Book club always descends into eating and drinking anyway, so let's skip to the last page and eat. Here are the Cliff's Notes to our recent romances, mysteries and adventures.
Chatter on the wire sent us to Tandoori Bites, the Indian place across from McDonald's formerly known as the Indian place across from McDonald's (1735 Fourth St., Eureka). Can a restaurant be haunted? Do the ghosts of bad Yelp reviews and congealed buffet offerings linger? Unlike the hotel in The Shining, the place seems to have shaken off past horrors.
The saag paneer, a dark green spinach curry with homemade fresh cheese, comes out in a little silver bowl with fancy handles ($9.99). Always humble, saag paneer is secretly lavish with all the clarified butter and the bunches of spinach cooked down to make a small pot. It's also a comfort food for those who have nothing to prove in the way of blazing hot spices. (If you haven't had it before, think of the creamed spinach you're so happy to see spooned on your plate beside a steak.) This one is creamy with fragrant cardamom, a gradually warming spiciness and just-salty-enough cheese that's on the firm side, but a nice balance to the nearly pureed spinach. And just like that, the curse is broken.
In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love the apple fritter at Happy Donuts ($2.75, 2916 Central Ave., Eureka). Jane Austen would forgive me. After all, is this not the Mr. Darcy of doughnuts — crusty and intimidating, a little puffed up and with no pleasing sprinkles? But the edges and imperfections of this great lump of a thing are encrusted with glaze and dotted with tiny, juicy bits of apple. It's not greasy and leaden, either, but browned and crispy.
This enormous, landed cousin of the humble doughnut is a breakfast food, a dessert, an afternoon coffee treat and, if necessary, a kind of edible shield behind which you could hide your face if, like a moody hero, you were not feeling social. Sharing is probably wise, given the sheer mass of the fritter, but hangry people are not always wise. I'll just have a nibble, you think. Then you reach back into the bag and find it half empty. As Austen wrote of falling in love, "I was in the middle before I knew I had begun."
When Franz Kafka wrote, "So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being," was he talking about the struggle to survive or a good streudel? The Journal received reliable intel regarding the German-Austrian soul food at Stuf't Potato, namely the weiner schnitzel (3200 S. Broadway, Eureka). If you haven't been, don't worry — it's not nearly as food-court as the name suggests.
Weiner schnitzel sounds like sausage but is actually a pounded, breaded and fried pork cutlet ($11.25 a la carte). It's pinky-thin and tender, with a simple, crisp coating that's balanced by a squeeze of lemon and a dollop of cranberry preserve. On the side (yes, even a la carte) is more contrast in the form of a warm pile of pickley-sweet red cabbage. The fried potatoes are so perfectly browned and seasoned you will forget Americans put ketchup on them.
A black pot full of fried spaetzle with a wooden stand shows up in front of the young man from Berlin at the next table ($7.95). I'll have what he's having. Buttery nubs of pasta pan fried with onion, parsley and Gruyére cheese and topped with frizzled onion comes off like a none-too-salty Teutonic mac and cheese. It's rustic and satisfying with the earthy and aromatic Gruyére. As you dig into your own little cauldron, you might wonder why the Italians spend so much time turning pasta into fancy shapes.
The Berliner recommends the Viennese apple streudel, which arrives hot and dusted with powdered sugar — don't blow on it or you'll cover everyone at your table ($3.95). The crust is soft and flaky on top, caramelized on the bottom and stuffed in the middle with firm, cinnamon spiced apples. Hell, ja.