Healdsburg restaurant brings a taste of Oktoberfest to Sonoma County
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.