Sunday, March 8, 2009

Europe: Berlin, Germany

I was a little sad to leave Bordeaux. Germany would have a distinctive new culture, new langugage and all the trouble asociated with going to a new country.

It was so totally worth it however. Berlin is still comparatively cheap, and has some of the best food in Europe.

Yes, that's right: Berlin had the best food, on the whole, of anywhere I went in Europe.

Anyway, on to my trip:


After a very long train trip we arrived in Berlin. We disembarked on the Waschaerstrasse, which is one of the main streets in Berlin and the location of our Hostel, which was one of the bet in which we stayed on the trip. It is a testament to Berlin that the pastries which I bought at a street stand outside the train station were some of the best I have ever had.

We walked to our Hostel, dropped of our stuff, and decided we really weren't quite ready to go to bed, even though it was about midnight. So, considerably lightened, we left the hostel and pursued that whily temptress know as adventure.

We walked around our neighborhood and then stopped at a Pizza place.Pizza and beer? What better. I knew Germany had the best bier, but I didn't know about the pizza. I had good feelings though.


Tyrone and Kyle helped themselves to two icy cold beers from the cooler, which they cracked open on the bottle opener on the bar. They then slouched, happy and flushed with warmth and the promise of a good beer, towards the table, where I had seated myself after ordering two pizzas.


Our first was a pizza with arugula, prosciutto and fresh tomatoes. It was a really good tavern style pizza- stiff and crunchy crust, with good flavor. Even though it was a random pizza place in Berlin at midnight, it was one of the best pies I have ever had.


You can see from the second one (mushroom and pepperoni) that the crust was spectacular. Also, it was in a good hot oven, so the cheese and other toppings got good and crisp. Together it was a superb meal, an incredible welcome to the wonders of Berlin.


This was a rumkogel; I bought it on a bakery cart one the way out of the train station. It was about 2 inches in diameter, and squishy and dense. It tasted of rum and wonderfulness. It was a wonderful nightcap.


We woke up to face a day full of promise. We left our hostel, the sign for which you can see above, to wander into town. Our plan for the day was to walk the 1.5 miles into town, and from there tour the beauty of Berlin. But first, sustenance!


We walked into a delightful bakery, with, as you can see, a...plentiful selection of Ritter bars.

While I pondered my breakfast, I ordered a latte.


In Berlin, to my delight, they served all the lattes in tall clear glasses, which showcases the beautiful layering of a latte. I am also very happy to report that the barristas of the town could pull a very proper shot of espresso, as could every city in Europe.


For my breakfast, I selected a delightful spinach burek. A burek is an open-faced pastry, generally fried or baked, which can contain any number of things. Mine contained spinach and cheese. It was OK- not the best burek I have ever had, but it was fine. It lacked an overall flavor; the filling lacked a decisive punch that really makes or breaks ones burek experience.


Kyle and Tyrone went off together, walking quickly, while I opted for a more sedate walk into the center of town. As is my wont, I stopped by a small bakery and got some butter cake. It was everything I wanted from a German pastry and more. It was large and hearty; covered with delicious crumbly morsels of pastry and butter, which had soaked into the top. Down below the pastry was hearty and tough. This pastry was of the kind that make men large and blond; it sets you up for a serious day, during which you will invade Poland and, eh, why the hell not, continue into Russia.

One of the most endearing thing about Berlin- besides its prices, that is- are the colored bears that ornament the fronts of the larger stores. I am not really sure about the origin of this. A search on the internet shows it has something to do with "buddy bears"? I will let my intrepid and more interested readers delve into the mysteries.


Another endearing thing-you know, besides the huge beer bottles everywhere- was that they had lots of small "smart cars" advertising stuff. Mostly beer.


Tyrone liked to sit on the laps of statues. I have a picture of him riding a large iron turtle in Bordeaux. I hope he one days runs for public office so I can flood the internets with these pictures.


As teenage boys, we deeply appreciate cheap, large bottles of beer. Here, Tyrone and Kyle show their gratitude, as well as the overall sense of goodwill towards men that Berlin inspires.

It is an infectious feeling. The food is cheap, good and ample. There is tons to do and see. Our hostel was comfortable, and we had not killed each other yet. Berlin was by far my favorite city.


For lunch, had decided to go to a certain restaurant. We searched and searched and search, to no avail. We decided to go to the above: The Berliner Republic. We later found out this was the restaurant, but it had changed its name.


Despite other, more delicious sounding options, I went for the blood and liver sausage with potatoes and saurkraut. It was just fine- the only problem was that the sausages lacked that "OOMPH" that I do love. Their were definitely more subtle than I had been expecting, let me say that. I guess it is less that they were bad than that they let me down. The same could not be said for the entree chosen by Kyle and Tyrone: the Honorable Goering.


A thick length of delicious, smoky heart sausage laid on top of a bed of potatoes and saurkraut; the entirety covered in a beer sauce. It was really flavorful, and it just said, "Welcome to Berlin. We do not mess around with wurst." The sauce was rich, the saurkraut flavorful, and the sausage as big as a man.

