A fun game to play with friends is to ask them what cuisines they could happily eat forever if they lived in the year 1700 and it was highly likely they might never travel more than 50 miles away from where they were born. For me, it would either be Vietnam or the Basque Country, subsisting on cured meats and cheeses and anchovy-wrapped olive pintxos on delectable picks. At the other end of the scale would be Central Europe, where almost everything is heavy. T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land refers hauntingly to winter near Lake Starnberg as “feeding a little life with dried tubers,” and I sometimes imagine how oppressive it would be to eat pickles and braised meats until you go mad or until someone goes out into the March snow to dig turnips out of the permafrost.
But German food can be restorative and even elegant. At Radhaus, a lively quasi-beer hall in Fort Mason’s Landmark Building A, it’s vigorously fun. A project by Chef Timmy Malloy (of the Mission’s long-gone Local’s Corner) and the team behind Hayes Valley’s Suppenküche and Biergarten, it’s a place to walk into with a hearty appetite and to walk out of with ruddy cheeks.
As a general guide, Malloy’s entrees are far superior to some of the smaller bites. A couple things — the flavorless schmaltz with stale chicken-skin crisps, the overly liquidy pickles — simply nosedive. And the obatzda included a chew toy of a pretzel, which tasted like a day-old.
But the $27 wienerschnitzel is stellar, pounded real good and fried just right and served over Jerusalem artichokes with a moderate amount of grüner sauce that isn’t excessively tangy or showy. A confited turkey leg ($21) on a wooden board would be only slightly caveman-like if it didn’t come with a knife that looks like it saved somebody’s life once. Removing it feels like pulling the sword from the proverbial stone. That least-loved poultry is no longer just for dry Thanksgivings, and the self-awareness comes through in Malloy’s name for it: Bayerisch imbiss, or “Bavarian snack.”
That same knife comes plunged into the half-chicken ($21). For a city with a million such things already, the draw here is the dumplings. It’s easy to start associating that word solely with xiaolongbao and its ilk, but these are proper woodsman dumplings, swimming in pan sauce and brightened with broccoli rabe. If you’re like me, you’ll remember how you forgot how much you missed that texture.
Slightly lighter and still uniformly excellent are the mushroom toast (heaped high with buttery hen-of-the-woods and surprisingly sweet from the addition of fig, $12) and the evanescent shavings of mountain cheese (which have their own Olympics in Switzerland and you’ll quickly see why, $7). Whole roasted carrots ($11) with pine nuts, Italian parsley, and some always-welcome if subtle beef fat are a perfect complement to the meats, and Malloy’s menu plays off them like a wall in a racquetball court.
Radhaus sounds dinner-only, but it’s not. The physical menu, which appears designed to be folded and cut like an instructional diagram, indicates that some of the seven(!) categories of dishes are for after 5 p.m., while the wursts are served only earlier, between 11 and two. (There’s overlap, as with the salads.)
You can get a mimosa then, or stick with one of the nine or so beers — all of them German except for Fort Point Westfalia, which is either named for a region of Germany or a Volkswagen camper. A half-liter of a good old standby, the Rothaus Tannenzäpfle pils, is more than suitable. If you want a proper aperitif, the Alpenglow (an absinthe-spiked variation on the Hanky Panky, with gin, Fernet, and Dolin Rouge, $14) is a good bet, and if you watch the sunset through the windows, the name of the drink resonates with the view of Marin. With the openest of open kitchens, Radhaus’ interior is as white and as woody as Tartine Manufactory’s, but this is a vista that never grows old.
That is all well and good. But the noise, the noise! It always sucks to call out high ambient volume levels; you invariably sound like a grumpy grandpa shaking his fist at a cloud. But if you’re unable to hold a conversation with someone you’re sitting next to at the bar without physically turning to face them directly, something is really wrong.
The underlying dynamic is obvious: Patrons throw back a lot of beer at Radhaus, and tipsy people don’t realize how loud they really are, which sets in motion a sort of clamorous arms race until everyone is shouting to be heard. Also, it’s the size and shape of an airplane hangar. A woman dining alone next to me one night managed to read The New Yorker without evident frustration, although she arrived after us and left before us. At the same time, Radhaus is a Suppenküche offshoot, and Suppenküche can be extremely loud, too. Two possible solutions: Go with a big, giant group or stop in at an off hour. A Monday night visit was comparatively hushed, although perfectly jovial — and at its strongest, Radhaus is a Haus of Uncommons.
Radhaus, Landmark Building A, Fort Mason Center, 415-445-4556 or radhausssf.com