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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Das Alpen Café (Rincón): Pretentious, Overpriced, Microwaved?

Das Alpen Café,
Rincón, Puerto Rico
$$$$$

Dinner Salad
Rincón is better known for big waves, deeply tanned surfers, and pizza joints than it is for fine dining and Das Alpen Café will not change that image. At the Southwest end of the plaza in heart of downtown Rincón, the restaurant is unassuming and having arrived on Three Kings Day (Puerto Rico’s second Christmas) we were not sure it was even open for business based on the sparseness of furnishings inside. If they were going for a minimalist look, they were highly successful.

We arrived shortly after six two nights later and beside the hostess and a waiter, we were the only people in sight. The hostess sat us and quickly returned to her dinner at the bar while typing away on her cell phone. The only thing in the room that looks Bavarian is the flag hanging in front of the kitchen entrance, the tables few and uncovered, and the music a light jazz with no resemblance to anything either Italian or German as is advertised.

Potato Leek Soup ($3.50) and Goat Cheese Tart ($8)
Our server, Jeffrey, was very nice and attentive. I ordered a stout ($9.50), one of only two draught beers on the menu and the closest thing to a Warsteiner Dunkle available and one of the most expensive beers I have consumed, including at overpriced airports. We started with the savory goat cheese tart (described as goat cheese with caramelized onions and basil - $8) and a cup of “crème of potatoes and leek soup” ($3.50). The soup quickly arrived and, while reasonably tasty, was lukewarm and could have used a garnish to add some color. We had to ask for bread, but by the time it finally arrived what was left of my soup was long cold. The tart was an utter disappointment. Looking more like a small, sad piece of quiche than a tart, it had obviously been “nuked” with the soggy crust separating from the filling and no caramelized onions or basil in sight.

Jägerschnitzel - $20
I had the Jaeger Schnitzel, described as “Hunters Schnitzel, a pork cutlet with white wine and cream reduction with bacon and wild mushroom served with red cabbage and homemade bread dumplings”. As a schnitzel lover, I have eaten schnitzel dozens of times throughout Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, and the United States, I was surprised by the size of the cutlet and not in a good way. German schnitzel normally covers a large plate, but the red cabbage dwarfed this one, yet looking massive next to “the” lone dumpling (not “dumplings” as was described on the menu). A little bigger than a Swedish meatball, I had to ration the little dumpling to make it last as long as possible. The hunter sauce was good, a bit too salty, with small pieces of mushroom, minced onion, and bacon, but barely enough to cover the cutlet and none leftover for the dumpling or bread, which was being rationed three small pieces at a time.

Forest Schnitzel - $20
My wife ordered the Forest Schnitzel, a “pork cutlet with Marsala wine and mushroom sauce served with red cabbage and homemade bread dumpling”. Again, the cutlet was small in comparison to every other schnitzel I have ever had, but the Marsala sauce was very good, light, and slightly sweet from the reduction of this fruity wine from the small town in Sicily where it gets its name. She also received one dumpling, slightly larger than mine, and left most of her red cabbage which was sweet and acidic as Bavarian red cabbage should be, but overcooked and soggy.

Das Alpen Café attempts to appear “gourmet” with large prices and small portions, but fails to deliver. German food in general and schnitzel in particular is meant to be consumed in large portions with an abundance of sauce and mushrooms, a large portion of potatoes or spaetzel, and nothing red or soggy on the plate. Granted, Rincón is a tourist area and prices are expected to be a bit higher than small fishing villages like Punta Santiago, but Das Alpen Café left me uninspired in terms of TravelValue.

CombatCritic Gives Das Alpen Café 6 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GUT!

Key Words: Das Alpen Café, alpen, café, Rincón, Ricon, Puerto Rico, puerto, rico, German, Italian, food, dinner, tart, schnitzel, Jaeger, CombatCritic, TravelValue

Jaeger (Jäger) Schnitzel Recipe

Schnitzel
1-pound thin veal or pork cutlets
1/2-teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/3-cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1-cup fine, dry bread crumbs
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Sauce
1 lb. Mushrooms, washed and cut into bite-size slices
2-3 slices bacon, sliced into small pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2-cup vegetable, beef, or chicken broth
1/2-cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon dried thy
A small bunch parsley, finely chopped
Extra milk as needed

Season each cutlet with salt and pepper (both sides) and let stand at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. You will need 3 plates, adding flour to the first, eggs to the second, and breadcrumbs to the third. Arrange the plates in a row, close to the stove. Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy skillet or pan over moderately high heat for about 2 minutes. Coat each cutlet with flour, dunk it in the eggs, and then coat it with breadcrumbs, putting the coated cutlet immediately into the hot skillet. Cook each side for about 3 minutes or until each side is a deep golden brown. Remove the schnitzel and place it on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any extra grease and keep warm in the oven.

Using the same pan as you made the schnitzel in, fry the mushrooms until they begin releasing water. Remove them from the pan and set aside. Add a little butter to the same pan, add onions and bacon, and cook until the onions begin to brown. Add the mushrooms back to the pan, then add the broth, cream, salt, pepper, and thyme. Bring mixture up to a simmer and continue until liquid has noticeably reduced (about 15-20 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Stir milk into the sauce until the sauce reaches the desired consistency (shouldn't be too thin). Remove pan from heat, stir in 2/3 of the chopped parsley, and add salt and pepper as needed. To serve, place a schnitzel on a plate and top with the sauce, sprinkling some chopped parsley over the sauce and serve with pan-fried potatoes or spaetzel (spätzel) … ENJOY!

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