Healdsburg restaurant brings a taste of Oktoberfest to Sonoma County

Baci Cafe & Wine Bar is serving a German special this week in honor of Oktoberfest.|

Slide into some lederhosen. Get out your giant beer mugs. Cue the brass band and the oompah music.

It’s time for Oktoberfest in Wine Country. And although the world’s largest beer festival has been canceled this year in Munich, Germany, that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate in our own homes with a feast of potatoes, pork and sauerkraut washed down with some delicious craft brew.

At Baci Cafe & Wine Bar, chef/owner Shari Sarabi has been taking his customers around the globe this summer with weekly, four-course specials inspired by a few of the exotic destinations he has enjoyed visiting with his wife, Lisbeth Holmefjord.

“There’s a lot of pressure on people who are staying home every day,” Sarabi said. “Food was always the No. 1 object wherever I traveled. You learn a lot about different cultures just by eating with people.”

This Thursday through Monday, Sarabi and his team will be cooking up a traditional German meal in honor of Oktoberfest, a 16-day folk festival that normally runs from mid- or late-September until the first Sunday in October.

The menu he devised was inspired by a pleasant memory of visiting the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, a beer hall originally built in 1589 as an extension of the Staatliches Hofbrauhaus in Munchen brewery.

“It’s in an old building that looks like the gate of the town,” he recalled. “When you walk in, you see these pork shanks in a rotisserie going up and down, just roasting slowly, with real charcoal underneath.”

Sarabi could not resist that unctuous pork dish, which was served with a mountain of sauerkraut, some potatoes and a big, soft pretzel.

“It was delicious,” he said. “You drink a liter glass of beer, a Pilsner, that’s clean and refreshing.”

The original Bavarian Oktoberfest dates back to 1810, when Kronprinz Ludwig married Princess Theresa of Saxe-Hildburghausen on Oct. 12 and the citizens were invited to attend the festivities on the fields in front of the city gates of Munich.

Over time, the couple’s anniversary celebration was moved to late September for better weather, and the last day of the festival now falls on the first Sunday in October (this year it would be Oct. 4).

Over the past 200 years, through its transition from tiny folk festival to a massive international beer celebration, Oktoberfest has been canceled 24 times due to the cholera epidemic and war. This year will be the 25th.

Traditional German menu

But the spirit of the historic event lives on, in breweries, kitchens and homes.

The Oktoberfest menu Sarabi crafted from his memory of the Hofbrauhaus blends the best of locally sourced produce and meat with traditional German-style cooking: Latkes (Potato Cake) with Sour Cream and Cucumber Topping, Roasted Beet Salad, Schweinshaxe (pork hind shank) with Sauerkraut and Roasted Potatoes and Apple Strudel for dessert.

For the latkes appetizer, Sarabi keeps it simple with a blend of Russet potatoes, onion, egg, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. The traditional sauce, made with sour cream, cucumbers and dill, reminds him of his native cuisine.

“The commonality of the international food is interesting,” he said. “That sauce is basically like my Persian food, only we would make it with yogurt.”

The beet salad is composed of roasted beets with thinly sliced apple, fennel and sweet onion, topped with an apple cider vinaigrette that makes it taste almost like pickled beets.

“Everything in the salad is local,” he said. “The apples are from Windsor; the onions are from Alexander Valley. They taste so sweet.”

Schweinshaxe is a popular Oktoberfest dish that harks back to the days when the peasants learned how to cook the cheaper cuts of meat to tenderize them. However, Sarabi sources a high-quality Kurobuta pork from Snake River Farms that’s carried by Oliver’s markets.

“One thing I emphasize is that the ingredient quality is so important,” he said, “It’s lean, tender and more flavorful.”

Since he doesn’t have a vertical rotisserie like the Hofbrauhaus, Sarabi braises the shanks slowly in liquid and then roasts them to get the skin crispy and brown. He serves them with sauerkraut that has a Hungarian twist.

“I learned the recipe from a Hungarian chef that uses paprika, butter and chicken stock,” he said “It softens it up.”

To save time, he suggested that home cooks buy sauerkraut that’s already fermented and add the extra ingredients. For one quart of sauerkraut, add one cup chicken stock, 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and one teaspoon paprika, then heat it at a low temperature.

As a side dish, he suggests roasting some fingerling potatoes in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Although the Baci kitchen makes their strudel dough and everything else from scratch, that process may be too complicated for home cooks. Instead, he suggested substituting store-bought puff pastry for the dough.

“We use Granny Smith apples with cinnamon and sugar and raisins,” he said. “You can roll it up in puff pastry, brush with egg wash, slice, then bake.”

Baci’s weekly trek with its customers around the globe is served for take-out only, alongside other specials like risotto adndravioli and a regular menu of Italian standards the neighborhood restaurant is known for.

