Wednesday, May 16, 2012

England: Meh

Eating all these G cuisines brought Great Britain to mind. It's officially listed as the United Kingdom, so I had forgotten about England during the E's. Still, in the interest of thoroughness, why not break this down into the four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and North Ireland (though I can't guarantee I'll be able to find something for each one). So with that decided, we set off for dinner at East London. If I weren't being so thorough, I might skip this review because it was really pretty meh. Nothing was horrible, but nothing was really great either. It's walking distance from my apartment (on an ugly stretch of Mehringdamm), but I'm fairly certain I'll never go again. The worst part was probably the service, which was, in a word, indifferent. East London is a casual place and nobody's expecting tuxedoed waitstaff or an amuse, but it's irritating at McDonald's and at the Four Seasons to sit at your table forever, waiting for someone to bring you a menu or even look in your direction. There were a few other tables of diners, but the place was not so full that neither waitress should have been struggling. When I finally got one's attention and asked for menus (should I really have to ask for them?) she went off on a search (should she have to search for something as elementary as menus?) and finally came back mentioning that they only have three (should they really only have three menus?). In all fairness, the menu is printed on the wall, but should I really have to turn around in my chair and lean over to read the wall? And how is a first-time diner to know that it's the full menu? Also most of the condiments on our table and the table next to us were empty ... that just doesn't way well-run restaurant to me. The state of service put me on alert and I decided we had to order safe things. There isn't really anything too complicated on the menu, but you really shouldn't be able to mess up bangers (sausage) and mash, right? Right - the sausages were not life changing, but they were good. The "mash" had nice flavor (onions and mustard), but it was a little stiff and the texture somewhat grainy. This is better than the overly smooth instant stuff, but it had definitely been sitting around for a while. We also shared a spring salad, which while not particularly springy was very good, much better and more interesting the Putenstreifen-overly sweet balsamic vinaigrette fiascos you get in most German places. Broccoli (the menu says it's chili-roasted, but I'm not so sure) featured prominently, which was better than it sounds. The vinaigrette was aggressive in a good way and did not taste like something you might serve on ice cream, and the goat cheese crumbles gave it all a little heft. Still, I think 8 Euros is more than a little steep for a bowl of non-organic vegetables with just a little cheese for protein. Mein Mann was also less than thrilled with the beer prices, which, with the exception of Carlsberg (Danish) range between 4.50 and 5.80 Euros. I know this is because they're imported from the UK and I guess for British expats, it might be really nice to have a source of London Pride Ale, and maybe if everything else had been top-notch, I wouldn't have cared, but to me it's a hard sell in a country full of good 3 Euro beers. So, in sum East London was fine, though I have no idea what is East London about the place -- the food seemed generically British to me. The service needs major work, but the food is decent. You could certainly do worse, but it's a far ways off from great and I probably won't be back. Meh. East London Mehringdamm 33

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Guadeloupe: Nur die Strasse ist anders

The Caribbean is seriously underrepresented in Berlin, so I was excited to discover the Karibikmarkt stand at the Winterfeldplatz market (Wednesdays and Saturdays) specializing in products from Guadaloupe. You can buy yourself a bottle of Guadaloupean rum, some guava jam, or coconut vinegar, among other treats. If you go on a warm day like I did, you can first enjoy a grilled fish sandwich (having nothing to do with Guadaloupe, but tasting delicious -- anyway, sorbet alone isn't a proper lunch) sitting on a picnic bench in the sun. My favorite is a mackerel sandwich, but they always have trout as well, and sometimes squid and other "fancier" bits. For 3.50 Euros, the grill guy prepares the fish to order, smears a fresh roll with mayonnaise (somehow it's not the icky sweet German stuff) and horseradish, adds chopped onion and this last time he used some samphire. Once done with your sandwich, you can wander about, admiring the rhubarb and eying the baked goods. Finally, you can get a cup of mango and/or coconut sorbet from Frau Mokros (the coconut, creamy and not too sweet, is her mother's recipe). I recommend getting a little of each with the mango on the bottom, so you can pull it up through the coconut with your spoon. The sorbet is quite soft; it's obviously made fresh on market days. A perfectionist, might find it too soft, but I loved this homemade quality. It reminded me of something you might buy on the street when vacationing on a Caribbean island. Now (just three days later!) that the weather has turned cold, gray, and rainy, the sorbet feels almost like a memory from a long-ago vacation....

