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It was an Alpine moment. Leggy in lederhosen, the Bavarian leather shorts worn with suspenders, about eighteen guys in their twenties trooped into Bistro Double U, joking with each other in German. Their lean torsos and muscular calves gave away what our server confirmed: that they were members of a German soccer team. Patrons (me included) took note of their uniform good looks. Oblivious, the footballers jostled each other into booths and chairs, lit up cigarettes, and promptly ordered Budweisers.
Wait. Rewind. Athletes lighting up cigarettes? An odd sight, yes, but then the soccer club's dinner reservation at the 60-seat Bistro Double U, a contemporary, innovative restaurant situated on the sedate stretch of Galt Ocean Mile, appeared incongruous even to chef-proprietor Udo Mueller. "They usually go to places like Old Heidelberg," he said of the German team, which, like others, tours South Florida regularly. Referring to himself and partner Uli Dippon, he insisted, "We're German. But this is not a German restaurant."
While it's true that the menu, which features appetizers such as warm sweetbread and avocado cocktail or a modestly dressed caesar salad topped with dill-cured salmon, is not German, European influences abound, thanks to Mueller's and Dippon's hotel-school educations. Mueller has also worked as a chef in Bermuda and Florida -- he did a three-year stint at the renowned French restaurant The Left Bank in Fort Lauderdale -- so he's very handy with tropical ingredients.
3355 NE 26th Ave.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33306
Region: Wilton Manors
Mueller refers to his fare as "Continental," but I prefer "worldly." The nine-month-old restaurant itself is a bit of an anomaly. It's located on Northeast 33rd Street, a genteel, tree-lined plaza that has daytime shopping potential but very little evening business; residents walking their dogs seem to make up the majority of the nighttime foot traffic. With its dropped spotlights, warm woods, and ochre-stained cement floor, the cleverly named Bistro Double U (for Udo and Uli) would probably make a more noticeable stand on nearby Atlantic Avenue.
"Or it just might help bring this area back to life," Mueller said. "We're not unhappy, away from Las Olas and the beach. We're not the only restaurant around. Nice stores are moving in. We really hope it's happening here." I'm not quite convinced that Galt Ocean Mile could ever be a "happening" place; it reminds me of downtown Hollywood, which always seems on the verge of revitalization but never quite gets there. The Bistro Double U, however, is surely worth checking out, despite a few kinks.
A well-selected and reasonably priced wine list offers most vintages by the glass. But no one seems to know anything about the wines or how to push them. During the first of two visits, my husband drained his glass of Deinhard Estates pinot grigio, a German wine that nicely complemented the beggar's purse appetizer. The "purse," a pastry sachet tied up like a present with a long, fresh chive, was filled with a dozen succulent escargots embraced by a masterfully light pernod-cream sauce. While the plate was whisked away when my husband was done, the empty wine glass sat there for the remainder of the meal. It was neither refilled nor removed.
On the one hand, the auxiliary servers are well trained: Busboys avoid spills by holding cloths close to water-pitcher spouts and replace homemade poppy-seed bread sticks without being asked. The servers, on the other hand, are sometimes blunt and informal. "What's wrong with your lamb?" our waitress tossed over her shoulder after noticing that I wasn't eating. "Nothing," I replied, somewhat wary of a confrontation. She'd just finished cursing out the bartender.
I was speaking truthfully, though. The entree of braised lamb shank in Provencal sauce, redolent with wine, tomatoes, and rosemary, exhibited more artistry than the abstract art on the walls, and the steaming meat fell off the bones easily. The problem was the size of the cut, which was suitable for King Henry VIII. To make matters more complicated, the hefty shank was leaning against a large round of lump-free polenta and was accompanied by an exuberant ratatouille. I just couldn't find enough room.
When the fare is this memorable, minor complaints about service melt away like so much creme fraiche in the sun. Creme fraiche, in fact, was particularly delicious spread on top of a starter of puffy flatbread known as flamkuche. An Alsatian specialty, the savory baked dough was also iced with Gruyere cheese, nubby bacon, and sliced white onion. Another rich first course, roasted chicken-and-curry soup, was a silken delight. Floating in the aromatic curry broth were tender nuggets of poultry, chopped celery, and tomatoes.
A simple salad was the most impressive appetizer. Large leaves of arugula, mature but not tough, were doused with an outstanding warm potato dressing. The garlicky, bacon-flecked salad dressing was bolstered by a garnish of croutons, which had been spread with a potent pine-nut pesto and tangy goat cheese. An entree of grilled beef tenderloin served as an excellent second act. The supple filet was drizzled with a classic peppercorn sauce, and golden dollops of mashed potatoes, pan-fried to crispness, offered a nice variation on the spuds.
The heavier, Northern European items are perfectly suitable for the area's residents. Galt Ocean Mile is known for its snowbirds, who occupy the condominiums lining the street. As for those of us who suffer through the summer months, one of the three pasta dishes is more appropriate. The duck ravioli, six al dente pockets packed with boneless pieces of the game bird, were both delicate and satisfying. A thin but assertive port-wine sauce balanced a garnish of shredded fried leeks and buttery, toasted pine nuts.
Two fish dishes were fabulous and might be best enjoyed outside at one of the cafe tables. A snapper fillet had been pan-fried and set over a tangy tomato beurre blanc heightened by gin. Zucchini julienne, perfumed with garlic, was a centerpiece topping the fillet, and crisp shoestring potatoes were sprinkled over the mild fish. The same potatoes were angled over an enormous fillet of flaky Atlantic salmon. Propped over lightly sauteed Savoy cabbage and a notable red-onion confit, the fish was enhanced by a beurre rouge sweetened with port wine.
Dessert was the only course I found uninteresting. The short list of four sweets includes the typical creme brulee and the tired, old tiramisu. An apple tart was, admittedly, wonderful. Crisp pastry and firm apple slices were moistened by a vanilla creme anglaise, spiked with raisins, and accompanied by a scoop of cinnamon ice cream. But after the flashy inventiveness of the menu, the tart seemed just a little dull, an unworthy example of Dippon and Mueller's efforts.
And while humdrum might seem a good definition of staid Galt Ocean Mile, Bistro Double U is anything but mundane, even without those savory soccer players. Mueller said he does "not want to go all the way to fine dining," meaning that he doesn't want to run a restaurant that caters solely to the well-to-do. I applaud his philosophy. But as for the fine-dining part, there's no denying that he and his partner are already there.
Bistro Double U. 3355 NE 33rd St., Fort Lauderdale, 954-561-8789. Dinner Tuesday through Sunday from 6 to 10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m.
Braised lamb shank