New York, New York
I’m always looking to find a new Austrian or German restaurant in New York City, having lived in Munich, Germany, for 10 years. Klee, owned and run by Austrian born chef, Daniel Angerer, had been on my list of places to try for a while but somehow or another bigger name restaurants got my visit and a bite out of my wallet. One Thursday night however, we were invited to a painting exhibition a mere five blocks away, so finally, I thought, I’d have the opportunity to have dinner at Klee.
When we walked in a bit early for our 8 p.m. dinner reservation, the restaurant was fairly empty. Perhaps the food wasn’t very good? Perhaps it was too pricey? Perhaps this was simply a place where people gathered to eat later in the evening?
We were led to a table so large that for a moment I thought we had been given the American version of the “Stammtisch,” usually the most comfortable table in the house reserved for locals who dine there regularly. We sat down and I suddenly had the urge to have a couple of beers with a couple of schnaps chasers with a round or two of Fussball or even a game of “coaster flipping.” (For those who don’t know what this is, it consists of positioning a coaster at the edge of the table, flipping it up with the top of ones fingers, letting it somersault in the air while catching it with one hand on the way down.)
Unfortunately, there was no beer on tap and while there may have been some schnaps to be had at the bar, the few people there were drinking Martinis or glasses of wine. I had briefly looked at the menu online but when I sat down to really study it, I realized that Chef Angerer has a tendency to include dishes from many different countries on his menu. While I was looking for Austrian or German-centric cuisine, I came across mini lobster rolls from Maine, a Liptauer cheese spread and Spanish olives. And that was just pre-appetizers. Still searching, I found a Spätzle mac and cheese but Wiener Schnitzel only on certain days of the week and nary a sausage in sight. Since one of us was a vegetarian, I thought this would actually work. So I decided the best way to navigate this menu would simply be to order a variety of dishes and if we felt we needed more to eat, we would order accordingly.
Having a great fondness for lobster rolls, we ordered the minis. Three on a plate and stuffed with a fairly generous amount of lobster meat with just the right smidgen of mayo, they were decent, not the best I’ve ever had but cute enough to wet our appetite. Next up: a salad special which came with some greens, thin slices of radish, cucumbers and chunks of hard cheese (Spanish, perhaps?) studded with peppercorns. To accompany it, we had ordered the Alsatian pizza topped with a generous amount of bacon (although I really think it was diced pancetta) and slices of tasty carmelized onions. But here’s my thing. I rarely eat pizza out (except of course when in Italy) because I make pizza at home and really like my version. I’m also a stickler when it comes to the crust. While I do like a thin crust, it still has to be a bit doughy. Klee’s Alsatian pizza while well decked, was pita-like thin and ultimately a tad too crunchy for my palate.
After our appetizers, we ordered the grilled calamari and shrimp. The dish was exquisitely spicy but with only a few shrimp and some calamari over the polenta, I thought the portion was a tad small for its $27.00 price tag. To go with the fish, I ordered the Spätzle mac and cheese. Since I’m the Queen of mac and cheese (I am, I’ve been cooking macaroni and cheese since I was 10!) and if I had a last meal request, that would be it, I’m pretty picky about other people’s versions. Klee’s was pretty good but again the portion size compared to the price tag ($15.00 for mac and cheese!) was staggering.
The service was attentive with one waiter basically devoted to our table and there was additional help when our water glasses needed to be refilled or plates and silverware needed to be replaced. However, we were not offered a wine list and I’m not exactly sure why. We did order a bottle from a short list of wine “specials” all priced around $40.
After our courses, we took a break. Nick and Lynn were eyeing cheese for dessert; I was intrigued by the strawberry/rhubarb shortcake dessert special. We ended up getting both. But before the cheese plate was brought out, we were given an amuse dessert — three mini banana chocolate-flavored milkshakes that needed to be a tad colder than they were to pull off the milkshake concept. However, I liked the idea and the generosity of Chef Angerer for the freebie. We concentrated on selecting some cheese. There were many to choose from but finally we settled on three choices– a Camembert, a Gruyère and an Austrian which I can’t remember (chosen primarily because it was from the same area where Nick skis in Austria) with some bread and a pear/apple compote. After the cheese, the strawberry special was brought out. Well, it looked good and it had sounded good and in fairness the rhubarb compote on the bottom of the plate and some homemade shortbread on top of that with decent strawberries were very nice. But the vanilla ice cream, well, I’m not sure what happened there. I kept tasting it looking in vain for a hint of vanilla or cream but ultimately it had absolutely no flavor at all. Could it have actually been a commercial brand?
All in all though I was impressed with Klee even with its hopping-all-over-the-planet menu. Plus, the restaurant has a very comfortable feel to it whether one has the good luck to get the “Stammtisch” or not. I was disappointed however that some dishes could only be had on certain days of the week which was great if you happened to be there on a Saturday night and fancied a Wiener Schnitzel but if you wanted chicken with Rösti that wasn’t on board again until Wednesday. There is a high level of craft coming out of the kitchen but in fairness some dishes worked better than others. Still reeling from the recession as I’m sure are others, I was a bit put off by the small portions of comfort food with lofty price tags. The place did pick up by the time we left about an hour and a half later which led me to conclude that Klee is indeed a great neighborhood kind of place, if one is lucky enough to live in the neighborhood.