|Lenhardt's Restaurant, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1979|
I began dining with my family in restaurants when I was around eight or nine, I think - the place in St. Charles decked out like an old country inn that served a dozen variety of pancakes on Sunday mornings; the Chinese restaurant in Chicago my dad loved. But my first memory of a really fine restaurant experience wasn't until my family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio.
Although a small city in 1967 when we moved there, Cincinnati had a reputation as a city of culture with a European touch due to its German immigrant heritage. Its symphony and opera were renowned, and for over 40 years, Cincinnati was home to one of the most highly rated French restaurants in the United States - The Maisonette.
My parents couldn't afford to take all six of us to Maisonette, but beginning when I was 12 years old, they took us to Lenhardt's, a venerable Austro-Hungarian restaurant down by the university, housed in a Romanesque brick mansion. It was a long drive into the city from our suburban home, which made it seem even more special.
We ate weiner schnitzel, spaetzle, goulash, and chicken paprikash. I have a vivid memory of waiters delivering baskets of pizelles, wrapped in white napkins, delivered to our table. And above all, the sense of European pomp and refinement - the right fork for each dish, stemware glasses, tablecloths and napkins.
In the 1930s and '40s Hollywood, the film industry welcomed refugees from Eastern Europe, like Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch. A host of "continental"-style dineries sprang up, run by entrepreneurs like Mike Romanoff - a self-promoter claiming to be deposed Russian royalty. Cocktails, Chateaubriand, shrimps a la Russe, tournedos Rossini, wiener schnitzel and chicken Kiev were offered with flambeed and cream-topped desserts to finish.
Not much of that remains - Hollywood is more into hip, modern design and snout-to-tail boutique pork than derivative bourgeois frippery. But there's still a taste for European food in Los Angeles - and we enjoyed some recently.
Maximilian's restaurant is located in North Hollywood, in a rather drear stretch of Tujunga Avenue. North Hollywood, long the home of auto-body shops and tire stores, is now a burgeoning arts district, with theatres, galleries, acting studios and coffee shops. Maximilian's is a veritable compound, with outdoor patios and dining gardens, and a parking lot safely enclosed with spiked steel fences.Chef Lazlo Bossanyi has been cooking here since 2009.
We began with a cocktail - a kir, made with champagne and a touch of pomegranate sirop for me, a glass of Austrian Gruner Veltliner white wine for [The Man I Love.] It came with a basket of crusty bread and a complimentary slice of terrine. It was good, slightly gamy with garlic, studded with sausage and garnished sliced peppers. The sauce tasted like a roasted pepper relish but could just as easily have been Heinz chili sauce.
The appetizers sounded wonderful - from potato latkes garnished with caviar to baked brie - but we knew that the food was likely to be filling, so we split an appetizer of stuffed cabbage.
|Stuffed cabbage - we started eating before I could take the photo|
[The Man I Love] was interested in trying the sausages, and at Maximilian's the menu offers three different kinds.
I took my time over the menu. I like wiener schnitzel, but the classic Hungarian chicken paprikash sounded good, and so did an offering of duck leg and breast served with red cabbage. I decided on veal paprikash - a good meaty stew served with homemade dumplings and a side of pickled cabbage salad.
[The Man I Love]'s mother is of Hungarian ancestry, and he remembers her making this simple dish of sliced cukes with onions, sprinkled with paprika and dressed with vinegar that has a touch of sugar. It was good and refreshing to take a fresh puckery bite after the richness of the veal.
|Frm L to R - Debreceni, duck and veal sausage|
You can get sides of potatoes, vegetables, or mushrooms, but what we had was so filling we knew we'd bring some home.
Near the end of the meal, Chef Lazlo made rounds of the dining room and stopped by our table. A bluff man with a shock of white hair, he reminisced about the past and the movie moguls he'd served in his heyday.
We went home with boxes of food, including an assortment of dessert strudels - the cherry and poppyseed strudel was so good I didn't wait to photograph it.
Will we go again? Certainly - I've got to try the weiner schnitzel!