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There's a certain resonance between the decor of the new Seehund German Pub and Restaurant and the character of its menu items. Both are dark and rich.
The interior of the place, which for decades was home to New London's beloved Ye Olde Tavern, is replete with wood, from the newly refinished floors and the bar that runs from front to back in the pub, to the dark paneling that wraps the spacious dining room, its heavy wooden furnishings, and the swinging door with a single glass panel that offers a peek into the kitchen.
The German flavors and ingredients - gingersnaps, brats and corned beef, mustard, beer, root vegetables and sauerkraut - provide the culinary equivalent of that rich darkness. In the depths of winter, a meal in this place would warm you inside and out. And on a late summer evening, it's not bad, either.
We visited on a recent Wednesday for dinner and started with the appetizers, a tantalizing selection that serves as an example of how these common, often pedestrian ingredients are revered in this place. We were tempted by the Muenster torte - cipollini onions, muenster and Swiss in a puff pastry, fig balsamic drizzle ($6) - and latkas - potato pancakes with scallions, fire roasted apples and sour cream ($7) - but we opted instead for German empanadas and Black Forrest mushrooms.
The empanadas ($6 for two) were generously sized orbs of Bier Brats and Red Dragon cheese wrapped in a thin, crispy pastry and drizzled with a mustard beurre blanc. These little delights arrived piping hot and full of flavor, salty from the sausage and creamy from the cheese, with the sauce providing a sweet and tangy counterpoint. Overall, a tasty bargain.
The mushrooms were filled with a brat and Gorgonzola stuffing and topped with bacon and red cabbage ($8 for five or six - we gobbled them up before remembering to count). Also steamy hot, these creamy mouthfuls were pungent with blue cheese and smoky bacon and delivered full-bodied flavor punch.
With our appetizers, we enjoyed a flight of beer - four, 4.75-ounce glasses for $8 - ranging from the lightest brew, Ayinger, the color of champagne, to the darkest, Spaten Optimat, with a range of smoky, raisiny flavors.
From the dinner entrees selection we passed by the schnitzel - in chicken, pork or beef - and chose instead sauerbraten - marinated beef, twice-baked mashed potatoes, root vegetables and Swiss chard with ginger gravy ($18) - and rouladen - beef rolls stuffed with bacon, onion, pickle, and whole grain mustard, braised in red wine, served with herbed spaetzle, red cabbage and fennel ($17). And we couldn't pass up a side order of Brussels sprouts with bacon ($4).
The generous serving of sauerbraten included a mound of mashed potatoes that had been browned, creating rows of crispiness along its piped ridges. A large, thin slice of very dark meat was topped with a modest amount of reddish-brown gravy and was draped over a pile of dark green Swiss chard and an assortment of braised vegetables - fennel, cipollini onions and carrots among them.
Although the meat was quite tough and the gravy very tart when tasted on its own, an assembled bite was very good. The toasty potato and very cooked meat provided the right background for that ginger gravy and the succulent, nicely prepared vegetables.
In contrast, the rouladen lacked flavor, tasting subtly like dill pickle but not much else. The herbed spaetzle were slightly doughy and didn't add much taste.
We enjoyed the Brussels sprouts, which were perfectly cooked and redolent with smoky bacon.
On another visit, a Saturday lunch, I ate in the pub. This area feels homey and welcoming like a favorite neighborhood joint. A knight's shiny copper-colored armor stands guard by the fireplace. Stone-top tables with metal and vinyl chairs can be arranged to accommodate any size party. Tall, two-top tables line the back wall.
I started with a beer, which is offered in three sizes. I chose the smallest, a pint, and went with Ayinger again ($5.50). Its crisp lightness was very refreshing. Pub options include another selection of interesting appetizers, such as Ruben Cubes - housemade mozzarella with corned beef, kraut and Russian dressing, ($6) - and Zwei Hunde or two dogs, one brat and one hotdog, served with sauerkraut and onions ($6), along with a selection of sandwiches and burgers.
The lunch menu, also available, added the same appetizers from the dinner menu to my choices, plus a selection of soups, salads and sides.
I decided to go for broke with The Rube, a burger with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on thick toast ($11). It came with fries, a Haus salad or kinder threads, thin onion rings. I opted for the latter and was not disappointed. These salty little onion strings were so good. I tried not to eat them all but failed miserably.
The burger was good. The bartender did not ask how I wanted it cooked, but it arrived a perfect, pink medium. It was tasty, as were the corned beef and Swiss cheese. The kraut was nicely tart, but nothing brought it all together. I could see the orange Russian dressing, but it had no impact. Too bad because this burger needed something to make it more than a pile of ingredients.
Overall, the Seehund adds a new voice to the region's culinary chorus. I would venture there again to sample more German fare, to enjoy the atmosphere, the beer and, most of all, the wide array of interesting and creative appetizers.
345 Bank St., New London
(860) 437-3606; seehundgermanpub.com
Cuisine: German and German-inspired
Atmosphere: Casual in the pub
Service: Friendly, skilled
Prices: Burgers and sandwiches, $8-$11; dinner entrees, $10-$18
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Credit cards: Yes
Handicapped access: No steps to enter. Interior all on one level.