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Alpine Ascension

Tyrolean Inn
Robert Scheer

And Bye-Bye the Way: Tyrolean Inn chef Udo Lutkins and Derek and Karen Wolf invite new and longtime patrons to visit for an Old World meal before the Ben Lomond landmark closes for good in January.

For three decades an outpost of hearty culinary styles, Tyrolean Inn has heaped high the plates of warm hospitality

By Christina Waters

ON A RAINY EVENING, the fireplaces of Tyrolean Inn are especially welcoming, offering both a literal and metaphorical port in a storm, just as they have for friends and neighbors over many years. Coming in out of the chill last week, my companion Karl and I happily soaked up the rustic warmth of Bavaria and the Austrian Alps that permeates this friendly restaurant.

An island of authenticity in a sea of kitsch, Tyrolean Inn delivers exactly what it promises. While others fooled around with nouvelle cuisine, Tyrolean Inn just kept turning out luxurious schnitzels and slow-cooked pot roasts with gravy. During the inception of Pacific Rim spicing, and on into the evolution of the Italian culinary renaissance, this anachronism just did its thing--mit schlag--and did it well.

Beer steins hang from every alcove. The antlers on the wall sit just next to the pretty lace curtains and wagon-wheel lamps. Lilting tunes sung in German add that reassurance that you're not in some heartless domain of Muzak. The theme of mountain hospitality is an exact fit with the redwood locale. No wonder this place has endured for so long. A log cabin inn showcasing well-made home-cooked Tyrolean specialties stands out in any landscape.

We begin with Pilsner Urquell ($3.25), served in the appropriate V-shaped pilsner glass, and a chewy Beck's dark ($3.25) in a pretty, tall goblet. The beers are perfect with an appetizer order of herring in sour cream ($5.25) and the wonderful farmhouse pumpernickel bread, a tightly textured dark bread inflected with the pungence of rye. Karl says the fish is top-quality, and I have to agree, although I find the dressing a bit sweet for an appetizer. I suspect it's the capers and pungent raw onions that Karl really loves, and it's true the bite of the onions cuts right through the richness of the cream--as did our nice butter salads with vinaigrette dressing.

Following closely on the heels of the salads were our lavishly proportioned main courses, Karl's, the evening's special roast venison ($16.95), and mine, a house signature of roast pork ($14.65). Roasted dishes are Tyrolean specialties, and these were classic examples.

The roast pork was especially good. Both succulent and plentiful--enough for an entire dinner the next night--the moist pork fanned out along a ridge of sweet-and-sour red cabbage scented with cloves. On the side were slices of boiled potato, so candid with only a hint of butter, some salt and some pepper that they reacquainted us with the golden rule of culinary simplicity. The gravy embracing the pork contained hints of allspice and pepper. A single sprig of parsley and a tiny container of good applesauce completed this picture.

Karl's roast venison had been similarly prepared, with a rich gravy of pan juices and a side of cranberry relish. A crowd of spaetzle--those florets of noodle so typical of alpine cooking--joined his plate, but I found both the spaetzle and the venison verging on overcooked. Nothing is exactly al dente in Alpine cuisine. Karl's pleasure in all these big flavors and abundant portions was undiminished. He was in Tyrolean heaven.

House desserts finished us off, especially the sacred heart of cherries nestled in the middle of a sinful Black Forest tort and a thick, warm strudel filled with apples and dusted with powdered sugar ($3.50 each).

Given the loving sincerity of every touch in this place--our table lamps were made from old-fashioned steins--our only caution was the sheer size of the portions. Think of it as ordering two dinners at once, Tyrolean-style.

Tyrolean Inn
Phone: 336-5188
Address: 9600 Highway 9, Ben Lomond
Hours: Wed.-Sun. 4-9:30pm
Price: Moderate
Chef: Udo Lutkins
Ambiance: *** Authentically Alpine, this cozy dining room is a refreshing relief from theme park mentality
Service: ** 1/2 So attentive and encouraging that we felt guilty for not finishing all our food
Cuisine: ** 1/2 The real thing, served up in mammoth, high-key portions
Overall: By law, there should be a Tyrolean Inn located in every neighborhood on the planet. The sense of satisfaction is huge.

****Great, ***Excellent, **Good, *Okay

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From the Dec. 4-10, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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