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Griechenland: Berzis in da Bezirk

As months go, April hasn't been without its hiccups. May isn't looking much better and I can't make G happen in perfect alphabetical order. But I can tell you where to get a good lunch for 3 Euros and that's something. It's possible that there are good Greek restaurants in other neighborhoods, but Schoeneberg seems to have the lion's share. Mein Mann would eat at Ousies every night if I let him and while Greek isn't my very favorite cuisine, Ousis does it well. So well, in fact, that it's really not worth going without a reservation. It's also not worth going with the elderly because it's always packed and always loud. From what I understand, it's not a lot easier to dine at Berkis sans reservation, but at least they have an Imbiss (right next door to the main restaurant). That means without planning ahead, you can get five different sandwiches or platters (gyros, souvlaki, ground beef or lamb kebabs, and a vegetarian version) along with the standard mezze (tzatziki, grape leaves, taramasalata, etc.) most any time. Even at the Imbiss, Berkis has a selection of Greek beers and wines. Most importantly, their sandwiches are really good. Berlin has no shortage of snack bars selling meat in flatbread (the Turkish doener is, of course, the most ubiquitous, but there are a handful of Arabic schawarma places and the ocassional gyros). They always cost somewhere between 2 and 4 Euros (you really want to avoid those 2 Euros ones, in case you didn't know), but there is a huge range in quality. There is an awful lot of scary meat (not to mention scary meat fillers - hint, if you can't see the individual layers/pieces of meat on the spit, they are using ground meat, probably with lots of filler) out there, but there is also too much bread that has nothing to say for itself (no flavor, no texture of note, etc.). There are way, way too many overly sweet mayonaise-y sauces that have no place in savory food (and I do love me a cheese and chutney sandwich) or really anywhere. Finally, there are too many places stuffing sandwiches full of sad vegetables. This is mostly true towards the cheaper end of the scale, but this being Berlin, nobody ever (and I mean not even in August) has a decent tomato. I've yet to find a place in Berlin that does all these elements really well (though I have to admit, despite having written a Master's thesis on the humble doener, I haven't made it my mission), but I am here to tell you that Berkis come close. First, they really have the meat down. They use all organic meat and both my gyro and mein Mann's bifteki (ground beef kebab) were really well-seasoned with excellent meaty flavor. I give extra points for making the bifteki to order - not something every Imbiss would do. Not to belabor the point, but there is so much cheap, flavorless meat in this town - I would absolutely go back to the sit-down Berkis and order something meaty. Berkis doesn't make their own pita, but it's actually quite good: fluffy and substantial enough to support the sandwich contents. My biggest problem with the sandwich was the meat to vegetable ratio, but I think I could tweak my ordering technique and fix that. I know it's traditional, but I don't think French fries have any place in a sandwich. A vegetarian friend of mine has fond memories of the all-French fry gyros she ate in Greece, but I just don't. So I asked for my gyro without potatoes. I should have specified: no potatoes, extra salad because was a tad heavy on the meat for my taste and it would have been helped by a more crunch from additional veg. I will say, though, that the tzatsiki is excellent and really puts those sauces available in every single doener Imbiss in town to shame. When you think about all the mediocre 3 Euro flatbread sandwiches out there, Berkis is really offering an amazing deal. If I can convince mein Mann that there's life beyond Ousies, I'm going back to get out Berkis' sit-down restaurant. Berkis Winterfeldstrasse 45 Taverna Ousis Grunewaldstrasse 16