Monday, February 6, 2017

Dining at Günter Seeger NY, a Temple for Natural Cuisine and German Wine in New York: Brilliance and Simplicity on the Plate and Ultra-premium Dry Red and White Wine from Germany in the Glass

Picture: Annette and Christian Schiller with Chef Günter Seeger at Günter Seeger NY

We went to New York of the UGC Bordeaux tasting of vintage 2014 in bottle. See here: Bordeaux Vintage 2014 in Bottle: Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGC) on 2017 North America Tour in New York - Schiller’s Favorites

Picture: Annette Schiller, ombiasy PR and WineTours, with Sophie Schyler, Owner of Château Kirwan, in New York before the Dinner at Günther Seeger NY

For dinner, we decided to try out the new restaurant Günter Seeger NY.

Picture: Günter Seeger NY

California-based German Wine Importer Rudi Wiest had talked highly about Günter Seeger at the VDP Weinbörse last year in Mainz.

Picture: Annette and Christian Schiller with Rudi Wiest, Rudi Wiest Selections, in Mainz. See: 2016 VDP Trade Fair Weinbörse - Vintage 2015 - in Mainz: Schiller’s Report

A few days ago, when Franken star winemaker Christian L. Stahl joined us for a winemaker dinner at Evo Bistro, he had just eaten at Günter Seeger NY when he was in New York.

Picture: Marlene RedDoor, Christian L. Stahl, Annette Schiller and Chef Driss Zahidi at Evo Bistro in McLean, Virginia. See: Franken Wines, Virginia Oysters and French-Mediterranian Food: Winemaker Dinner with Christian L. Stahl from Winzerhof Stahl, Germany, and Chef Driss Zahidi at Evo Bistro in McLean, Virginia

In the movie Pretty Woman, Richard Gere says to Julia Roberts: Opera - you either hate it or you love it. The same applies to Günter Seeger NY: You either love it or you hate it. We love it!! This may be partly due to our German soul. All three of us have spend several decades in the US, but were borne and grew up in Germany.

Chef Günter Seeger

Günter Seeger was born (a few years before me) and raised in the Black Forest region of Germany, where his family owned a produce brokerage business. On completion of his apprenticeship as a chef in a nearby village, Günter Seeger went south to work in Switzerland and to undertake additional studies in hotel management. At the age of 28, he returned to Germany to open his own restaurant in Pforzheim, a town at the edge of the Black Forest. There, he developed a highly personal and refined cuisine and was awarded 1 Michelin star. However, the restaurant failed commercially and Günther Seeger was recruited to become the chef at the Regent Hotel in Washington, D.C. From there, he moved to Atlanta to The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead. Günter Seeger achieved acclaim and national recognitian at The Ritz-Carlton. In 1998, he started his own restaurant, which became the „French Laundry“ of Atlanta. But in the end, because of financial difficulties, he had to close down (in 2008) and moved to New York. After a few years consulting, he opened Günter Seeger NY in May 2016. It is located in Manhattan’s West Village. It was awarded 1 star in the 2016 Michelin Guide New York.

Günter Seeger's Natural Cuisine

Günter Seeger wants his restaurant Günter Seeger NY to be a temple of natural cuisine and of German wine. And indeed it is.

He told Anne Krebiel, MW, in an interview for the WineEnthusiast: ...I know the trends and have seen cuisine change dramatically since the early 1970s. What you see today is an over-technologized, over-designed cuisine, and I have no interest in that. I will go back to a very natural cuisine where I have a product and do as little to it as possible. I work on helping the farmers out there. I want to recognize what’s on my plate.

Günter Seeger offers 2 ways to experience his natural cuisine: At the Kitchen Table and in the Dining Room.

The Kitchen Table seats parties of 2 - 9 guests, seated communally each night at 7pm. Günter Seeger prepares a special 10 course tasting menu designed exclusively for the table at $185 per person. Located just outside of our open kitchen, the table's deliberate simplistic style of rustic solid ash wood accompanied by classic Dolomite wooden benches and chairs (by famed designer Luca Nichetto) is the perfect canvas for the chef's creations. With this unobstructed view into the kitchen, and seated below Chef Seeger's grandfather's hand-hammered chandelier, guests have a birds-eye view into the preparation of their meal.

