Cardinale Ristorante, located in downtown Kaiserslautern, boasts a cozy, romantic dining room with a curved stone ceiling and a history dating back half a millennium.
Chef and owner Skendo Shala said ambience was what drove him to open his restaurant in the building near Ludwigstrasse, whose vaulted cellar, constructed in 1470, serves as the dining area. Shala took over the space in 2014, after what he said were years waiting for the location to open up. “I like old houses. It’s romantic,” Shala said of the 60-person space. “Small but romantic.”
Cardinale’s menu features pasta, pizza, meat dishes and fish. The selections reflect Shala’s training in northern Italian cuisine. Born in Croatia, he grew up in Italy before moving to Germany in 1993.
“Everything Italian is good food,” he said.
During a noontime visit, I ordered his favorite dish, saltimbocca alla Romana — veal cutlets lined with prosciutto and sage. In the kitchen above the dining room, Shala pounded and salted cuts of veal and then pan-fried them. In another pan, he flipped noodles coated in heavy cream and a sprinkling of Parmesan.
After a flourish of salt and pepper, he plated the dish with herbs grown in his home garden and carried it down a spiral staircase into the dining room. (Shala worked as a waiter while learning to cook, which he said helped him learn all aspects of restaurant life.)
The veal was tender, and its flavor served as a complement to the more bold-tasting prosciutto.
During another visit the same day, I had spaghetti frutti di mare, which likewise offered a mix of flavors: mussels, shrimp and squid. The seafood menu varies, Shala said, and he orders fresh fish from Mannheim every day.
The less adventurous can try the thin-crust pizza, crisp near the edges but soft in the middle, or the rump steak, served with mushrooms and a flood of grilled onions.
A party of 14 customers at a recent dinner rated their meal above average, with high marks for the ambiance and the serving staff.
“People come here and ask me, ‘What can you cook for me today?’ ” Shala said, “and I say, ‘good food.’ ”
Location: Am Rittersberg 14, 67657 Kaiserslautern, GermanyHours: Lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Dinner 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays-SaturdaysPrices: Appetizers and salads 3 euros to 14.50 euros ($3.50-$16.80), entrees 5 to 24.50 euros, drinks 2.10 to 5.50 eurosInformation: Phone (+49)(0)631 7500-8755 Website: restaurant-cardinale.de