“We’re the Cheers bar of Healdsburg,” Sarabi said. “Most of our customers are locals.”

Having to come up with new culinary itineraries has lit a fire under the seasoned chef, who views the four-course menus as a new challenge.

“It brought my interest back to the desserts,” he said. “It makes me reborn again as a chef.”

So far, the chef has taken customers on culinary trips to Austria, Greece, Spain, Russia, France, Lebanon, Thailand, Argentina and China, among other countries.

“Since we’re in Europe, we’re going to Hungary next,” Sarabi said. “If you’re going to present foreign food, the authenticity should be there. ... Every dish we have on our menu is very authentic and traditional.”

Baci Cafe & Wine Bar serves dinners to go on Thursdays through Mondays. You can see the menu and order at bacicafeandwinebar.com. The food can be picked up from 4-8 p.m. at the restaurant, 336 Healdsburg Ave.

Latkes (German Potato Cake) with Sour Cream and Cucumber Topping

Makes 4 servings

1 ½ pounds Russet potatoes

½ medium onion

1 egg

2 tablespoons bread crumbs

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1 cup olive oil

Wash and clean the potatoes, then grate them by hand or in a Cuisinart food processor. Grate the onion and mix in. Place on a clean towel and squeeze the liquid out of the mixture.

In a bowl, add egg, bread crumbs, salt and pepper to the potato mix. Place in the refrigerator for a half hour.

Pour olive oil in a sauté pan on medium heat and use an ice cream scoop to place the mixture in the pan. Flatten the potato cakes with a spatula so they form 3-inch circles. Cook on both sides until they are golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Place on a paper towel to drain the excess oil.

Keep warm in the oven until you are ready to serve, and top with the dip.

Sour Cream & Cucumber topping

4 Persian cucumbers

½ cup sour cream

½ red onion, diced

1 bunch chopped dill

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

Use a mandoline to slice the cucumbers into a large bowl. Add the onion, dill, sour cream, salt and pepper. Mix well and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour. When serving, add on top of the latkes.

Roasted Beet Salad

Makes 4 servings

For salad:

2 medium golden beets

2 medium Chioggia beats

2 medium red beets

1 large fennel head

1 green apple

1 medium sweet red onion

Enough olive oil for drizzling on the beets, plus kosher salt and pepper to taste

For vinaigrette:

½ cup balsamic vinegar

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

¼ cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoon kosher salt

3 cups extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For salad: Wash the beets well, drizzle with olive oil and add salt and pepper. Place them in a large piece of aluminum foil folded over two or three times and place in the oven at a temperature of 350 degrees. Cook for 45 minutes or until you can insert a toothpick without resistance. Remove from the oven and let sit on the counter for about half an hour without opening the aluminum foil. This helps the beets cook more and makes them easier to peel.

Remove the beets from the aluminum foil when they are cool. With a paper towel, rub the skins until all the skins come off. (Wear gloves when peeling the red-color beets because they will stain your hands.)

To make the salad, cut all the beets to preferred size. Use a mandoline to julienne the onion, fennel and apple.

Add all the salad ingredients together in a bowl with the exception of the red beets. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and add the vinaigrette. Then do the same with the red beets. Plate the salad and add the red beets on top.

For vinaigrette: In a large container with a lid, add balsamic, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar and salt. Close the lid and shake well until all the salt is dissolved. Add the olive oil, shake well and pour over the salad.

Keep any extra vinaigrette refrigerated.

Schweinshaxe (Pork Shank)

Makes 4 servings

4 pork hind shanks, preferably from Snake River Farms

1 large onion, chopped

1 quart organic, low-sodium beef stock

6 cloves of garlic, sliced into large pieces

1 cup white wine

Kosher salt to taste

Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash the pork shank and pat dry. Sprinkle the shank with a good amount of salt and pepper and let sit for half an hour.

In a large sauté pan, sear the pork shank until it becomes caramelized on all sides, then remove it from the pan. After discarding most of the fat, add the onion and garlic to the same pan and sauté until they turn translucent. Transfer the shank, onion and garlic to a roasting pan and add the wine and beef stock to cover half of the shank. Cover the roasting pan with wax paper, then aluminum foil. Place in the oven and cook the shanks at 300 degrees for about 4 hours. The internal temperature should be 160-170 degrees.

Remove the shanks from the pan, strain the stock, remove the excess fat and cook on the stove until the stock is reduced to half. Place the shanks in a roasting pan standing up, pour the reduced stock over and cook for 30-45 minutes at 300 degrees, until the skin gets crispy. Add more salt when eating the pork.

Serve with roasted potatoes and sauerkraut.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56

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