Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ghana: Sterne Ganz Bestimmt

I write this blog to amuse myself and I'm not looking to amass readers, but in this one instance I wish I had a bigger following so that I could spread the word about the Royal Aerostar Berlin. Even if the food was mediocre, I think I would love the restaurant for it's name alone. The Royal Aerostar?! And how cool is it that the Royal Aerostar is actually a chain, with the other and original "famous" branch located "at the Kotoka International Airport Accra in Ghana." It's true that the Royal Aerostar Berlin is tucked into a sort of far away corner of Charlottenburg, but I'm telling you: it's worth the trip. If you're one of those people who can't bring yourself leave Prenzlauer Berg you should have stopped reading many letters ago because it has become clear that there is very little good ethnic food located in the midst of all that trendiness. First of all, the Royal Aerostar Berlin is the only place (that I could find anyway) to get Ghanaian food Berlin and even better, they aren't dumbing it down for the locals at all. I have no idea how they're staying in business and I really wish you would go there today and give them some of your money in exchange for a great Ghanaian meal. The Royal Aerostar is one of those "ethnic" restaurants that has managed to decorate enough to give you a sense of place, but not so much that you worry about loss of sight (Indian restaurants on 6th Street in Manhattan: I'm talking to you). We were the only patrons for a late weekday lunch and we got lots of attention. So much that it was almost comical. Every few minutes they seemed to realize something wasn't quite right: the dying rose on our table was replaced with a fresh one, then our candle stump was traded in for a new candle, the music came on, mood lighting appeared, etc. Lest this sound like a complaint, there was a certain charm to the continued attempts to please us. Having concluded my workday, I decided I needed a beer with my lunch and asked the waiter to bring me his favorite Ghanaian beer (there were five or so to choose from). He showed up with a huge Star Lager, which I promptly forced my friend to share. At first taste, I found the beer a little flat and lacking in punch, but when the food arrived I quickly changed my tune. First of all, Ghanaian food in its non-dumbed down state is spicy! We needed that beer. And while Star Lager is very different from the German beers I've grown used to, it was perfect for Ghanaian food. By the end of meal, I was secretly regretting having forced half of it on my friend. The food! The Royal Aerostar Berlin has an amazing (and funny to my non-Ghanaian ears) menu. Fried turkey tails! Eba & Okro soup! Some kind of rice dish called Waakey! After a personal consultation with the chef we were still overwhelmed, but finally settled on the classic Jollof Rice with beef (also available with chicken or rice) and Fufu and Goat Soup. I regret not having my camera with me because now I can't show you how beautiful the full moon of fufu was emerging from my enormous bowl of soup. It's true, I have no prior experience enjoying Ghanaian food, but the Royal Aerostar Berlin has made me a convert. The food is richly and complexly flavored and as I write this, I am so bummed to be going to a German barbecue full of bargain basement pseudo-marinated pork steaks instead of another bowl of fufu goat .... My only dislike was the salad next to the Jollof Rice dressed with that same overly sweet balsamic vinaigrette you find all too often in this country. Fufu is quite filling and we were sad not to have room for a dessert of fried plantains with pepper, ginger, and peanuts .... next time! Royal Aerostar Berlin Kamminer Str. 35

Georgian: fast Mexikanisch

My friend Sam came all the way from Barcelona to eat Georgian food with me. I recently ate Georgian food with her in both Estonia and Latvia, so I think it's become a thing for us. Our guidebook in the Baltics claimed that Georgian food is to former Soviet states what Mexican food is in the US or Indian food is in India. I suppose you could take issue with that on some level, but the point is, it's the interesting, flavorful thing people go out for dinner for when they are tired of borscht and pelmeni. With that theory, you might expect Berlin's Georgian restaurants to be located in the former East and maybe they once were, but today they seem to be concentrated (well, all both of them that I could find) in West Berlin's Charlottenburg. To be honest, we picked Genazvale rather than Mimino because it was slightly closer to the U-Bahn station and we were starving, having walked allllllll the way from Schoeneberg stopping only to sample the local beer at my local bar and then to use the bathroom at the KaDeWe where I remembered that I had a couple coupons for free champagne in my wallet. Sam and I are good walkers - we did The Camino in Spain together a few years back - but after a few afternoon drinks, we were very ready for our khachapuri. The restaurant was pretty full, but we were given a table near the front. While we were still examining the menus, the waitress came over and asked if we would mind moving to a neighboring table. No big deal, we happily moved, and went on examining the menu and admiring the bottles of wine lining the walls that are dressed as little Georgian soldiers complete with fur hats. Another waitress came over and apologized profusely that we had had to move tables and announced that the wine was on the house. It's true that Georgian wine isn't usually great, but still - this kind of thing almost never happens in Berlin and I give them big points for going above and beyond. The food was very good if not quite life-changing. We ordered the "boat-shaped" khachapuri with cheese and an egg. It's hard to find something bad to say about fresh baked goods with melted cheese and runny yolk. We ordered an herb salad that turned out to be mostly a plate of parsley, which was actually a very good counterpart to the rich cheesiness of the khachapuri. Having let so many weeks go by, I am a little fuzzy on the details of the rest of our meal, but I know there was eggplant in yogurt sauce and roast chicken with garlic-walnut sauce. Both were good, but somehow not quite what we had expected based on the menu descriptions. For dessert we shared Thathara, a grape pudding, which was a little bit interesting, but was really grape juice and cornstarch. Not awful, but not something you need to try before you die either. Genazvale might not change your life, but order the khachapuri with cheese and egg when you're feeling indulgent (or starving). If you're lucky, they'll give you a liter of wine for almost no reason at all and I bet you'll have a pretty good night. Genazvale Windscheidstra├če 14