It's been two years since I was beaten by schnitzel. The scene was a small, crowded bar in Cologne, Germany. I had been in town a few days visiting a friend when we were invited out for dinner and drinks. As we made our way there my friend explained that the bar we were headed to was a much-loved local, known for its convivial atmosphere and generous portions of schnitzel. Until that night I'd been completely unaware of the German capacity for understatement. Surely you've heard of the Goliath Bird Eating Spider? It's a venomous, burrowing, arachnid that lives in Venezuela, Suriname, and other humid places I intend never to visit. It grows to 10-12" in diameter and uses both venom and fear to paralyze prey. It is the most terrifying creature on planet Earth and the schnitzel I was served was large & merciless enough to eat it and then send pictures to the spider's family afterwards, just for laughs.
It was big enough to have its own weather system and was served with a topographical map. I sweat, swore, & finally hid in the bathroom weeping and begged not have to go back out to face the behemoth. Across from me sat a slim man wearing a black sweater and steel-rimmed glasses who looked to his own empty plate and then to mine, still heaped with food and though he never spoke, the message was clear: You have disappointed me and worse you have disappointed the Fatherland. Then he started eating his boyfriend's french fries. The trauma of Teutonic scorn kept me from schnitzel for two long years. During my recent visit to The Office with Max & Dan I summoned my courage and tried again. I shouldn't have bothered.
759 Yates Street has been an unlucky spot for restaurants, there are at least two I can recall having occupied that space before The Office: Hunter's Steakhouse & a sushi place whose name escapes me. It's enormous inside, with tables & alcoves stretching off into a dark, wood paneled infinity and it's not hard to imagine the Damocletian sword that is monthly rent being too much for previous occupants. We were greeted at the bar & seated right away by Rusty, our server for the evening. We were impressed by the way he gauged the level of formality we expected and adapted accordingly, becoming a little more laid back but still professional. After a chat and a few laughs he took our drink order, left us menus and was off.
If nothing else The Office looks great, with subdued lighting, a square, polished bar in the center of the room, topped by shaded lamps, and a number of comfortable-looking booths lining the far wall. When we arrived there were only a handful of tables occupied and I had almost written the words "quiet sophistication". Then a group of young women came in and proclaimed they were there to celebrate a birthday. They were dressed like professionals, but after a few hyena-like cackles sophistication politely put on its hat and hailed a cab.
During my time in Morocco I encountered a variety of spices in the food; flavors like ginger, turmeric, and saffron, which I've come to identify with Moroccan food. The Moroccan wings ($12) then, were a deep disappointment, covered as they were in honey & dashed with cinnamon. That may be lovely on donuts but on a plate of chicken wings it was as boring as Bob Dylan's gospel albums. I pawned off as many as I could on my dinner companions and tried not to think about what twelve dollars in wings would have looked like at the Bird of Paradise.
Max & Dan fared far better with their sliders ($12), three to an order, one beef, one lamb & one pulled pork. They were well-prepared & presented, with the lamb being the best of the three, mainly because it was served with brie cheese. The price is high given the serving but the meats & toppings were all fresh and of a high quality so it was easier to rationalize than the wings. After the poor showing that was my appetizer I hoped that my "Bavarian Carbonara" ($23) would save the day.
I had been wooed by the idea of a schnitzel with Parmesan spaetzle, garlic cream sauce, onions & a poached egg but sadly when the meal arrived looking great was all it could manage. All those wonderful things somehow combined into a heavy mess that had very little taste. In fact, the only flavor I could detect was that of the cloying garlic cream sauce and about the only thing I can say in the meal's defense is that it was heavy in a uniquely Germanic fashion. There was absolutely no way I could fit the entire meal in without injuring myself and unlike THE schnitzel, I felt no compulsion to finish.
When I first came here to hunt for an apartment I stayed in the Dalton Hotel and didn't stray far from Yates when looking for places to eat and drink. Had The Office been around then it would have been the perfect place to get quietly drunk. It's dark, beautifully appointed and has a good list of beers on tap, or cocktails if you're into that kind of thing and the staff is friendly which isn't always guaranteed in an upscale joint. But if I'd wanted anything to eat I would have been better off ordering a pizza across the street at the Brickyard. You could, as their advertisements suggest, "Clock in to The Office" but for me, eating their food turned out to be a little too much like work.
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