Wursthall (San Mateo, CA) – Apparently when you come home to the Bay from New York, you go eat German food. That’s what my friend wanted to do when we met up for dinner with her while she was back in town for a weekend. More accurately, she’s a big fan of food scientist and award winning cookbook author J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, who has taken on a new venture in the form of his first restaurant, Wursthall.
Lopez-Alt spent time researching in Germany, perfecting and testing his recipes with pop ups, and has finally opened up Wursthall a month ago (March 12). He was inspired by the bierhalls of Germany, and wanted to bring the sam e vibe to the peninsula.
We came for dinner on a Sunday night, about 2 weeks after it opened. I was surprised to see such a long line, but the restaurant doesn’t take reservations and currently only serves dinner and late night snacks. We debated on trying something else, but there honestly aren’t too many interesting options in downtown San Mateo (ones that I haven’t already been to), so I can see why there was much excitement for this spot. After about 45 minutes, we ended up at a table that was meant for two (we were three people). We’ve all known each other for so long that that didn’t really matter lol.
The restaurant is set up like a German beer hall, where not only are there traditional booths and tables, but there are long communal benches, which is perfect for big groups to hang out and enjoy snacks and beers. They also have a couple of TV screens that were playing the Warriors game that night (which they lost =/). There’s also an upstairs that customers can sit at and look below, and it looks like the downstairs where the bathrooms are will eventually become a cocktail area.
We were starving by then, and the three of us are known to order a lot of food, so we were SO ready to go. My friends selected their beers, of which they have a wide variety of and a handy guide to make the decision easier. The waiters are also knowledgeable about their food and drink selection, so it’s worth asking if you have any questions. There are also no assigned waiters so you can ask anyone for help or to order more drinks. I’m not sure how I feel about this since I feel like it made it more complicated to get a hold of someone, but I also understand that they were only open a couple of weeks so it was likely just everyone getting used to the flow of their process.
To start off with, we ordered the Pain D’Epi, a Bavarian pull apart pretzel served with black pepper honey butter. We also ordered the Obatzada,a Bavarian cheese spread and pickles. This was meant to serve 3 to 4 people, but I honestly think we could have gotten two since we were so hungry. The pretzel was divine. It was fluffy, pulled apart so easily, and that honey butter WAS DELICIOUS. The cheese spread was good too, but it had a smokey and sour after taste (Because of the pickles), which I didn’t really care for. I would stick to the honey butter and inhale the pretzels.
We also ordered Bratkartoffeln, Crispy Fried Potatoes. My friends ordered the Currywurst (blackened ginger curry, sausage, blistered mustard seed, and mustard aioli), while I ordered the plain (chives and mustard aioli). The currywurst comes with whatever sausage is on hand, so you can’t be sure which type of meat you’ll get. I enjoyed this dish since it was thinly fried potatoes that were very crispy, like fries. And then the aioli is a great condiment to dip the potatoes into.
The last appetizer/small plate we ordered was the Grilled Broccolini Salad, with mustard greens, pumpkin seed vinaigrette, quark (which is like cheese), currants, and spiced pumpkin seeds. Our waiter was telling us how awesome it would be when he brought it to the table. We thought he was being over enthusiastic, but he was totally right! I love the charred flavors you get from the broccolini, the crunch of the pumpkin seeds, and the quark, which was thinned down to be a creamy dressing, was what really brought it all together. It’s a great light dish to add to your table since everything else is so heavy. He also recommended to dip the potatoes into the quark, and it was a fantastic recommendation.
And now we move onto the entrees. I was a little nervous about going to a German restaurant since European food is really pork centric, but thankfully, this is the Bay Area, so there is a little something for everyone. Some dishes on the menu can be available vegetarian or vegan, and not every dish revolves around pork.
One friend ordered one of the Wursts, where you can choose a sausage that will come in a bun with mixed greens, house potato salad, and a choice of a topping. I was unimpressed by the pun, since you know, I thought it would be similar to a hotdog bun, rather than what looked like a piece of thick toast wrapped around the bun. My friend liked her dish though, so that’s what matters!
My other friend ordered the Impossible Doner Kebap (vegan doner, Turkish spices, doner sauce, pickled cucumbers, pickled chiles, arugula, red onions, cilantro, Turkish bread), which is made from Impossible Meat. I almost ordered this, but since she had already planned on it, I picked my second option. I’ve had Impossible Meat before at Mendocino Farms, so I was curious to see how it would work with Turkish flavors. She was unimpressed by the Turkish bread, since she thought it would be like a lavash or a pita. Instead she got really burnt bread, which isn’t her favorite. Additionally, the doner just tasted salty. Real doner is too, but the spices help complement that as does the real meatiness of it. Because there’s nothing meat based in the Impossible Meat, it just felt like the salt was compensating for the lack of flavor and meat. I’m glad I didn’t end up ordering this tbh.
Instead, I ordered the Merguez (spicy lamb sausage, harissa aioli, arugula, red onions, cilantro, and Turkish bread). Thankfully, the lamb sausage didn’t have a pork casing on it so I could eat it! I didn’t think this would be a sandwich (again, when I think sausages I think buns), so it was a little difficult to eat considering how long the merguez was and how short the bread is. The sausage was really good, had a lot of flavor and spicy. It needed more aioli since it got a little dry, and needed more bread. In the end, I had more sausage leftover, which I totally took home and put it into some flatbread. That tasted great!
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Wursthall. It’s a cool spot in an area that doesn’t have a lot of restaurants for socializing. The food was pretty good, though I think they still have some adjustments to make in terms of plating and the bread. I’m a little sad my friend was disappointed by her entree, but she really enjoyed our appetizers. I would come back again since it looks like they’re going to be having seasonal menus, and I’m curious to see what will pop up next!