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HEIDELBERG, Germany — It’s a hot, hot night, so I choose a restaurant I’d never heard of with a garden: "Spontan in die Herremühle."

As I phone in my reservation for one, I ask what time the restaurant closes. "When people stop coming in," the proprietress replies. "Usually around midnight or so." Wow! So unusually flexible. And so late for Germany.

I arrived about 6:30 p.m, and there were already several tables of diners, mostly couples, in the garden. It was an impossibly romantic spot, tiny and covered by a canopy of wisteria vines. I might have felt out-of-place, but Ursula Ueberle, longtime owner, was so gracious and friendly that I felt very much at home.

Ueberle and husband Günter have owned the restaurant and guesthouse for more than 25 years, she said, and she’s in the kitchen and waiting tables almost every night. The name Spontan means spontaneous, with the idea being, she said, that one need not wait for a special occasion to dine well. The Herrenmühle part refers to the former use of the building: a mill run by gentlemen with an association with the Heidelberg dukes. In fact, the building is all original — from 1680, Ueberle said.

What can I say? The lamb chops in an herb crust were the best I’ve had in a decade, and I was crestfallen I had ordered the small portion. The roasted potatoes were also delicious, as was some sort of "Russian" salad in my first course, which came also with smoked salmon and a "squash blossom." The food was probably the freshest, best prepared I think I’ve had in Heidelberg.

I thought I’d get the 31-euro prix fixe, which seemed a more-than-reasonable price, were it not for the lamentable lethargy of the dollar. There were two choices for each of three courses, and I thought I’d be happy with the grilled dorade, a nice white fish. But then I saw the lamb chop.

I asked Ueberle what she thought.

"Get the lamb," she said.

Then she let me have it as part of the prix fixe.

To see previous After Hours reviews, go to:stripes.com/afterhours

Spontan in die Herrenmühle

Heidelberg, Germany

Hours: 6 p.m. until diners stop coming in, usually around midnight. No lunch. Closed Sundays. Will be closed Aug. 14-29 while cook takes a holiday.

Prices: Three-course prix fixe is 31.50 euros. Appetizers start at 6 euros, a house salad is 5.50 euros. Pasta dishes are about 15 euros. A beef filet and lamb chops are the priciest entrees: 24.50 euros. Desserts range from 6 to 7 euros.

Specialties: Excellent ingredients, fresh preparation and attention to detail.

English menu: No. The owners speak English and are happy to translate.

Dress: Diners looked nicer than usual.

Clientele: Mostly German.

Address: Hauptstrasse 239.

Web site: None.


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