The arrival of fall's cool weather stimulates our palates in different ways. Westerners suddenly crave roasted meats and root vegetables, while Chinese diners take the chill off by huddling around hotpots. Both have found beer to be a pleasant way to wash down such happy meals.
Germans have a particular gift for making the most of their hearty seasonal fare. First, they perfected the art of roasting pork knuckle. (You'll never convince me the gods at Valhalla ate anything else). Second, they enshrined the robust pleasure of eating and drinking in Oktoberfest.
So now is the season to find waitresses who can tote eight steins of beer in each hand. A good place to get in the spirit is in Financial Street's Seasons Place. Once inside the mall, take the down escalator and walk to the eastern end, where the cozy Ellingen Brauhaus awaits.
First order of business: Wheat, lager and dark beers, preservative-free and fresh from the sturdy copper kettles in the background. You can order the flavor of your choice in three sizes of glass mugs. You can also order bottled beer or one of the well-made bar cocktails. But if you're wearing your lederhosen, do you really want your picture taken without a big, foaming mug of beer? Naturally not.
If you were salivating at the mention of roasted pork knuckle, you won't be disappointed here: Order a half or a whole joint and savor the perfectly crisp, crackling shell and the juicy pork inside. It comes with sides of creamy mashed potatoes and the spiritually required sauerkraut.
More health-conscious folks may opt for the boiled version, which may sound like a poor cousin but is quite tasty. Or, go the other way - bring a half-dozen of your best burgher-chums and order a whole roast suckling pig, which comes with a free flow of side dishes. Call in that order a day ahead, though.
More creative than roast pig, perhaps, is the braised beef cheek, marinated for hours with rosemary and pickled plums and red-wine sauce. The meat on the plate is so dark that it's practically black - packed with flavor and tender enough to cut with a fork. It comes with fresh broad beans as well as mashed potatoes.
Sausages? They've got sausages - seven, to be exact, including a delicate Munich white and a savory Nuernberger pork. Choose one for a main for 88 yuan ($14) with your choice of one side and one garnish) or go for a four-link combo (188 yuan).
We liked the sides we explored, too: Beef goulash soup was a hearty mix of meat, chilis, cumin and bell peppers, cooked long and slow to render a broth packed with savory and tender morsels. The potato salad is all but compulsory: in the style of southern Germany, it's tossed with plenty of bacon and robust with mustard and vinegar.
Apple strudel with warm vanilla sauce was hard to pass up at the end, but we opted for the less-predictable rice pudding, a German-style smoothie with a red fruit compote and cinnamon sugar. A gamble that paid off: Yum!
The low-light atmosphere of the restaurant is relaxed and comfortable. There's an array of TVs for sports-bar lovers, but the sound is so low that it doesn't distract those who are there for good food, conversation, and maybe a little liebe.
Roasted pork knuckle with all the trimmings is a cold-weather classic. Photos by Mike Peters / China Daily
(China Daily 10/13/2013 page14)