However, no meal in Berlin could match that of Pasternak, a Russian restaurant in the Northern sector of Berlin. On a dark and snowy night, we trudged through the snow to the restaurant.


From the outside, it looked neat and tidy. On on side, the name of the retaurant was in Cyrillic lettering.

I walked in to find a beautiful relic of 1950's Russian Berlin. Vested waiters walked around, carrying towels over arms, while ladies and gentleman in furs talked quietly. Over the entirety, a live piano player traced out twinkling melodies. The overall sensual experience of the restaurant seduced me before I had even seated myself.


Upon seating, we were immediately served a small amuse bouche of salmon with creme, with a small dollop of persimmon chutney.

I perused the menu, and the decided on three delicious courses. Little did I know that they would be some of the best of the Europe trip.


I started out by sharing a blini platter with Kyle. It had, as you can see, four types: spinach, chicken, pork and smoked salmon. In every case, Pasternak's commitment to quality showed. The blini was fresh and hot; the filling had obviously been wrapped in the blini to order. The entire platter (which was at least 18 inches to a side) was strewn with persimmons and cloud berries. In the middle there was some creme fraiche, and another sauce that tasted strongly of ginger.


The salmon was a favorite of mine- it was really high quality salmon, and I added a dollop of creme fraiche to just make it perfect. In the other blini they used a heartier dough, but in this one they used a more subtle one, probably to allow the smoky flavor of the salmon to stand out.


The spinach blini were really good as well. Creamy, delicious spinach. I topped it with the ginger chutney.

For the next course, the process of ordering was as enjoyable as the dish. After I ordered the blini, I asked the waiter which he would reccomend of two dishes. "Well", he asked, "Do you HUNGER?", while clenching his fist and moving it upward. I answered that I was quite hungry. "The Skaroje" he answered, "It will fill the belly of even the most ravenous". I took his word, and was not disappointed.
The skaroje was essentially a hunters stew with winter vegetables; eggplants and potaotes mingled in a hearty stew with lamb, potatoes and eggplant, all baked under a dough "cap". When the dish came, the waiter popped it off expertly and served the stew inside, much like a bread bowl.


You can see above how the top of the stew served as a bread bowl for the steaming hot and hearty stew.


For desert, I had a delectable blini with almond paste inside and hot cherries on top. As you can see, it was also served with an ample assortment of persimmon and kiwi.

This was one of the best blini I have ever had- the blini itself was hot and crisp, while the inside was delectably flavorful. The entire mess was topped with great cherries, which just cemented the desert together.


You can see its innate deliciousness above. That is almond paste coming out of the inside.

Pasternak was, I think, my favorite restaurant of the trip. The ambiance, of the elegantly dressed waiters, cyrillic lettering and delicious food transported me back in time and place, to the Russian sector in the Cold War. It was amazing. So amazing, in fact, that we came back the next morning for breakfast.

We were glad we did.

I ordered the "assorted cheese platter" and a latte. As was standard in Berlin, the latte came in a clear glass, so one could see the beautiful dichotomy between the esperesso and the steamed milk. My platter came with a bread basket, which included croissant, dark and light bread and butter and honey. The meal itself hadn't even arrived!

The bread was all delicious; I got a refill because Kyle and Tyrone kept stealing it!


Then my main course came. Starting closest, we have some creme fraiche. Working counter-clockwise, we have sirniki (fried cheese curds), munester cheese (sliced) which is concealing some cheese blintzs. Off to the right is the ubiquitous persimmon, kiwi and cloudberries which seem to accompoany all entrees at Pasternak. The fruit was delicious. In the middle of the platter are some of the creamiest, lightest most delicious scrambled eggs I have ever had.

This entire platter was incredible. The most delicious part was the eggs, once I had folded in some of the muenster. However, the fried cheese curds (at the 3 o'clock position above) were a novel new sensation. Topped with some of Pasternak's home made jam, they were superb.


However, Pasternak had some formidable competition from the next nights dinner, at Marjellchen: a silesian restaurant. I must say, with all honesty, Berlin had some of the best food of the trip. Both of these restaurants were extremely affordable and incredibly delicious.


At Marjellchen, we plopped ourselves down in an elaborately old world dining room, presided over by the formidable owner. When I asked for help between two entrees, she unhesitantly recomended the above: Masurain jugged game. It was another hunters stew, this time containing hearty cuts of stag and boar. It was also served with potato dumplings, cabbage (on a seperate plate) and a cranberry sauce. It really stuck to my ribs, but I managed to finish it..and desert!


For desert, I got the dumpling platter. As you can see, it was the best part of ridiculous. Starting at the bottom and working clockwise, we have an apple dumpling, chocolate cake with whipped cream, blancmange, a poppyseed dumpling and home made vanilla ice cream. In the center was cherries.

And with that wonderful desert, I boarded the train to Denmark. Stay tuned, avid reader!

1 comment:

Kyle said...