Thursday, April 27, 2017

Das Lokal serves up flawless Teutonic treats

The annual A Taste for Life fundraiser in support of Ottawa's Bruce House facility, which offers housing and services for people in our community living with HIV/AIDS, is one of my favourite events. Dozens of local restaurants donate 25 per cent of their sales on a Wednesday night in April to Bruce House, which means we have a great excuse to go out for a delicious dinner and also support this amazing charity. Our friend M usually books a table at whatever restaurant her brother is "hosting" (greeting diners, telling them about the fundraiser, soliciting additional donations in exchange for a chance to win prizes, etc.) and always invites us along.

This year's location was Das Lokal, a small former chicken hut in the lower Byward Market that now serves elegant and delicious German-inspired fare, wonderful cocktails, and divine desserts in a homey, pretty room in shades of grey and white, with two walls of windows and a white upright piano tucked against a wall. Six of us crammed into one of their three huge booths and thoroughly enjoyed a fantastic meal.

A round of tasty drinks started us off right: my Orange Earl Grey Sour was a lovely balance of citrus and tea notes with vodka as its kicker. Chris tried the U-Bahn with Aperol, pineapple, and passionfruit. Other tempting choices included a smoked old-fashioned and a kimchi Caesar. The wine list is short but well-selected; I had a lovely dry rosé from southern France, and Chris enjoyed a glass of crisp white Sylvaner. German and Austrian beers are also on tap, including the rarely-seen apple Radler from Stiegl (they have the grapefruit one too).

As this was not your typical Wednesday night for the restaurant, the front-of-house staff were a little bit overworked, but their demeanour remained pleasant and helpful throughout, and we were in good company so we waited patiently for the eventual delivery of top-notch comestibles. I opted for the daily soup, a velvety-smooth tomato (vegan) kicked up with a swoosh of reduced balsamic and a restrained dollop of onion jam. I would eat tomato soup every day and night, and this one was terrific.

Knowing I'd want dessert, I kept my "main" light with a charcuterie plate, which was anything but simple. One can select three items from a list of five or six cheeses and eight or so meats and fishes. I went with Oka cheese, smoked duck breast, and salmon gravlax, something I adore and rarely see on menus. All the meats and fish are cured or smoked in-house, and it showed: the gravlax was velvety, toothsome perfection; the duck breast sliced paper-thin with the perfect amount of smooth fat around pink meat, smoky but not campfired. Even the aged Oka classique, which came sliced thinly instead of as the usual wedge, was at proper temperature. The accompanying pickles and chutneys elevated the whole thing to epic status: whatever was in the diced pickled carrot and celery concoction, I want more of it. The cherry chutney was also divine, though the squash puree with star anise leaned a little weird (but I admire the creativity!). Herby, rustic breadsticks and char-marked baguette crostini formed an adorable bouquet in a tiny bowl.

Chris, along with two other members of our party, opted for the classic pork schnitzel with mustard, spätzle, and pickles, which arrived in a fair-but-not-stupid portion, all its components beautifully executed and tasty as hell, according to him. It all disappeared with haste.

The house-made bratwurst plate with potato sauce and mustard was deeply appreciated by the gluten-free member of our company. I tried a bite of the sausage and was deeply impressed. It's great value too, easily a small main for the price of an appetizer.

One of our friends was seated with a view of the kitchen pass-through and caught a glimpse of the touted Black Forest cake, exalting in its use of whole sour cherries rather than jam, as with so many downmarket versions. Three of us ordered a slab (and I do mean slab) of the gorgeous confection, three layers of chocolate cake filled with sour cherry compote, kirsch liqueur, and softly whipped cream, the whole thing dusted with cocoa. I tried a bite and was blown away.

Myself, I can never resist a chocolate punch to the face, and ordered the house made truffle plate. Three lovely chocolate coated marbles of dense ganache, two flavoured gently with rosemary and one with bourbon, plus a mound of orange-scented ganache on its own, dotted with perfect berries atop a swoosh of crème fraîche, made for a decadent end to my meal. I don't even like rosemary much and these were awesome.

Our friend R, a very serious home cook and restaurant aficionado, was as impressed as I was with Das Lokal. We all left well-fed and watered, pleasantly sated and happy (if a tad overheated from the small room filled with warm bodies). Every one of us would return in a heartbeat. I found myself hoping to end up back in that lovely room much sooner than next April.

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