obviously it depends on the terrine but I find them slightly bland and the texture rather unappetizing. The smoked quail breast was sweet and smokey, the jus was subtle and the greens were laced with speck. I am afraid the first round of this meal went to Ingo's liver cake, however.
Scallops with spicy bread chips, and field flower-wild herb pesto
I love any and all scallops. Love. I love the texture, I love how they fall apart in your mouth, melt into little flakes of subtle fishy goodness. Aside from the scallops, the bread chips were a bit odd, I am not a fan of chickpeas unless they are mashed into hummus and the pesto was out of place here. Then again, I love scallops.
Geschäumtes Kartoffelsüppchen Kräutersaitlinge und Ochsenschwanzpraline
Foamy , big meaty mushroom and ox tail praline
I was a bit skeptical of the but once again it was a light foamy frothy creamy bowl of comfort and the the meaty mushroom gave it texture and omigod that ox tail praline - a breaded and fried meatball mash was sooooo good, it reminded me of all the croquets we ate in Groningen after visiting one of the ahem coffee shops. It was so flavorful and sooooo delicious - I could have eaten a bowl full of the pralines. I won this one, sorry scallops.
Hirschkalbsrücken in Vakuum gegart würziges Burgunderkraut und Maronen-Brotsoufflé
Baby dear back in vacuum sealed herbed burgunderkraut and chestnut bread soufflé
I know deer are cute and I loved the movie Bambi as much as anyone but, ooooooh venison is sooooooooo good. This was a rather large piece of the little guy and the bread soufflé was like throwing a warm sweater on him. The vacuum sealed kraut was flighty and mysterious, experimental and strange in a good way that contrasted with the masculinity of this dish.
Ballotine of veal with truffel sautéed sweetheart cabbage and rutabega mouse
I will be honest, I immediately honed in on this dish because I remember quizzing Smash about her studies at the California Culinary Academy and when I asked her about the most difficult thing that she can make she said rabbit ballotine and I remember thinking 'what the hell is ballottine?', sounded like guillotine - cannot be good for the poor bunny but I bet it's tasty. So, ballotine it was but not of rabbit, of veal. The meat was wrapped in "sweetheart cabbage", the dark green variety that has the texture of a crumpled piece of paper. I think I wept a few small tears when I tasted the the truffel sauce. The rutabaga mouse was a bit bland but that is ok because I poured truffel sauce all over it mwahahaha (insert evil laugh track here). Once again, I take this round of the menu showdown. No contest.
Pudding von Dörrobst Rotwein-Butter-Eis und Mandelsahne
Dried fruit pudding with red wine-butter ice cream and almond cream
It was a lovely fall dessert, the pudding was the variety that 'sticks to your ribs' as my mother would say. The warmth and weight of the pudding complimented the light cream and was cooled by the ice cream.
Unfortunately I have forgotten precisely what this gorgeously plated dessert consisted of exactly. It included a cannolli, a parfait pyramid, a pumpkin cream and a .
At the end of the evening, the Decouvre had amassed the requisite number of points to win the competition but we still felt as though we had both done well.
Mosel, thank you for a lovely kid-free weekend (although the gnomes helped remind us of the children), for feeding us well and entertaining us thoroughly. We will be back!