Yesterday was Daniela's birthday and one the things she wished for as birthday present was to go eat in our favourite restaurant: Anna Amalia in Weimar, the restaurant of the Arabella Sheraton Elephant hotel. Since we had guests coming at our place yesterday (birthday cake coming up) we decided to celebrate on Saturday (and "eat into" her birthday :-)) (P.S. I notice we were not the only ones celebrating this WE). Anna Amalia's very nice Italian/International cuisine is created by their Italian chef, Marcello Fabbri. He has been working for this restaurant for the last ten years and after all this time his hard work was recognised by the Michelin guide: they gave him his first star in their 2004 guide. I really appreciate his fine-tuned cooking: no big shock value but carefully and skilfully revisited classics. Since the restaurant closes next week for holidays I was a bit scared that the cooking and service might suffer from the "last schooldays before summer break" syndrome: this was absolutely not the case. We left, at the end, completely satisfied. Our only regret is that we can't come here more often :-)!
As we arrived we were greeted with an aperitif, Champagne for Daniela and dry Sherry for me, and by the customary home-baked bread rolls, a selection of tiny rolls (olive, dry tomatoes, tiny baguettes and tiny Kaiser brötchen) served with a selection of butters (olive, herbs and salted) and some herbed creme fraiche. Meanwhile we had a look at the menu and after some thinking (hard when there's so many nice things to choose from) we decided to exaggerate :-), for once, and go for the 7-course tasting menu with accompanying wines.
Before our dishes started to arrive the sommelier poured the first wine of the evening a Sauvignon from Hungary: Bataapati Sauvignon Blanc 2001. The wine was fresh and interesting, the typical notes of Sauvignon covered at first by strong fruity aromas and ending with a definite mineral note. Before I go on I want to spend a few words on Roman Drobeck, the sommelier from Anna Amalia. Being served by such a sommelier is always a pleasure: professional but not too cold, competent, ready to answer any questions you might have and explaining why he's serving that particular wine with those particular dishes.
We were first served an amuse-bouche: Salmon in three ways: tartare, smoked salmon rolled around a ricotta filling and cream served with balsamico and red pepper coulis. The tartare (with chives) was great (I either love or hate tartare), the smoked salmon roll nice and the cream tasty but, quoting Johnny Depp in Chocolat, not my favourite. I was a bit amazed by the size of this amuse-bouche being used to much smaller servings, and started to worry I would not be able to make it through the 7 courses :-): luckily all servings remained quite small as one would expect with a tasting menu.
After a short wait we received our first entree, Scallop souffle' with pumpkin puree and saffron foam. This was one of the breathtaking dishes of the menu. I am usually against dishes where ingredients such as lobsters, scallops and similar are minced as I very much like the "meaty" qualities of these ingredients. In this case I have to admit I could have not been more wrong. The tiny souffle' had no time to deflate: it disappeared very quickly in our mouths, the sweet pumpkin and aromatic saffron giving a nice contrast to the sea taste of the scallops. The wine went very well with the dish too.
Next came another trio: Duck variation: duck carpaccio stuffed with liver, smoked duck breast and duck liver terrine with a pinoli vinaigrette. All very nice but what really blew me away here was the terrine: a thin layer of pumpernickel covered by a thick layer of duck liver mousse finished by a thin layer of balsamico flavoured aspic. Eaten together it had a very marked coffee aroma: how does that come about? I really liked it, while Daniela, who does not like coffee flavoured dishes (sweet or savoury), didn't. This dish was the only, in the whole evening, where the wine fell short: it was overpowered by the strong flavours of the duck.
Before continuing we got some new wine to go with the two upcoming dishes, a Bordeaux Rose' from Chateau Bel Air (forgot to write down the vintage): a very fruity rose' not without structure. The next dish presented quite a challenge to the wine. Home made gnocchi with Barolo-braised calf cheeks would normally be matched with Barolo in Italy. Unexpectedly this was a brilliant match: the rose' wine was not overpowered but instead brought out some very mouth-watering sweet-fatty tastes from the braised meat. A great choice from the sommelier. Apart being smartly matched this dish was great, for Daniela the best of the evening.
All the dishes up to the point came in very quick succession: probably sensing that we were starting to feel a bit overwhelmed our waitress asked us if we would have liked to slightly increase the pause between courses. I like it when waiters seem to read your mind, gives you the feeling they're just there to make it pleasant for you :-). We took the time to observe the restaurant guests next to us. We definitely reduced the average age. A sweet 50-something couple behind me was slightly flirting with each other. Behind Daniela two 60-ish couples were having dinner together, one of the women doing all the talking (Daniela's comment: "sounds like High Fidelity's Charlie Nicholson" :-P). On our side a 40-ish couple: him annoyed and her bored... an unsuccessful date maybe. I know it is not polite to do this :-) but whenever I eat out I can't avoid observing what goes around me... I bet I'm not the only one!
Soon our fish course arrived, a perfectly cooked Loup de mer with shrimps and a stuffed zucchini blossom. I could not really identify the stuffing of the zucchini blossom, but since it tasted great... who cares :-)! Straight afterward we got a little Passion fruit sorbet to clear our mouth: nice and refreshing.
The only dish I was a bit doubtful about was the venison with a nut crust, served with date knödel and red cabbage. The venison was tender and perfectly cooked but the knödel did not taste of much and the red cabbage, nice on its own, was too sweet, overpowering everything else. With this dish we also got a new wine: Burgenland St Laurent 1999 from Juris, an Austrian wine. I had a nice impression from this wine but I can't say much more as my "concentration" ability at this point was somehow compromised :-).
Next came what I was waiting for all along: the cheese trolley. Anna Amalia has such a nice selection of cheeses (mostly French and mostly from raw milk) that I would almost go there just for it. The only criticism I might make is that since the cooking is clearly Italian maybe the addition of a few nice Italian farmhouse cheeses would not be bad. We both had six small samples. To avoid a boring list just the three "winners" of the evening: a strikingly aromatic Salers (in a certain sense a special Cantal), a very creamy Gratte-paille (a new cheese for me) and the BEST ever Brie de Meaux, perfectly ripe, I like Brie but never thought it could be that nice!
Finally :-) the dessert came: pineapple sorbet with coconut parfait and mango-papaya gelee'. We did not like this much: it was well done and the first coconut desert that did not taste like sun lotion to me. It's just that me and Daniela both don't really like coconut and pineapple deserts: should have remembered as they asked if we did not like something at the start of the meal. What was great was the wine coming with this, a 1996 Chateau de Cerons a moelleux wine from a small area, Cerons, near Sauternes. This wine, made with a high percentage of muscadet grape, was both sweet and spicy: it smelled of honey, vanilla and very peppery. The taste was even more astounding, it reminded me of custard and saffron. After a coffee fro me (and little chocolates tray) we left, a bit wobbly on our feet but happy.