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No One Leaves Hungry

Tastes of the Old World infuse the menu at German Place in Newhall, where the filling entrees include sauerbraten, Wiener schnitzel and more.

April 26, 2001|CHARLES PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Twenty years is a pretty good age for any restaurant in the Southland. Twenty years in the Santa Clarita Valley, now--well, just look where German Place is located. It's in a rustic block of shops that dates from before the valley's explosive suburbanization, those distant days when Newhall thought of itself as an Old West frontier town.

German Place has survived this great transition, I think, by hard work. It doesn't have a printed dinner menu. The dishes--usually about 18 of them--are handwritten on white boards set on easels around the small restaurant. True, I expect Wiener schnitzel, sauerbraten and roast pork will always be on them, but this is one German menu that shows seasonal and even daily changes.

It's a spare but homey sort of place, with little decor on the walls but photos of German wildflowers and a few sets of antlers. It has an adjoining delicatessen, a small wine list and an extensive German beer selection.

Dinner always includes a green salad in a tangy cream dressing and a pretty good cup of soup. I've had cream of carrot soup, cream of tomato, a more tomato-y soup with a crouton fried in bacon grease and a chicken noodle soup with a couple of chunks of avocado floating around in it.

With your entree you get a German potato salad (warm chunks of potato with tiny bits of heavily fried bacon), some other form of potato such as German fries (fried very brown) or a potato pancake that's like a fried mashed potato patty. Then there will be a fresh vegetable--lately, perfectly cooked green beans--or sauerkraut, depending on the entree.

That might be chicken cordon bleu or Wiener schnitzel, but most choices are stewed or roasted pork or beef. There always seems to be meaty pork roast with brown gravy, sometimes roast pork stuffed with apples. The beef pot roast zwiebelbraten has a nice touch of browned onion in the gravy.

The sauerbraten is just barely sour, but the velvety sauce has a understated ginger flavor with an occasional burst of coriander. No Hungarian is likely to recognize the goulash as such, but it's a very attractive dish in its own right--chunks of pork stewed until very tender, bathed in a dark-red meaty sauce with pepper bite that builds up in a slow, gentlemanly way.

Schnitzel, of Course, and Bratwurst

My favorite dish is the German version of the French roulade. It's a steak rolled up with a filling of thin-sliced ham and a couple of pickles, wrapped in bacon and roasted quite brown. It comes in a very dark red wine sauce.

This is one of the few restaurants around that often lists rabbit, sometimes stewed with apricots. One very successful special is pork strips with cream and mushrooms.

There are usually about four schnitzels on the menu, including veal, pork and chicken versions. These are OK, though a tiny bit greasier than they might be, and the veal schnitzel, for one, needs more than a quarter of a lemon to flavor it, at least in my book. There are usually bratwurst or knackwurst plates too, the sausages served on a bed of sauerkraut that seems to have been lightly fried.

With everything you get on your plate, it's no wonder that not many people bother ordering an appetizer at dinner. (Lunch is a little lighter. You get either soup or salad, and there are sandwiches on the menu as well as a couple of the favorite entrees.)

There's only one appetizer in any case, maultaschen--and it happens to be terrific. It's about three large, fried ravioli with the luscious crunchy-tender texture of good pot stickers, filled with a veal and spinach mixture and served with a little cream and mushroom sauce. If you skip the appetizer, you have a better chance of having an appetite left for dessert. A tough call.

These desserts tend to be very rich--say, a chocolate napoleon (much heavier on chocolate filling than pastry and inclined to be soggy), a good German chocolate cake, something called cherry chocolate decadence that's a lot like Black Forest cake. Desserts, even the relatively light lemon cheesecake, tend to be piped with what looks like whipped cream but has the texture of white chocolate.

You'll waddle after just about any of these. Come to think of it, maybe you'd better order the maultaschen after all.

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* German Place, 23115 Lyons Ave., Newhall, (661) 255-9790. 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 6-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 5:30-9 p.m. Saturdays. Beer and wine. Parking behind restaurant. All major cards. Dinner for two, food only, $37-$43.

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* What to Get: maultaschen, roulade, pork strips, goulash, sauerbraten, pork roast, bratwurst, German chocolate cake.

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