2253 Sunset Cliffs Blvd.
Say what you will about their automotive engineering, their highways without speed limits, their dark beers in silly ceramic glasses, their checkered political history or their humorless visages. German navel-gazing is inarguably without parallel, and German philosophers are the sine qua non of Western philosophy. So it is only appropriate that my first German meal in San Diego should cause me to ponder some larger questions. As I sliced through a tough, bland Frisbee of breaded veal, I had to wonder: what is the fucking point?
I had long been curious about the Kaiserhof Restaurant and Biergarten. (After all, it has "bier" in its name.) So on a recent trip into Ocean Beach, I convinced my semi-regular dining companion to drop by with me for dinner. As soon as we stepped inside, I second-guessed myself. Dozens of shiny plaques in the foyer boasted "Best of This 1996" and "Best of That 2001." (Most of the plaques boasted, "Best German Restaurant in San Diego." Who else was even in the running-Der Wienerschnitzel?)
Still, we headed toward the bar to wait for our table with giant mugs of umlaut-laden beer. And there it was, on the end of the bar: a paid-for review from the king of culinary advertorial himself, Wolfgang D. Verkaaik. As if the wall of plaques wasn't bad enough. But my companion was already ordering a soft pretzel the size of a seat cushion. It turns out that the pretzels are baked in L.A. and then heated locally.
"We have everything we need here to make them," the chef explained. "But it's very difficult."
Difficult? Didn't these people learn anything from Faust? To exist is to struggle, my Teutonic friends. Reheating SEP (someone else's pretzel) robbed the dough of its chewy shell, and left the innards lifeless. Our second snack was landjäger, tough but ultimately bland pressed sausage with excessively papery skin and gobs of soft fat that burst like boils with every bite. The escargot tasted like dirt. The wurst platte was a little better, featuring three unremarkable sliced sausages, from mass-market wiener to mass-market bratwurst. I guess if pretzels are too difficult, it only stands to reason that the kitchen would pass on sausage-making, too.
"I'm never eating again," I cried after my third über-beer. "I'm going to starve myself to protest my own mortality."
"You're such a lightweight," she growled.
At the table, we fought over the food, but not in a good way. I looked over at her goulash, a salty Dinty Moore-like beef stew. "Isn't goulash supposed to have, you know, stuff in it?"
"At least my soup doesn't look like poop," she snapped.
Yes, my liver dumpling soup closely resembled a medical sample. One might assume that the gustatory sensations of such a concoction would outweigh the visible ugliness. But one would be wrong, as the soup tasted like liverwurst balls boiled in beef broth. Score one for truth in advertising.
My three broad slices of meatloaf had a bizarre pate consistency and bitter flavor, drowning in a dark, salty mushroom gravy.
A quick German lesson: "schnitzel" means dry, bland, breaded meat; "spatzle" means wet, bland noodles. (Of the plethora of other side dishes scattered around the table, the potato pancake and German fried potatoes were enjoyable.)
The smoked pork chops approximated the taste and texture of the hyper-briny hams Aunt Ruth used to bring to every holiday gathering. Even the simple open-faced grilled cheese sandwich was fumbled by undercooked bacon with a too-sharp smoky flavor.
We finished with an apple strudel-apple interspersed with a few raisins and bland slivered almonds, wrapped in thin dough, topped with a thick drift of powdered sugar. It was too little too late. Each bite was more meaningless than the last. We left the bulk of the dessert untouched, and I considered the possibility that philosophers make lousy cooks.
"I can't write about this," I cried. "Useless. Useless. Why do I bother?"
My dining companion patted my back, and refilled my stein. "What about all those other people like you, people who still might be curious about this restaurant?" She said, soothing and patronizing. "Maybe you could help them."
My voice cracked, hopeful. "That would give my life meaning, wouldn't it?"
She shrugged. "It's a start."
Philosophize to cityeat@SDcity beat.com.