Berlin 2010 trip report

November 1, 2010 at 11:22 pm (Restaurant review, Trip report)

Two weeks ago Derek and I spent four and a half days in Berlin.  We were starved for good non-Thai ethnic food, and tried to seek some out some great, low-key restaurants in Germany’s modern, international metropolis.  Unfortunately, I didn’t write this blog post quickly enough and many of the details have faded from memory.  Below are my somewhat fuzzy recollections.

Hot Pot (Chinese, Charlottenberg-Wilmersdorf, U-bahn Adenauerplatz):  Derek recently read a New York Times article about a Chinese restaurant that specializes in combining traditional Chinese food with German wines.  It was close to our hotel, and check-in time wasn’t until 2pm, so we headed to Hot Spot for lunch.  I appreciated that the menu very clearly specifies which dishes are vegetarian, and which are not.  I started with a small plate of pickled (“eingelegte”) cucumbers with ginger in a hot and sour sauce.  The flavor was good, with noticeable toasted sesame oil flavor, but the cucumbers were simply too oily for me.  Derek finished them.  For my main dish I got the vegetarian mapo tofu in a sauce with Sichuan pepper, chilies, and bean paste.  The menu item had 4 peppers and warned that it was “numbingly spicy”, so I was a little scared.  But it turned out to be only pleasantly spicy, maybe a 6 our of 10, Pitsburgh scale.  The tofu was very fresh and I liked that they made a real effort to build a flavorful sauce without meat.  The sauce had—among other things—shiitake mushrooms and fermented black beans.  The sauce was pretty tasty, and I liked that it was not goopy with sugar and cornstarch, but it was very oily, and I wished that the dish had more vegetables than just the shiitakes.  But I guess that’s what I get for ordering Ma Po tofu.  Derek started with a hot and sour soup, which he didn’t care for because it wasn’t sour enough.  His main dish was a Szechuan beef dish in a sauce made out of chili powder, chili pieces, sichuan pepper, garlic, ginger, and bean paste, with broccoli, napa cabbage, and celery.  His dish was also labeled numbingly sharp, but was only a little spicier than mine.  Derek said it was interesting.  He thought it was more authentic than the normal Chinese food we’ve had in the states, since the sauce wasn’t sweet or starchy at all–just oily and spicy.  I’m not sure he’d order it again though.  Overall it was an interesting experience, and we’d probably go back if we were in the neighborhood, but we wouldn’t make a special trip.

Maria Peligro (Mexican, Kreuzberg, U-bahn Schlesisches Tor): Derek wanted Mexican, and we had to choose between the three Maria restaurants in the local chain.  We ended up at Maria Peligro in Kreuzberg.  Derek got there before me because I got lost (the street numbers on that block seem to be in a random order), and ordered chips and guacamole and a veggie tamale to start.  The guacamole was okay, but not great, and was served on a bed of so-so chips.  Derek liked the tamale but to me it tasted okay, but seemed nothing like the tamales I grew up eating in Austin.  The appetizers were served with a green and red salsa.  The green salsa was a pretty standard tasting tomatillo salsa, but the red salsa tasted too vegetabley–not really like a Mexican salsa.  Derek wouldn’t eat it, but I thought it was okay, if un-salsa-like.  I ordered a main dish which was supposed to be a “giant corn tortilla” slathered with vegetarian refries and topped with cheese and guacamole and maybe some other stuff.  The tortilla, however, didn’t have the taste, texture, or smell of a corn tortilla.  It was more like a stale, homemade matzoh cracker.  Other than the tortilla, and the fact that the whole thing was a bid tepid, the dish was fine.  It was covered in a massive amount of guacamole.  I wouldn’t have thought I’d ever say this, but I actually think there was too much guacamole.  It kind of drowned out the beans.  Derek got duck tacos as his main, and said that they were “pretty good”.  But he didn’t seem all that excited about the place after we left.  The restaurant was pretty small and very laid back.  Everyone was speaking English, and when it got late enough, all the people at the bar and all the serving staff lit up their cigarettes.  At that point we hurried to vacate the premises.   Generally though the service was good, and the prices were extremely cheap.  Maybe worth a second visit, but again I wouldn’t rush back.

Berlin Burrito Company (Mexican, Schöneberg, U-bahn Nollendorfplatz):  On Saturday late morning we went down to Schöneberg to check out the Winterfeldmarkt market.  The market was interesting, with not only produce and clothing and jewelry vendors, but all kinds of prepared food stalls.  We thought we would grab a bite to eat at the market but instead we ended up being seduced by the Berlin Burrito Company.  We shared a burrito bowl with lime rice, black beans, lots of lettuce, cheese, and chipotle-peanut sauce.  The bowl came with about 10 tortilla chips standing up around its edges–the perfect number.  The chips were only so-so though–not as thin or fresh-tasting as I would have liked. We couldn’t detect any peanuts in the sauce, but the salsa was certainly spicy.  The beans were very well flavored, and I enjoyed the huge pile of crisp lettuce.  The cheese (actually the whole dish) was a little cold.  It could have used a spin in the microwave before the lettuce was added.  Overall it was a huge bowl for only about 3 euros. Next time, however, I’d try to get less rice and more beans.  Inside there’s not much decor or atmosphere–it’s really a fast-food or to-go kind of place.  If this place was in Saarbruecken we’d certainly frequent it.

