(Published by South Bay Accent magazine in October, 2015.)
German-type food isn’t one of the first things that comes to mind when most South Bay diners are deciding where they want to eat. Or more accurately, they don’t think of it at all. Italian, Chinese, Mexican — these cuisines are well represented and beloved in our region but all the heavy meats and gravies that typify the vittles of the old Austro-Hungarian empire rarely get a nod. However, Austrian-born chef Matthias Froeschl has made believers out of virtually everyone who’s dined at Naschmarkt, his four-year-old restaurant in downtown Campbell.
Owned with his American wife and in-laws, Naschmarkt is proudly “new Austrian,” in that it was named for Vienna’s famous produce market and channels that country’s heavy cuisine through a fresh, lightened-up sensibility. This is hardly diet food but Froeschl — who started his culinary career at age 15 — uses his training and skills to present a California style of Austrian cuisine that yodels on the plate. It also helps that portions aren’t huge.
The Froeschls were initially unsure if their different-drummer eatery would resonate with local diners. They need not have worried, with reservations now a must for this kleines Restaurant (it seats just 50), open only for dinner and featuring simple, modern decor and an appealing little patio. If guests spoke Froeschl’s mother tongue, their response to his cooking would undoubtedly be Fabelhaft! (fabulous).
This certainly applies to irresistible starters like juicy, smoky pork bratwurst perfectly paired with braised sauerkraut, caramelized onions and mustard (some guests come in after dinner just for a brat fix) and the otherworldly quark spätzle — eggy, tender, free-form noodles tossed with smoked chicken, a whisper of cream, mushrooms, crunchy corn, Brussels sprout leaves and tarragon. A brilliant dish and house favorite.
Soups and salads are contemporary and wonderful, like a divine, creamy sunchoke and leek soup texturized with chunks of smoked trout and exciting salads driven by the seasons. Goat-cheese-stuffed “purses” adorn baby spinach, which is perfectly complemented by toasted walnuts, rosemary and a balsamic reduction. Seasonal fruit, such as strawberries or figs, garnishes this gem.
The chef solidly executes entrees featuring lighter proteins like seafood and chicken but it’s the Austrian specialties that many people order. Most popular is “classic” wiener schnitzel, a pounded, breaded veal cutlet that has crunch and flavor, accented by tart lingonberry sauce, lemon and parsley. The accompanying German potato salad (no mayo involvement here) is outrageously delicious, tender and laced with dill.
Luscious jäger schnitzel has many fans, too, who swoon over the rich mushroom gravy adorning tender pieces of pork cutlet with colorful broccolini as garnish. Happily, this dish comes with more of that incredible house-made spätzle. Another rib-sticking Austrian delight is kraut rouladen, which is savoy cabbage stuffed with a savory mixture of beef, pork and bacon, then served with creamy horseradish and sweet, lush butternut squash. Then there’s Hungarian goulash, made from fall-apart-tender braised beef shoulder with paprika and plenty of sour cream.
Finally, the chef’s take on ubiquitous pork belly soars above the usual fat delivery mechanism. Froeschl twice-cooks it so that the meat is crisp outside but meltingly tender inside, serving it with an earthy celery root puree, glazed mushrooms, fantastic melted leeks and pork jus.
Anyone who’s experienced German or Austrian food is aware of the region’s killer desserts and these are must-order items at Naschmarkt. Froeschl offers a couple of his grandmother’s recipes, including airy crepes with ice cream and generous drizzles of chocolate and a firm, just-sweet-enough bread pudding bursting with apples.
These are tasty but patrons go nuts over the apfel studel, which is bursting with apples and garnished with both ice cream and whipped cream. Froeschl’s Salzburger nockerl, however, brings down the house. A cross between a souffle and vanilla pudding, it’s luscious paired with blueberry compote and tangy yogurt.
It’s not just Froeschl’s wonderful cooking that has made Naschmarkt a local hit. This petite restaurant delivers some of the most caring, goes-the-extra-mile service around, with the help eagerly fulfilling guests request that can bring frowns elsewhere. It might be noisy inside and parking can be challenging but all that is forgotten while savoring the modern Austrian comfort food delivered by the smiling wait staff.
Naschmarkt, 348 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell, (408) 378-0335; http://www.maschmarkt-restaurant.com
HOURS: Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday until 9:30 p.m. Reservations strongly recommended.
PRICES: Starters: $11-16; entrees: $19-38; desserts: $7-10.