Friends and I have just gotten back from Berlin, and one important reason we enjoyed the visit so much is that we ate well. Relying on the recommendations of friends, guidebooks, and the Marcellino Restaurant Report 2005 for Berlin, and making no reservations (we often ate after a concert or show rather than before), we chose the following:
Kurfürstenstrasse 58 (near Derfflingerstrasse)
(030) 261 5096
open daily 9am-2am; kitchen open 9am-midnight
An Austrian-style coffee house with a full dinner menu, not convenient to much of anywhere except our hotel. There are branches elsewhere in Berlin but this is the original. Elegant bright decor featuring gilt and mirrors. I had veal medallions with peppercorn & rum sauce, my friends had Wiener Schnitzel and goulasch with dumplings; dessert, cheesecake & apple strudel with vanilla sauce. We all sampled all the dishes and approved them. Smoking allowed but our table was in a (fairly) no-smoking area.
Lutter und Wegner am Gendarmenmarkt
Charlottenstrasse 56 (near Taubenstrasse)
U2,6: Stadtmitte, U6: Französische Strasse
(030) 202 9540
open 11-3, kitchen open 12pm-12:30am
A well-known, middle-priced German-style restaurant within walking distance of the museums, opera houses, and concert hall in Berlin Mitte. Dark wood paneling, well-spaced tables; smoking allowed but nobody near me was indulging. I ate there twice. Lunch: Strudel vom Zander, that is, a Berlin whitefish called Zander and translated as "pike-perch," promoted as a local specialty and wrapped with strudel pastry. Its mild, slightly fishy taste was nothing special. Apple strudel with vanilla sauce, the apples surprisingly tart to go well with the sauce. Late dinner: Berlin-style potato soup, Sauerbraten with red cabbage and sautéd potatoes. The Sauerbraten not sweet and sour as often in the US but sour and herbal, an indefinable interesting mix of flavors; red cabbage also not sweet and sour but with spices such as cinnamon to balance the vinegar.
Grolmannstrasse 52 (near Kantstrasse)
U1: Uhlandstrasse; S: Savignyplatz
(030) 313 9184
open 6pm-3am, kitchen open 6pm-2am
A hangout for actors and other artists in the trendy Savignyplatz area of Charlottenburg. Two small cream-colored rooms with a bar in the front room, functional modern furniture, smoking allowed and it gets *very* smoky. Invited by a local friend singing at the State Opera. Mostly German style with some Italian dishes, menu varies daily according to what's seasonal: Bauernmastente (fattened duck farmer-style) with potato dumpling, linguine with I forget what, wild boar cutlet with rosemary, all delicious. We arrived at 6, finally left at 1AM, and though the place was full the staff left us to our conversation.
Unter den Linden 5 (Oberwallstr.)
(030) 202 683
Café: open 8am-midnight
Gasthaus Schinkel-Klause: open 11:00am-1am
Yes, the building once was a palace, right next door to the State Opera and near the Museum Island. Had lunch in the elegant Café, Viennese in style like the Einstein (decor too): Wiener Schnitzel, OK but nothing special. For pastry and coffee after the theatre or opera it's a convenient and enjoyable choice. On another day had lunch sitting outside from the menu of the Schinkel-Klause, a traditional German-style full-service restaurant; the day's special, a grill platter with chunks of beef, lamb, and turkey, a couple of small bratwursts, a slab of German bacon, lots of sautéed potatoes, sauce made of wild mushrooms (Pfifferlinge) and some nuts in it too. This is the kind of thing people mean when they talk of German food being heavy. I love it.
(030) 92 240
After a performance we walked down Charlottenstrasse (one of Berlin's Restaurant Rows) but were striking out since we had no reservation, so we stopped into this pleasant café. Turned out to have a full dinner menu, German and Italian dishes. Two of us had Jägerschnitzel (Schnitzel with mushrooms), one had tagliatelle with smoked salmon, very enjoyable. The pastries from the café even more so. One of my friends complimented the waitress on her English; turned out she had lived 3 years in Canada.
Charlottenstrasse 50-52 (Französische Strasse)
U2,6: Stadtmitte, U6: Französische Strasse
(030) 203 7518 50
open noon-2am, kitchen open noon-11:30pm
A stylish-looking German/Austrian restaurant with particularly friendly service, and prices still in the moderate range. I went in on impulse, had the veal goulasch with porcini mushrooms (Steinpilzen), and wish I'd discovered the place earlier so I could eat there again.
Some other places perhaps worth mentioning though not at such length. I went to a fish restaurant near the hotel on Kurfürstenstrasse, called Roter Sand, had grilled salmon with Pfifferlinge (wild mushrooms), an unlikely combination that didn't really work. The place is very popular with the locals, and maybe some of the other dishes are better. While doing the many museums at the Kulturforum, had a quick lunch of Bratwurst and potato salad (American-style with mayo) in the cafeteria next to the Kupferstichkabinett; fine for what it was, nothing special.
I went to the Nicolaiviertel hoping to lunch at Zum Nussbaum, the oldest Berlin inn, but without a restaurant no chance, so instead went into Ephraim's Restaurant und Cafe at the back of the Ephraim-Palais. The most boring meal I had in Berlin, boiled beef and potatoes with horseradish sauce, had to salt it pretty well to give it any flavor at all--this is the downside of German cooking, and I was pleasantly surprised that in a week of restaurant-hopping I only ran into the bad old cuisine this once.
Finally, one of my friends had lunch in the great department store KaDeWe on Wittenbergplatz; the "Gourmet-Etage" on the 6th floor is essentially a food store a la Harrods in London, but with many smallish sit-down bars where you can eat different kinds of food from goulasch to sushi. He loved it but I don't know what he had.
With all this, I didn't go in much for street food, but I had a Döner Kebap from one of the places under the Friedrichstrasse S-Bahn station; very tasty. No curry-wurst for me, thanks for asking. Picked up a Kartoffelpuffer (fried potato pancake) at one of the stalls of the Wittenbergplatz street market, across from KaDeWe; very tasty.
Berlin as a restaurant town may not be Paris or Vienna, but I could live with it very happily.