I finally got around to write about our eating experiences during our two-week stay in an apartment in Prenslauerberg this May. We have visited Berlin numerous times and this neighborhood remained our favorite. Highlights were (the bill included a 10% tip):
Lorbeer: a small 12-table restaurant near our apartment serves German food with a modern twist. The décor is no-frill modern. The short menu consists of 5 first courses, 5 main plates and 3 desserts. Since this was our first night in Berlin, we wanted a simple dinner. We ate a tender and flavorful venison ragout with buttery spaetzle and a generous roast veal loin with a citrusy marsala sauce. The veal came with some of the best white asparagus of this trip. Shared a rich crème brulee with strawberries. The short, mostly German wine list had just about every wine available by the glass. With glasses of Riesling and Spatburgunder plus bottle water, the bill came to 60E. We chatted up with the young waitress who is from Baden-Baden and moved to Berlin about a year ago for big city excitement. The well-prepared food using quality ingredients and friendly service made it a gem of a neighborhood restaurant.
La Soupe Populaire: the former Botzow Brewery has been converted to an art gallery that house the restaurant. One entered into a dimly lit long corridor with eye-catching bathroom doors and giant washbasins. It leads into a high ceiling open gallery space with the semi open kitchen and a chef table on one side. A metal staircase leads to two dining alcoves; both have view of the gallery exhibition. The menu consisted of two parts; the first changes depending on the art exhibition. The second, which we ordered from, is re-interpretation of a few German classics. It had four first courses, 4 main plates and two desserts. After ordering came a wooden tray of sweet dry sausages with a jar of cornichons; the sausages were pleasantly chewy but what caught our attention was the basket of country bread. The crust was dark baked, slightly sour with a very moist chewry interior, one of the best bread we have ever came across. It was not baked in house and when asked wouldn’t reveal the outside baker. The two of us started with lamb riblets and the mustard egg. The lamb was straightforward, five riblets of flavorful meat and a little fat that came easily off the bones. Underneath was a pool of white bean puree sweetened with a touch of honey. The more complicated mustard egg consisted of an egg cooked sous-vide topped with mustard foam, along side were buttery mashed potato, a few potato chips and sweet and sour dice beets for counterpoint. Our main plates were the konigsberger klopse and the cod. The two meatballs, made with finely ground veal was punched up a good dose of herbs. They were overshadowed by the accompaniments: buttery potato puree and a sphere of sliced pickled beets enrobed with thin layer of red wine poached apple, a great way to jazz up a simple dish. The cod was a beautiful piece of fish steamed to come out pearly white. Served with braised cucumber and a pool of intense tarragon puree that perked up the mild tasting fish. This was skilled cooking using quality ingredients. For dessert, the bee sting cake was a yellow sponge cake circle filled with whipped cream/meringue mixture and topped with a thin disc of almond brittle. It tasted of mostly sugar and not much else. Service was friendly and accommodating. We drank a 2012 Riesling St. Remigiusberg. With bottled water, the total came to 110 euro.
Even if one doesn’t eat here, a visit to the ground floor Bar Croco Bleu is a must. The décor resembled a stage set, full of kitsch including a stuffed bear, a palm tree and old neon signs. The lighting is just dark enough to evoke an air of mystery. The best was the charming bar manager and his assistant, both right out of an old Hollywood movie. Aside from their looks, they worked the room beautifully. Glad we dressed up for this evening.
Gashaus Alt Wein: Berlin friends told us that this was the place for good schnitzels. The menu consists mostly German hearty fare. With a few outside tables taken, we sat in the large inside dining room, which had wood tables around a large bar. Two waiters worked the room with friendly efficiency. Both of us ordered the schnitzel along with white asparagus bathed in a timid hollandaise sauce. A massive piece of pounded veal sautéed to a beautiful brown covered an entire 12-inch plate. The veal was to us Americans more like baby beef but nevertheless tender. I would have preferred the veal pounded less thin so that one can better taste the meat under the crispy batter. A good squeeze lemon perked up both the schnitzel and the hollandaise sauce. Two Hirter Pils and bottled water came to 50E.
Zur Haxe: after reading a post on ‘Berlin Food Stories’ on this restaurant, my partner immediately made reservation. The description reminded him of places that his German work colleagues took him to back in the 1970s. Bavarian kitsch pretty much sums up the interior with the staff dressed to match. The restaurant is known for the schinkenhaxe, which we both ordered along with a cucumber salad. The enormous roasted smoked pork shank enrobed in crackling skin came with two thick slice of sautéed bread pudding and big pile of sauerkraut. The meat was tender and the skin crispy with a thin layer of fat in between. The sauerkraut and the cucumber salad helped cut the richness meat and dense bread pudding. After about half hour of attacking this massive plate of food, we gave up. The friendly waiter carefully bagged the more than half leftover for us to take home. With two beers, the bill came to 40E.
Alpenstueck: after several breakfast at their bakery/café, we decided to check out their restaurant across the street. The mostly white color scheme and simple table arrangement gave the dining room an airy feel. My partner chose the asparagus set menu because it had three of his favorite things: soup, risotto and rhubarb. I started with the Swabian ravioli with a green salad. Thick pasta squares were stuffed with a finely ground mixture of veal, pork, spinach and a good amount of parsley. The four ravioli were swimming in brown butter (too much of a good thing) and topped with fried onion. The asparagus soup had just a little cream to give it smoothness and my partner was more taken with the spoonful of raspberry jelly on top than I was. My main plate was an aged entrecote served with small new potatoes, white asparagus and well-made hollandaise sauce. The steak, served sliced, had a wonderful beefy flavor I enjoyed smearing it in the lemony sauce, a Béarnaise substitute. My partner’s main plate was braised lamb neck, buttered green asparagus and simple risotto with a good amount of butter and grated cheese. The lamb was from the shoulder and had plenty of flavorful tender meat. We had agreed to share the rhubarb tart but he out maneuvered me for most of it. Chalk full of rhubarbs with just enough eggs to bind it, filled a wonderful nutty sugar crust. The yogurt sorbet, more like a light ice cream was a welcoming balance to the tart rhubarb. The few strawberries on the plate were some of the sweetest, juiciest berries we’ve tasted in a long time. The service reminded us our an excellent waiter can make a meal so much more enjoyable; he was efficient, moved with grace and never seem intrusive. With a bottle of Spatburgunder, the bill came to 115E.
A few other food notes:
Despite the huge number of Turkish eating places in Berlin, we haven’t had much luck finding ones that we like. The two grilled places on this trip didn’t change that. The typical mezze were good but the grilled meats were disappointing, heavily spiced dry lamb in pool overly intense sauce. It lacked the subtlety of the food that we enjoyed so much in Turkey.
We love the dense German bread. The seeded loaf and carrot bread from Alpenstueck were exceptional. We also enjoyed the breads and breakfast pastries from Sowohlalauch, a café/bakery near our apartment. Besides bread, they bake a large assortment of kuchen, including an excellent rhubarb torte, sour, milchtorte, various chocolate and cheesecakes. We sampled just about all of them during our two-week stay. Unlike much of what we came across in Berlin, they are not overly sweet. The layer of gelatin on top still screamed old-style but they trumped couple of the newer French style pastry places in the neighborhood