Chefs’ Night Out at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe on Tuesday evening was a fantastic culinary experience. The tables were set with white linen tablecloths and flickering votive candles cast a more romantic mood than is normally found at this hub of authentic German cuisine in downtown Sanford.
We were greeted by Christina Hollerbach, daughter of proprietors Theo and Linda Hollerbach. She could barely contain her excitement over the culinary offerings of the evening as she walked us to our elegant table. Her infectious smile and knowledge of the special menu set the tone for the event. My dining companions were pleased with her impressive ability to “speak beer!” She recommended the Hofbrau Munich to accompany the appetizer course, the Weltenburger Pils to compliment the eggplant entree, the Schneider’s USDA Organic Wiesen Edel-Weisse to match up with the mushroom eggroll entree and even had a suggestion for the dessert entree: Tucher Bajuvator.
Our appetizer course arrived soon after we did. The “Trio of Soups” was presented in three separate white, Chinese-style spoons arranged on a white dinner plate. The color contrast immediately caught my eye as I investigated the contents of each spoon. The light orange of the Curry Carrot, the bright, vibrant magenta of the Roasted Beet, and the warm off-white tone of the Potato Leek soup stood out beautifully in their serving spoons.
The Curry Carrot soup had a mild and pleasant curry flavor (think British curry powder, not Indian or Thai curry!) and a slightly sweet finish. The soup was served cold and was nicely pureed. It was garnished with two very slim slivers of carrot arranged very precisely over the soup – a nice touch!
The Roasted Beet soup had everyone at my table talking about beets of their childhood and how much they hated beets as a result – until they tasted this example! Also served cold, pureed and strained to have a very smooth texture, this soup had a wonderful flavor. Roasting the beets helped to concentrate the flavor and sweetness of this much maligned root vegetable. A dollop of creme fraiche garnished this soup beautifully.
The Potato Leek soup was prepared in the style of a fine vichyoise. This full bodied soup was perfectly smooth and had a delightfully creamy texture. Pureed and then strained, this soup was also served cold. The garnish of fried leeks on the top contrasted nicely with the smoothness of the soup. This was definitely a triumph!
Overall, the “Trio of Soups” appetizer course was a hit with my dining companions and me, and the suggested beer paired nicely with the soups. The texture, taste, and presentation made this course a success. I did find myself wistfully wishing for more soup (the Curry Carrot disappeared from my spoon way too quickly!) and would have liked to have had a temperature contrast – perhaps one hot soup and two cold?
Our entrees arrived next. The Grilled Eggplant, Cherry Olive Couscous, Candied Baby Carrots with Saffron-Orange Sauce was placed in front of me, and I quickly noted the three rounds of eggplant all had nice grill marks and were served with the aubergine rind intact. Cherry Olive Couscous was placed between each of the eggplant rounds, adding color and texture to the visual presentation as well as a nice mixture of sweet and savory flavors. The Candied Baby Carrots sat off to the side of the plate, not adding much to the overall look of the dish. The Saffron-Orange Sauce was lightly drizzled across the eggplant rounds. I was not able to discern a saffron flavor from the sauce, but the orange flavor did dance across my palate. I would have liked to have had more sauce, as eggplant can tend to be a bit dry on its own, even when cooked perfectly as mine was.
My two dining companions both had the Mushroom Eggrolls, Almond Cauliflower Puree with a Garlic Lemon Emulsion. The Almond Cauliflower Puree came in three distinctly different colors; purple, yellow, and white cauliflower. The trio of purees were centered on the plate and used to anchor the diagonally sliced Mushroom Eggrolls. The cauliflower purees were creamy and delicious. The Mushroom Eggrolls were filled with chopped mushrooms and deep fried. The crispy texture of the eggrolls contrasted nicely with the soft creaminess of the cauliflower. My dining companions both commented that they would love to see this dish as an appetizer on the regular menu.
I enjoyed both of the entrees and would definitely order them again if they were placed on the regular menu. My dining companions enjoyed the suggested beer pairings (Weltenburger Pils and Schneider’s Wiesen Edel-Weisse), adding that the Weltenburger Pils helped balance the deep fried flavor of the eggroll wrapper.
The dessert course arrived to finish off our culinary experience. Blueberry & Ricotta Ravioli with Strawberry “Marinara” Sauce arrived to the table. Two ravioli were arranged in a white bowl and topped with what appeared to be a strawberry jam. The dish was cleverly garnished with very fine shavings of white chocolate intended to mimic a fine dusting of parmesan cheese and two perfectly shaped fresh mint leaves topped the whole dish off. The ravioli was thinly filled with ricotta cheese and chopped blueberries. The pasta itself was cooked al dente and was a bit chewy, and I would have preferred to have had more filling inside to better balance the texture of the pasta. The “Strawberry Marinara Sauce” was very sweet and overpowered the “Blueberry & Ricotta” filling, but the mint leaves did help to even the dish out. This dish was reminiscent of one of my favorite desserts I had in Germany many years ago – “spaghetti and meatballs” ice-cream!
The most disappointing part of the evening was that it had to end! Chefs Patrick, Josh, Garyn, and Chris should be commended for their culinary skill, and I sincerely thank them for bringing modern vegetarian cooking to my favorite German restaurant!