When is a bierhaus not just a joint to enjoy a beer and brat?
When J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is involved.
When Lopez-Alt joined forces with Adam Simpson, owner of nearby Grape & Grain craft beer and wine bar, and Tyson Mao, a Lyft project manager, they thought they’d open a low-key, no-big-deal restaurant in the city all three call home.
But Wursthall Restaurant & Bierhaus, which opens tonight, has drawn unprecedented attention far and wide.
That’s because of Lopez-Alt’s fame and following. The MIT grad is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and managing culinary director of Serious Eats, where he writes the popular “The Food Lab’’ column. His meticulously researched cooking techniques spark passion and discourse across the Internet.
Wursthall is the first restaurant he’s partnered in. “Initially they were looking for just menu consultation,” he explains. “But I wanted to be more involved. My wife and I bought a house here a few years ago. We noticed there was no modern place geared to families in an affordable price range. I had been talking to her about getting more involved with restaurants. But this is way bigger than anything I envisioned. I’m at a point where I don’t do anything for a paycheck. I do only projects I want to put my name on and really get involved in.’’
He definitely has here, designing the recipes, menu, kitchen layout and back-of-house operating systems. But don’t expect to see him in the kitchen on a daily basis. Wursthall’s menu is designed to be replicated easily by the crew there led by Chef de Cuisine Jonathan Ruedas, formerly of Eatsa’s commissary kitchen. Six sous-vide circulators lend a helping hand with consistency, too.
The dining room is a soaring, airy space, formerly home to Capellini’s, where Simpson remembers coming with his grandparents for red-sauce pasta when he was a kid. The copper railings incorporated in restaurant developer Pat Kuleto’s original design have been maintained and polished to a gleam.
You seat yourself here. And orders for food can be placed with any server that comes by. Just be sure to bring a credit card, because Wursthall doesn’t accept cash payment.
Last week, I had a chance to check out some of the food offerings during a media preview.
Although Wursthall does serve wine, beer is definitely where it’s at here. There are 29 on tap, with different faucets for each to reflect country of origin, too.
The rotating weekly taps feature some unusual brewski, including The Bruery’s Or Xata ($9 for 12 ounces), a horchata-inspired blonde ale that tastes pointedly of cinnamon. In fact, I had visions of how good this would be with apple pie as I took a sip. There’s also Mother Earth’s Sin Tax ($7 for 12 ounces), an imperial peanut butter stout. Yes, peanut butter. The dark, full-bodied beer arrives with a luscious creamy head. The peanut butter taste is more subtle than you would expect, with a note of bitter coffee at the forefront.
Pain D’Epi pull-apart pretzels ($11) made by San Mateo’s Backhaus are fun to share and irresistible when smeared with Bavarian cheese spread or honey butter.
Beets & Wheats ($14) is a vibrant chopped beet salad with toasted seeds and grains dotted with squirts of orange puree, almond ricotta and horseradish. The sweet-earthy taste of beets is intense. It’s a pretty dish, too, and a nice change of pace from the over-done beet and goat cheese salad so ubiquitous elsewhere.
Who can ever resist crispy potatoes? Here, you can have them three ways, including Bacon & Onion ($9). In this version, the crisp potato halves with creamy interiors are tossed with chunks of bacon so thick and rich, they are more akin to pork belly. A mustard aioli adds a spark of piquancy and creaminess to tie it all together. With a fried egg on top, this would make a satisfying breakfast, too.
Chicken Schnitzel Sandwich ($15) is a pounded, brined, breaded and fried chicken thigh that overflows its bun. It’s super moist and delicious with a preserved lemon-caper aioli. Like all the sandwiches, it comes with a mustardy house potato salad, plus a big pile of mixed greens, which were a little salty on this visit. It all makes for quite a substantial plate of food.
The Impossible Doner Kebap ($19) is made with Impossible Food’s faux meat that’s a blend of wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein and soy protein. Lopez-Alt has highly seasoned it with sumac, cumin, oregano and other spices to make this incredibly flavorful. It mimics gyro meat so well that it would probably fool most people who wouldn’t know that it was actually vegan. The slices are piled on a Turkish, sesame seed bun with pickled cucumbers, chiles, red onion, arugula and cilantro.
Sausages come from Dittmer’s Gourmet Meats & Wursthaus in Los Altos. The Chicken & Portobello ($15) has good snap and juiciness. Toppings are $1 extra. Adding grilled onions added more oomph to this sausage.
The only dessert available right now is the Pumpkin Seed Sundae ($7) and it’s a winner. Vanilla ice cream gets dressed up with a drizzle of toasty, rich pumpkin seed oil, a sprinkle of sea salt, and pieces of crunchy, wonderful pumpkin seed brittle. It’s toasty tasting, and veering almost into savoriness, which makes this so much more interesting than a typical sundae.
That sentiment also sums up Bierhaus — a beer and sausage place that definitely has it going on more than the norm.
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