BierBeisl Brings Austria to California

Photos by Amparo RiosIn a little over a year BierBeisl has become known as the restaurant turning out the most authentic Austrian dishes Los Angeles has ever tasted. Chef Bernhard Mairinger helms the open kitchen, lined with a wide variety of vinegars and salts, cooking up plates of schnitzel, sausages, smoked char, and salads. Schnitzel comes to the table with lemon and the traditional lingonberry jam, an elegantly presented version of the Austrian comfort food. And homey warmth is a big part of BierBeisl: in Austria, the word Gemütlichkeit is used to describe friendliness and conviviality, values held in high regard by Mairinger.

As Mairinger establishes his presence in the Los Angeles dining scene, food adventurers beyond Southern California have taken notice. He's racked up everything from a James Beard nomination to several spots on best new restaurant lists. Back in the BierBeisl kitchen he is busy creating new dishes and making sure the perfectly crusted schnitzel and expertly grated horseradish meet his high standards.

To celebrate spring, Mairinger has added some savory and sweet treats to the already stellar menu. New items include chicken liver mousse with apricot jam and buchtel, a kind of sweet roll. He also makes a marinated duck breast with white asparagus, kumquat compote, wild arugula, toasted pine nuts and balsamic vinaigrette. The creamy sunchoke soup is served with ricotta-truffle crostini and chervil. A pretty parfait layered with garam masala crumbles, glazed grapes, and caramelized pumpkin seeds (an update to a childhood favorite) has been added to the dessert menu.

We sat down with Mairinger to learn more about schnitzel, sausage, and what drives his quest to create the Austrian "Gemütlichkeit" in Los Angeles.

What was your favorite food growing up?
Salad.

From a young age?
Yes. Babysitters would watch us when my parents were invited to a dinner. We had them call my parents sometimes because they said, "There is something wrong with this kid. He just ate a gigantic bowl of salad and that's all he wants." It is by far my favorite.

Does your childhood love for salad translate to today creating salads for your restaurant?
Yes, the house salad is basically something that came out of the blue. Just something I made myself. Threw some stuff together, roasted some pork, roasted some chanterelles, making the base that we started with and that's it.

Did you have a garden in Austria?
We would grow pretty much all of the vegetables, lettuces and berries ... everything in the garden. So I literally cooked twice a day for my family, by just walking down to the garden and picking whatever I wanted.

How old were you when you started cooking?
I went to cooking school when I was 14. I started cooking at home at around 12.

What inspired you to start cooking?
My mom. She is a nutritionist. She's a very good cook. Growing up with very good food, it always encouraged me.

Do you feel that you cooked more because there were already things growing in the backyard to pick?
Yes and no. I also enjoyed going to the market to shop for whatever we needed, but it definitely makes it easier if your go downstairs in the backyard and grab whatever you feel like. I would make white risotto with asparagus.

When you came here to work in the restaurant industry in Southern California did you plan to open a restaurant that would serve Austrian food from the beginning?
Yes. First of all it is way too rare in Los Angeles. I think it is very underrated. There is still a lot of potential. Austrian cuisine, we have all the spices, all the flavor, all the vegetables. There are a lot of things we do with certain products that nobody else does. People ask, "What is this? How did you do this?" People ask about preparation. There are a few dishes that have become signature dishes. One of them is house cured char, the second is the house salad, and sausages.

You serve the schnitzel with lingonberries. Do they grow them in the US at all?
No, I order them from a place in Sweden. I have not found fresh ones yet.

Why did you open BierBeisl in Beverly Hills?
Beverly Hills was pretty much the only neighborhood I did not focus on. Larchmont was my favorite at the beginning. I started looking downtown, Silver Lake, Century City, then all of a sudden a friend of mine, who is a real estate broker, showed me this spot. I walked through the door and saw the potential of the dining room, the open kitchen, and high ceilings. I liked it right away.

How did you develop the menu?
There are a lot of combinations of vegetables and proteins that I've cooked before and that I simply enjoy because I think it goes well -- horseradish, beets, char. Ligon berry lemon, schnitzel. A good schnitzel needs the lingonberries and lemon juice. I like the lemon and hint of sweetness with the jam served with mustardy potato salad or simple roasted potatoes. Those dishes have been around for centuries in Austria. I think there's a reason for it. It's delicious. It's tasty. It's simple. Well executed, it is something you can always eat. There is a not a single day where I would turn down a schnitzel.

You also serve several sausages.
A friend of mine from Germany who was also a chef at Patina and I talked about Austrian food in LA and how it needs to happen. For sausages at BierBeisl we have some that are my recipes and some that are recipes from Continental Sausage simply because I don't think you can make them better. Continental Sausage makes all of our sausage. We are starting a new sausage soon. There are still a lot of recipes I have from back home. Sausages like debreziner and kasekrainer that none else has in town.

What kind of atmosphere were you looking for and hoping to create with BierBeisl?
I wanted to make it casual but not too casual. It needs to be a place where I can joke and have fun hang out and have a good time. We call it "Gemütlichkeit" in Austria. It is basically one word for what I just explained. It's a place where you want to go to where you know you can eat a great meal, wines, refreshing beers, and where you can meet friend and say I can get lost in here for five hours and I won't miss the time I won't regret it.

Why food? Why are you so passionate about cooking?
I love eating. I find the products very interesting. There are a lot of things you can do with one product, so many different varieties. It's just inspiring. You grab something and say this would be perfect with vanilla. Or this would be perfect with orange. It's fun. It's makes me happy.

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