Barring being called back for any emergency meetings, I have now officially left Berlin. Wednesday was my last night, spent in the hotel where we first stayed back in December on our “decision” visit. Earlier that day I had handed over the keys to the apartment to Francesco, our dashing Milanese landlord, who happily informed me a German movie star was moving in on Monday. I was not surprised. It is a great apartment, and yet I hadn’t felt emotional when packing it up the previous week.
As I left the red front door of 52 Fehrbelliner Strasse for the last time, I considered if I should stop for a glass of wine at corner wine bar or dinner at one of our old neighborhood haunts. But with husband already back in the UK the idea had little appeal. I had done those things with him, many times, and it felt like just going through the motions to do them again on my own. Instead I took a cab back across Mitte to Rutz, a wine bar and restaurant just down the street from the hotel. Husband and I had drank a glass of wine there occasionally, but the food is fussy sounding and expensive and not his kind of thing. On my own, fueled by a feeling of glamour by association from the news of the German movie star, it seemed like a good choice for my last supper in Berlin.
Once seated, the waitress informed me the three-course set menu was what the chef cooked for the pope when he was in Berlin a few weeks ago. I am not Catholic, but I was tired from all the logistics of the move out of Berlin and the move-in-progress to Boston, and I figured what was good enough for the pope was good enough for me. Soon my glass of Riesling arrived, accompanied by a basket of bread and a small dish of what the waitress called schmalz. It was whipped lard sprinkled with bacon bits, and it was so delicious I didn’t even open the bottle of olive oil that had also be placed on the table. Next came a hunk of raw char sprinkled with ground almonds, followed by a plate of fork-tender beef, and rounded off with a chocolate souffle accompanied by a quenelle of sorrel ice cream on a bed of plum compote. I can confirm that like me, the pope had eaten well in Berlin.
The next evening as a taxi ferried me to Tegel, an amber full moon shone over the Spree. This time the emotion came: nothing schmalzy mind you, just a pang of sadness leavened by the satisfaction of having reacquainted myself with Berlin.
I give up. It seems like for the duration of my stay in Berlin this blog is destined to be a food blog. And why not? Food played a central role in getting me here in the first place. Despite a foot of dirty snow, I was wooed by a perfect pastrami sandwich on our apartment hunting visit back in December; husband fell for the spatzle with gravy at Schwarzwaldstuben. And now even though husband reminds me on an hourly basis that I’ve ruined his life by dragging him to Berlin, he will readily admit that the restaurant meals in between the complaining are some of the best he’s ever had.
The problem is there are so many good places in Berlin that it is impossible to remain faithful to any one. (I am convinced Berlin has the highest volume of value-for-money eateries of any European capital city.) Just when you thought you had found the best flammkuchen, the one with the pear and goats cheese and walnuts on top, you taste Gorki Park’s (pictured) speck and zweibelen (onion) version. (To say nothing of their Peasantry Platter—slice boiled potato topped with pickles is really very good—that comes with an optional shot of vodka.) I was sure we had found our pizza place, La Foccaceria, early on too. Then I tried the “goatie”—spinach, goats cheese, red onion, and toasted sesame seeds—naan version of pizza at W-Der Imbiss (der Imbiss is German for fast food), a dish to which I think I might now be addicted.
The other night I was enjoying a goatie at W-Der Imbiss and feeling only a little bit guilty about my lack of recent patronage of La Foccaeria. The ambiance reminds me a lot of Los Feliz / Silverlake, what with the mixture of the Tiki Ti’s interior design (totems mounted on framed leopard print) and the American guy in the corner with the lambchop sideburns and just-stepped-out-of-the-Derby-circa-1995-outfit holding court with a story of how he kicked his Xanax dependency. Everything would have been perfect had the restaurant not run out of white wine.
But then it was perfect.
The chef offered to go get a bottle from the restaurant next door, and before I knew it a wine waiter appeared bearing a bottle of Robert Weil Rheingau Riseling. It cost about three times as much as the pizza, but Rheingau and goatie are an awfully nice match.
10117 Berlin, Germany
+49 30 2809-8084
10119 Berlin, Germany
+49 30 4487286
Late this afternoon husband and I went out for a jog. Instead we ended up eating käsespaetzle—German macaroni cheese—washed down with a half-liter of gruner veltliner at a tiny diner called Roberta kocht (Roberta cooks). And how could we not? When we passed by the chef herself was standing outside wearing an apron and knitted cap, smoking a cigarette, drinking a glass of champagne and beaming from ear to ear. She noticed us checking out the place and explained she didn’t usually drink champagne on the job. It’s just that today she and her neighbors were celebrating the historic victory of the Green party in Baden-Württemberg, the southern German state from which she and the food she cooks hail. I am more or less ignorant of German politics, but even a die hard conservative would have been won over by the ebullient mood. And so we went inside to let the woman we assumed was Roberta cook for us.
Inside there was music playing on a record player and a thimble-sized, gold-rimmed glass of champagne to greet us (I assume the complimentary champagne is reserved for historical political moments). A German doppelganger for kd lang brought us a plate of homemade bread and some olive oil as a precursor for the main carbohydratic event: käsespaetzle topped with fried brown onions. In my three months in Berlin I have become something of a käsespaetzle connoisseur, and though it pains me to play favorites, this was the best—looser and creamier than the others I’ve tried, not to mention those onions.
As we heaped compliments on the chef, she told us more about the restaurant. It is only open Thursdays through Sundays because, as she explained, she only has that much love to give. And most importantly no, her name is not Roberta. (It turns out Roberta was an Italian singer, but that’s a whole other story.) I don’t care what her name is, the lady can cook.
Zionskirchstr. 5, 10119 Berlin
+49 157 73346020