The Italo-Asian-Latino-inflected food scene in San Francisco finally has begun to shift eastward toward under-represented central Europe. From the moment it opened a month ago, Leopold’s, a playful Austrian restaurant, has been mobbed.
Owned by two brothers, Klaus and Albert Rainer, the restaurant unabashedly celebrates old fashioned Mitteleuropa, from the dirndl-clad — and abundantly cleaved — waitstaff, to the butter-colored walls decorated with antlers, photos and choice bits of kitsch in a cheerful hunting lodge-themed dining room.
Naked wooden tables, chairs, booths and floors, and a perpetually full house keep noise to a maximum.
Klaus Rainer at the door — Albert is in the kitchen — couldn’t be warmer and his ebullience nurtures a loyal, and patient, clientele having to cope with a no-reservations dining room.
Once seated, the meal clips along, facilitated by smart waitresses who guide you to what you will like. These gals offer a lot more than decollotage.
Clear chicken soup with two feather-light dumplings seasoned with a whisper of nutmeg ($5.75) is a nice clean way to start a meal here, considering what will follow. Even small plates are substantial.
Many slices of satiny, house-cured gravlaks-style salmon ($9.75), rich and oily, turn into a meal when paired with a big, creamy-centered potato pancake, and kohlrabi and fennel slaw.
The precious morsels of meat extracted from the crannies of pigs trotters are transformed into crispy fried squares laced with cubes of melting fat ($9.75), ever so irresistible, balanced by a bracing salad of frisee and soft fingerling potatoes in a sharp vinaigrette.
Sausage-like grilled duck crepinettes ($9.50), wrapped in both caul fat and cabbage, topped with crackly fried leaves of duck prosciutto, bedded on potato puree, has the heft of a main course, too.
The iconic dish of Austria, wiener schnitzel ($13.75), a golden slice of pork, pounded thin and breaded, is workmanlike and satisfying with a warm salad of escarole and potatoes in a mild, mustardy vinaigrette.
What I particularly liked about goulash ($12.75), braised beef that gives up its flavor to a dark, deep, paprika-scented sauce, was airy spatzle, corn-kernel sized noodle dumplings dusted with parsley and a whisper of lemon zest. This kitchen shows a light hand with all its dumplings.
The fabulous choucroute platter ($18.25) brings subtly tart, vibrant sauerkraut and savory pork in great abundance: a thick slice of gently smoked pork loin, succulent, meaty pork ribs, and a housemade bratwurst with an engaging, coarse texture that declaims pork.
Caraway-scented butterball potatoes perfume the whole juicy plate. You will need your red striped dish towel napkin if you’re a thorough bone cleaner.
Floral Slovenian whites and light Austrian reds ($7 per glass), and small pours of beer like the elegant Bitburger Pilsner ($4), complete the experience.
Beer gluttons can quaff from glass boots of German draft in ever ascending sizes. Just look on the shelf above the small bar at the back.
But save room for warm, housemade apple strudel ($5.75), the real thing, wrapped in many tissue paper-thin layers of pastry.
And here’s the kicker. I have never been able to consume more than $25 worth of food, no matter how much I try. No wonder people are yodeling at the door to get in.
Location: 2400 Polk St. (at Union Street), San Francisco
Contact: (415) 474-2000
Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 5:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Price range: $5.75 to $18.25
Recommended dishes: Chicken soup, cured salmon, duck crepinettes, crispy pig trotters, choucroute garnie, wiener schnitzel, apple strudel
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa
Reservations: Not accepted
Patricia Unterman is the author of the second edition of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.