The Dining Room seats parties of 1 - 4 guests amongst eleven tables and offers two menu options: a $148 10 course tasting menu or a $98 4 course menu.

Pictures: Günter Seeger NY with Dining Room, Kitchen Table and Kitchen

Temple of German Wine

In terms of wine, you have 2 options: You can choose the sommelier‘s wine pairing recommendations, $85 for the 4 course menu and $125 for 10 course tasting menu. Or you choose from the short, but excellent wine list.

Günter Seeger‘s wine selection is very strong on ultra-premium German dry and red wines. At the last Annual Meetings of the American Wine Society in California, Annette Schiller conducted a wine seminar with the title: The New Germany - Dry, Red and Sparkling. Günter Seeger's Germany section of the wine list is a reflection of the new face of wineland Germany: He lists a sizable number of Germany's new category of Grand Cru wines, and not just Riesling but also other grape varieties (Weissburgunder, Chardonnay, etc), notably from star winemaker Weingut Ökonomierat Rebholz in the Pfalz, but also from others. Smaller than the white wine section is the list of German red wines, all ultra-premum Pinot Noirs, mainly from Baden, Ahr and Württemberg, that the world is beginning to discover. In contrast, the wines from Germany that many Americans love so much and associate with German wine, sweet-style Mosel wines, are represented only by 2 wines of the Mosel giant Egon Müller.

Pictures: The New Germany: Red, Sparkling and Dry - Seminar at the American Wine Society 2016 National Conference in Los Angeles, USA, led by Annette Schiller

Stuart Pigott: ... The next thing that stunned me was the wine list, a single large sheet of paper on one side of which were German wines and on the other a selection of wines from all kinds of other places. Finally a German chef in America who isn’t pretending that he’s some vague kind of European, but not actually German. There’s a great German word for that: Lebenslüge, or a life-lie, i.e. being in denial big time. This wine list has a smattering of famous names, but also a healthy number of excellent wines from small producers at friendly prices. For example, amongst other things, we drank the 2013 Spätburgunder from Shelter Winery, a start-up in the Baden region of Germany founded in 2003 by a young couple from the beer-drinking north of Germany. …..

Pictures: Annette Schiller and Chef Günter Seeger

Guide Michelin: 1 Star

Guide Michelin: Downtown New York will always be a place for contemporary fine dining, but Chef Seeger boldly goes against the tide of others offering serious cooking in casual settings. Here, find a dining room that feels like a part of his own home, decorated with his own artwork, wine collection, floral arrangements, and tiered drum chandeliers covered in rosy fabric. Much of the staff wear a formal mien and the orchestrated service reflects that-as do their uniforms, which are as serious as American Gothic, but still modern. Local farmers and producers influence the nightly tasting menu with exquisite ingredients that shine in the kitchen's very capable hands. This is the eponymous chef's first foray into NY's dining scene (he is still a household name in his previous home city of Atlanta). And here he crafts a seasonal cuisine that is refined and elegant, yet also restrained and muted. Highlights include a cool and intensely fresh snap pea gazpacho with wild mint and shallots, followed by a supremely tender beef tenderloin in a pinot noir-jus reduction. Desserts like the rote grütze (red groats) with vanilla cream and green juniper berries make it immediately clear why this is a kitchen of serious standing.

Pictures: Annette Schiller Talking with Günter Seeger During the Dinner

Günter Seeger

Christiane Lauterbach, an Atlanta-based food critic and early admirerer of Günter Seeger, has written several articles about Günter Seeger. She was borne and lived in Paris. Her first husband was a German, with whome she lived in Munich and moved to New York City. She has the same roots as Günter Seeger (and my wife Annette and me) and perfectly understands where he comes from and what he wants to accomplish. The following from July 20, 2011 is a nice reflection on Günter Seeger‘s past, a few years before he started the new Günter Seeger NY adventure.

