Der Rheinlander

I've been to the Rheinlander in the past, but it's been at least 10 years since my last visit. I went at the suggestion of a friend recently on a nice Saturday evening, expecting to take advantage of the early dinner menu, which really isn't much cheaper than the real menu but is presented as a bargain option.

I didn't make reservations, but since I decided to take a group with me (myself, wife, 2 kids, mother-in-law and brother-in-law) I thought it reasonable to call ahead. The person who answered was very pleasant, gave good phone if you will, and told me that while I couldn't get on the list, there was no line and I'd only need to wait about 5 minutes upon arrival. All great.

Upon arrival, the same person (I know because I checked later) didn't even look up as we walked through the door and didn't speak a word to me until I approached her. This might not be such a big deal, except I've been there many times and received a warmer greeting and have come to expect it. And, since it wasn't like she was addressing a long line of people, there wasn't a readily apparent and obvious explanation. Once I approached her to get on the list, she said it would be 2o minutes (this only 5 minutes after I called in to say I'd be there in 5 minutes), which was further un-plussing. And then, unlike every other host/hostess I've met there, she didn't refer me or my kids to the apple cider station or the toys that are available for people waiting. All off-putting.

So, I wasn't impressed with the hostess; out of fairness, though, I will note that during every other visit to Gustav's/The Rheinlander (they share the building and the host staff), I've been pleased with the initial experience.

Upon seating, we were taken into the virtually-empty restaurant. I think 8 tables out of 30+ were occupied. My guess is that the reason the wait was so long was because the waitstaff wasn't there yet; my opinion is that if you're going to be open to accomodate people, you need to have adequate staff on-site to do so. That said, once seated our waitress was readily available, and super-nice. Really, I haven't had such a good waitress in awhile, and I like to test waitresses out. The waitress met almost all of the food quickly (surprisingly so, in fact), which may have been a function of the slowness of the hour but was very nice nonetheless. She sang us two songs from The Sound of Music to make my daughter happy, and she and her busser brought each of my daughters a balloon just because.

The only downgrade was that she left my beer empty for several minutes before seeing if I wanted a refill. In her defense, she was setting up a large-party table that required some time to be spent away from us.

The food was good. With German food, you either love it or hate it. I love the flavor but always end up feeling like I've eaten too much. Rheindlander's fondue is fantastic; I'd go there just for that (and, in fact, I think that's the major premise behind Gustav's). For dinner, I had the Kraut Roulade (German cabbage rolls) and they were fantastic; my waitress stated that this was her favorite dish, which swayed me that way, and I'm glad I tried them. I sampled my wife's Jagerschnitzel, which is basically chicken breast with a mushroom and paprika gravy, and it was okay. My mother-in-law and brother-in-law both ordered chicken schnitzel, which was a bit dry and boring.

The beer at the Rheinlander is all pretty good, and they'll serve you a stein of it (if you want) which is great.

The atmosphere is gimicky, I think. German cottage decor, replete with plates on the walls and over-worked wood and lederhosen on the staff. It can be distracting or it can be great, depending on what you want out of the experience. It's so subjective in that sense that I won't knock it, I'll just state it and let the reader/eater decide what they think.

The prices are high. I honestly feel like everything was overpriced by a couple of bucks. I may be wrong, and that's fine, but I'd generally avoid The Rheinlander for the price alone. I feel like they limit themselves in that way, but they have a huge portion of the gimicky German cottage restaurant market, so maybe they're okay with that.

Overall, the experience was a good one. Good food, nice atmosphere, great wait-staff, and (more often than not) a good entry/exit experience as well. I'm pro-Rheinlander for a once-a-year event if you don't mind spending so dough. I'm pro-Gustav's for a monthly fondue, beer, and potato pancake outing that's more accessible and probably more enjoyable as well.


Rick Hamell said...

That about sums up my experiences with both places, even down to the service.

Only problem is that I think I'm getting tired of the fondue, about once every two months for seven years and you start to crave something different.

Kai Jones said...

The Clackamas branch (east of 205 from Clackamas Town Center) which is labeled Gustav's but seems more like a hybrid (in that the Sandy Gustav's is more like the bar of Rheinlander but the Clackamas Gustav's is a nice, bright, full restaurant with a bar) has better food and better service, in my opinion. It's also much quieter. Oh yeah, and better beer choices, strangely--back when I was going to both, Sandy had stuff only in bottles that Clackamas had on tap.

Alicia said...

One of the reasons for the differences between the Sandy Blvd location and the Clackamas location is the owners. During the divorce HE kept the Rheinlander and the Culinary School while SHE got Gustav's in Clackamas. The Clackamas location also offers a MUCH better selection on their happy hour menu (for better prices too)