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Bremer Ratskeller

Our visit to this highly-touted Bremen eatery got off to a somewhat rocky start. Just a few days prior to our arrival, L'Orchidée moved from its old home on the sixth floor of the Hotel Zur Post to a special surroundings in the Bremer Ratskeller. And, even though we called to reconfirm our reservation the day before, we were never informed of the change of venue. If our German friends, Rolf and Heike Eggers, who accompanied us to the restaurant, hadn't spied an article in the local newspaper, we undoubtedly would have set out on a wild goose chase.

You must enter L'Orchidée through the ratskeller proper, a huge smoky, bustling space teaming with humanity. Once ensconced inside the restaurant, however, it is a completely different world. Subdued lighting and heavy dark, carved wood appropriated from the interior of an old sailing vessel set a most sophisticated tone. This is a diminutive space, slightly more intimate than the restaurant's former digs; and, since there are no windows, those who are prone to suffer bouts of claustrophobia may feel a bit closed in. Just be advised. . . while you recline in luxury, your coats, exiled to a rack in the nether regions of the ratskeller, will reek of cigarette smoke by evening's end.

You begin with an amuse-bouche, an interesting triple play of miniature breast of quail, tiny crescent of vegetable couscous, and miniature beef meatball spruced up with an exotic array of herbs and spices. A most auspicious prelude.

Appetizers include a richly textured terrine of smoked eel and shrimp; a luscious terrine of Arctic char and chopped lentils garnished with marinated cabbage and artichoke hearts; incredibly tender ravioli redolent of truffles, stuffed with spinach, and surrounded by a savory pool of mushroom sauce; and a roasted fish soup, chunks of lobster, sea bass, and shrimp swimming in a heady seafood broth.

Entrée-wise, matters piscatorial are extremely well represented. A moist and tender filet of turbot arrives in a golden brown potato-truffle crust. Meaty monkfish, a special of the evening, is encrusted with pine nuts and adorned with sauces of yellow and red pepper.

Moving from fish to fowl, succulent slices of breast of pheasant are stuffed with fried serrano ham, garnished with Brussels sprouts, and surrounded by a decadent sauce of foie gras. Utterly irresistible.

Entrées are incomparably prepared and presented under gleaming silver domes. Each is garnished with a variety of perfectly cooked vegetables, and portion sizes are just right. A seven-course gourmet dinner is also available at 82.00 euro per person.

Service, provided by spiffily-dressed men and women adorned in long black coats with scarlet ties, is both professional and unobtrusive. The only problem encountered was the pace at which the food emerged from the kitchen. It was, to put the matter charitably, as slow as a herd of physically-challenged turtles.

We were seated promptly at 7:00 p.m. and ordered without any significant delay. However, entrées did not reach our table until 9:15 p.m. Even for an upscale European restaurant, which generally allows you sufficient time to revel in your fine dining experience, the wait between courses was inordinately long. And I have no doubt that the reason for the delay was the result of a number of unforeseen problems rather than any carefully laid plans: namely, that the chef and his minions were having considerable difficulty adjusting to their new domicile. And clearly, the restaurant's patrons were suffering the less than edifying consequences of their miscalculations.

Our German friends, realizing that ordering dessert and coffee would probably add another hour to our visit, tactfully suggested that we adjourn to their home for a suitable denouement to our meal. Interestingly enough, even after asking for the check, we had to wait a significant period of time for it to put in an appearance. . . and even longer for it to be picked up and processed. I certainly enjoy a leisurely, unhurried meal, especially in the company of good friends - but this was a bit too leisurely for comfort.

L'Orchidée has a great deal to recommend it, but, as of this writing, due to its abrupt change of venue, it is still a work in progress.

The Artful Diner
November 2002

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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