I will begin this post by taking all the mystery out of it. First of all, the answer to the question that I, and I presume all of you who are similarly dairy allergic, ask, is yes, there are dishes at Cafe d’Alsace that are dairy free. Of course, if there weren’t why would I be eating there, but bear with me.
As for the “it” of this post’s title, I am referring to the romance I have been carrying on for these several years with my lovely wife Therese. You see, it was at Cafe d’Alsace that we met for our first date. It was Restaurant Week in NY back then, a twice annual period when many of the city’s great restaurants offer fixed price meals so that folks on a budget can for that time afford an exceptional meal. We had a very nice dinner that night at which we got to know each other a bit, and as they say, the rest is – well, not history, but more like a grand adventure. Which goes on to this day.
But getting back to the food. It is great when entering a restaurant to discover that there are a whole range of dishes on their menu that are dairy free. But let me tell you, Cafe d’Alsace only has to have one such dish to make me smile to the outer extent of my face: choucroute garnie. A friend of mine introduced me to this dish years back, and I will always remember him, and love him, for it. It’s pretty simple: sauerkraut, potatoes and pork products. With an emphasis on the latter, as the song goes.
When I was there most recently with Therese, for another Restaurant Week dinner, I actually did venture a tiny bit outside my comfort zone. I saw on the menu that they also offer a duck choucroute, and my mind filled with wonder imagining what it might be like to put sauerkraut and duck (another thing I love to eat) together.
The dish came in a rustic cast iron pan set on a cutting board. It was garnished with a large sprig of rosemary, hinting at how the dish was prepared. There were three duck preparations: a duck confit leg, a duck breast, and a plump duck sausage. Each one was more rich and satisfying then the next. But I have to say, the star of this dish is the sauerkraut. It is so soft and sweet and many-layered in its flavor. If someone told me that all I could eat for the rest of my life was sauerkraut, I would be happy, but only if my meals were prepared with this recipe. I’m sure there are juniper berries involved, and some other choice spices.
So now you see, I have two things I can reliably order at Cafe d’Alsace. But there may come a day when I grow bored with their sauerkraut perfection and explore the menu further. I bet there are other things I could eat there. As for drinking, exploring their wine and beer lists is a worthwhile endeavor. This is one of the few restaurants where you can find the amazing Schlenkerla Rauchbier, for example. Schlenkerla is a beer that, yes my friends, tastes like bacon. So of course it goes smashingly with choucroute garnie. This I know from experience. They also have great Alsacian wines, like our favorite, the Gewurztraminer, a white wine with enough backbone and complexity to go toe to toe with choucroute garnie.
If you are already tired of hearing about my sauerkraut, I will tell you that Therese also had an extraordinary dish – duck (breast and confit) with potatoes and a duck jus that was sweetened with a bit of raspberry.
For dessert, as usual there was sorbet for the dairy allergic diner. But do not feel sorry for me.
First of all, they very wisely added some berries and a dollop of raspberry sauce, which made the sorbet more exciting. Second, with such an extraordinary meal already having taken place, I didn’t mind a bit of anti-climax.