Christiane Lauterbach: The mercurial chef’s austere style divided diners, but his brilliance brought us culinary stardom that we have never recaptured.

I met Guenter Seeger in 1985, shortly after he was hired to take over the then unremarkable Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead. Seeger had previously owned a restaurant in Pforzheim, near Baden-Baden in southwest Germany, and his tenure there earned him a rare Michelin star. Recruited by an American company to become the chef in a Washington, D.C., hotel that never took off, Seeger was lured to Atlanta by fellow German Horst Schulze, then the Ritz’s general manager. When I asked him recently if he remembered his first impression of our city, he said, “Ja, Christiane, it wasn’t the center of the world—but Pforzheim wasn’t either.”

Seeger polarized Atlanta diners. His menu at the Dining Room—handwritten every day at a time when most restaurants distributed heavy tomes with everlasting entries—broke new ground for our city: warm belon oysters from Maine doused with a delicate cucumber vinaigrette, barely opaque lobster garnished with beet ravioli in chive sauce, thinly sliced rare venison sprinkled with bright orange chanterelles and beads of fresh apple, duck liver that quivered on the plate. Some of the Dining Room’s loyal clientele balked at food they perceived as undercooked. I loved it with all my French soul. Stars from critics and awards from the James Beard Foundation and the Mobil Guide, among others, started to pile up.

In 1997 he left the Ritz to open Seeger’s. The Buckhead bungalow, a former Pierre Deux furniture store, received a $2 million makeover that included a six-by-nine-foot red Morice stove custom-built in France. Committed to serving meats and produce from exceptional sources, he rallied the North Georgia farmers and spurred the creation of the Morningside Farmers Market. (He was born into farm-to-table culture long before it became faddish: His father was a fruit broker in the small town of Loffenau in the northern Black Forest.) Seeger’s would be to Atlanta what the French Laundry was to San Francisco or Restaurant Daniel was to New York: a highly personal beacon of artistic gastronomy.

Cooking on his own terms, the chef created one-bite masterpieces such as a quail egg yolk in a tiny nest of shredded wheat with precious pearls of osetra caviar. The level of seasoning in his dishes was almost homeopathic in its subtlety, with steamed razor clams tossed in nearly invisible shreds of lemon zest and a thinner-than-thin onion and white truffle tart sprinkled with a pixie dust of bacon. Atlantans who were barely aware of sushi swooned over Champagne and sea urchin soup with tiny leaves of chervil floating in spiny shells.

A passionate coterie embraced the restaurant. “The first years were very good,” Seeger reminded me recently. Esquire magazine named it Restaurant of the Year in 1998. Claude Guillaume, who came from the Ritz-Carlton Downtown and would later manage the Dining Room in Buckhead before it closed in 2009, set high standards of service when Seeger’s opened. His warm welcome helped defrost the formality of the still, quiet dining room.

But Seeger’s supporters numbered too few. Instead of rejoicing over mesmerizing courses served butler-style on silver trays, many diners decried the portion sizes and chilly service from the Armani-clad staff. They wanted ice water rather than the bottled Vittel poured into small glasses. Most of all, people complained about prices (a six-course menu cost $95 in 2006) that they routinely paid only in steakhouses.

I have always thought of Guenter Seeger as a superb piece of German engineering, like one of the low-slung Porsches he favors. Were we foolish to think he would adapt to our Southern standards of hospitality—become more comfortable, more like an SUV? Probably. In 2007—after several infusions of cash, a redesign that reduced seating by 40 percent, and the hiring of additional staff—the restaurant closed.

In retrospect, Seeger believes Atlanta was always too small a market for his level of refinement. I agree. People loved what he did, but there were never enough of them. “You need a world audience,” he said. Even in New York, it takes 8 million residents and 45 million visitors a year to sustain a handful of restaurants such as the one he created. “Hopefully enough people follow you . . . It didn’t happen. I tried it anyway.”

Seeger now lives in Manhattan. Over the past several years, he’s been consulting with large grocery chains in Canada, Australia, and, most recently, England. At lunch in February near his Midtown South apartment, Seeger seemed more relaxed than he did during his time in Atlanta, but his exacting disposition remained. “Supermarkets have become homogenized,” he said. “There is hardly any food anymore; they have killed almost everything fresh in the store.” Seeger has kept a low profile while revamping global grocers’ prepared foods to meet his standards of integrity.

I asked what he thought of the popular trends in the restaurant industry. “Nobody likes to take risks anymore,” he lamented. Many of his colleagues have switched gears and left the stove for TV studios, or to manage cookie-cutter replicas of the flagships that made them famous. “The chefs have gone in a completely different direction. They want to make money. The customers went for it. The press went for it. Why not?”

Don’t think that Atlanta killed his spirit as a restaurateur. “When the time is right, there will be another Seeger’s,” he said. He doesn’t want to be ruled by critical stars or the Michelin system, but for him, the art of the great restaurant must go on, in the same way the theater and the ballet must continue. He still wants to be one of the engines driving the discourse—it just won’t be in Atlanta. New York will most likely be the place to taste the uncompromising genius that put our city on the culinary map more than twenty-five years ago.

Pictures: The End - Chef Günter Seeger Thinking about the Next Day

New York Times Review of Günter Seeger NY

(Pete Wells, September 20, 2016)

… This deeply undomestic dining room is overshadowed by the immense stainless-steel kitchen in the back, where Mr. Seeger and his crew are on display, moving soundlessly under lights of operating-room intensity.

With every detail, Günter Seeger NY tells you that the food is the whole show. At these prices, it had better be close to perfect.

And on my first two meals, it was. The cooking is deeply expressive — expressive of the season and of Mr. Seeger’s focused, disciplined style. He doesn’t try for bizarre juxtapositions. When you’re surprised by his cooking, it’s because the voice of the ingredients is coming through more clearly than you’re used to.…

Mr. Seeger’s people like to say that he draws up the menus while wandering the farmers’ market each day. Like the bit about welcoming you into his home, this is largely fiction. He didn’t find abalone or Parmigiano-Reggiano in a New York City Greenmarket.

Well, who cares whether he gets his inspiration in Union Square or while talking on the phone to his importer: The point is that he knows where to find ingredients that speak far more eloquently than any server reeling off prepared talking points.

After two dinners, I was as convinced of the excellence of Mr. Seeger’s cooking as he seems to be. I knew the sterility of the dining room would keep some people away, and I wasn’t sure anybody should have to pay quite so much for dinner, but the cooking had a finesse that’s exciting to find because it’s so rare. …

Our Dinner

Citrus Cocktail,

Fluke Ceviche,
Watermelon Radish

Bose Pear

Scrambled Egg,
Parmesan, Perigord Truffle

Moscato Sauerkraut,
Scallop Quenelle, Lardo

Nova Scotia Lobster,

Hibachi Grilled Squab,
Kiwi, Date

Rush Creek Farm Cheese

Cranberry Sorbet

Pistachio Sponge,
Cocoa Nib, Milk Sorbet

Our Wines



White Wine: 2014 Weingut Dr. Heger Ihringer Winklerberg, Silvaner, Baden

We then moved to Silvaner from the Kaiserstul Region, Baden, in the South of Germany, close to Alsace and Switzerland.

Picture: 2014 Weingut Dr. Heger Ihringer Winklerberg, Silvaner, Baden

Pictures: Tasting and Weingut Dr. Heger and Christian Schiller and Joachim Heger. See: Cellar Tour and Tasting at Weingut Dr. Heger in Ihringen, Kaiserstuhl, Baden – Germany-South Tour by ombiasy WineTours (2015)

Red Wine: 1996 Château Grand Puy Lacoste 5. Cru Classe Pauillac

Our red wine was an aged Bordeaux.

Picture: 1996 Château Grand Puy Lacoste, Pauillac

Picture: Pauillac. Château Grand Puy Lacoste is located right in the center of Pauillac. See: Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France

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