Piccola Taormina (Italian, U-bahn Uhlandstrasse):  Derek and I were in a rush to get lunch on Saturday, and I suggested we grab a mini pizza at this Italian place near our hotel.  I had read one good review of it online, and it looked like it would be convenient and fast.  We shared a mini mushroom and garlic pizza.  There was tons of garlic on it, which both Derek and I appreciated.  The mushrooms were fresh.  The crust was not particularly memorable–a flat crust that was neither crisp nor soggy.  We liked the sauce pretty well though, and scarfed down our pizza.  It made a fast, cheap lunch for two.  It was quite salty though–I was thirsty all day!

Chi Sing (Vietnamese, Mitte, U-bahn Rosenthalerplatz):  Derek and I wanted to try the perenially popular Monsieur Vuong, but they don’t take reservations and the wait at 8pm was too long, so we ended up a few blocks away at Chi Sing.  I had actually read several independent recommendations for Chi Sing (1, 2, 3, 4foodieinberlin blog review with photos), from several independent sources, and it was supposed to be fresh, healthy, and vegetarian-friendly.  I was excited to try it.  Unlike Monsieur Vuong, it was only a quarter full at 8pm on a weeknight.  I wanted to try the summer rolls but ended up choosing the pomelo salad.  (It wasn’t just pomelo, there was something else too–maybe tofu?).  I knew that a pomelo was the father of a grapefruit, but I’d actually never had one before.  It turns out that the son surpasses the father, which tastes like a less sweet, less tart grapefruit.  The sauce on the salad was nice, but it was very watery (I couldn’t detect any oil at all) and it didn’t really stick to anything.  I appreciated the light hand with the oil but they really needed to do something to make the sauce stick to the salad.  Also I felt like the sauce had sour and sweet covered, but needed more savory/salty. Maybe a few roasted peanuts? For my main course I got one of the two vegetarian soups.  I don’t recall the details, but I remember that it tasted fine.  It wasn’t as flavorful and exciting as pho–just a salty, reasonably flavorful broth with various veggies and noodles and tofu floating in it.   Overall we weren’t too excited about the dining experience at Chi Sing.  Despite the origami hanging from the ceiling, the place had a kind of spartan, plastic feel to it.  When we walked by Msr. Vuong on the way home, its warm, busy glow contrasted sharply with the sterile vibe of Chi Sing.

Monsieur Vuong (Vietnamese, Mitte, U-bahn Rosa-Luxemburg Platz): This place is a tourist favorite, and there are always long lines.  The food looked so good when we passed it the previous night (pictures from foodieinberlin) that we decided to come for an early dinner before heading to the airport on Sunday night.  We arrived around 5pm and although the place was far from empty, there was no line.  Hurray!  They sat us at a table with a couple of Germans–the only Germans I could detect in the whole restaurant.  The menu is pretty short, and there are a few specials on a chalkboard.   To start I got the green papaya salad.  It was tasty, with a nice scattering of peanuts and fresh herbs, but I was expecting a little more green papaya flavor. For my main dish I ordered the wan tan soup.  The wan tans were stuffed with tofu I think, and were fine but the flavor of the filing was not intense enough.  The soup itself was not so different from the one at Chi Sing–a salty, flavorful broth with various veggies and herbs floating in it.  Warming and reasonably tasty, but not that exciting.   We did enjoy the warm, lively atmosphere though.  People online complain that at Vuong’s you feel like Sardines in a can, but at 5pm we had plenty of space.  The food here is cheap, the atmosphere pleasant, and the service fast.  I’d try it again if I was in the neighborhood and hungry for a late lunch or early dinner.

Dudu (Pan-Asian/Asian-fusion, U-bahn Rosenthaler Platz):  Derek met some local Berliners when he was in Scotland this summer.  They invited us to DuDu for dinner.  This pan-Asian/Asian-fusion restaurant is newly opened, and apparently quite popular.  We were warned not to try showing up without a reservation.  Our group of six was seated at a big wooden picnic table by the front door.  They asked the chef to prepare them a starter platter with items of his choice, but I was worried about everything having fish in it so I ordered two appetizers.  I was kicking myself for not starting with the summer rolls at Chi Sing, so I ordered them here.  My summer rolls were a disappointment though.  They were simply bland tasting.  They needed more strong herbs.  The dipping sauce was also not very good–just sweet and goopy without much other flavor.  The chicken summer rolls on the starter platter were also not a hit.  For my other appetizer I got a green papaya salad.  It was good–nice texture and sour flavor.  For my main dish I ordered a Vietnamese style noodle soup.  It came in either a small or a large.  Since I had ordered two appetizers I chose the small.  I was a bit surprised when the soup came out and it was just a large cup of soup, but actually it was plenty filling.  The broth was quite good once I added a big spoon of chili sauce, but I wouldn’t have minded a bit more veggies in the soup.  I think that maybe the large bowl has more veggies, but they simply couldn’t fit them into my cup.  Derek ordered some kind of vegetarian maki roll with beets and avocado.  He was raving about it, so I tried a piece even though I was stuffed at that point.  I didn’t care for the combination of the sweet beets with the other flavors, but maybe I was just too full.  Of all the Asian places we ate on our trip, Dudu was Derek’s favorite, so we’ll probably return next time we’re in Berlin.

Reinstoff (Progressive gourmet, U-bahn Zinnowitzer Strasse):  Derek took Peter and Anemone to this one-star Michelin restaurant last time they were in Berlin.  They made a special vegetarian tasting menu for Peter, and he loved it.  So this time we had to go back.  I wasn’t that excited about the prospect, as I generally prefer my food to be food rather than art.  But I was trying to keep an open mind. Reinstoff is in an old fire station, and there are mirrors everywhere.  We had an early reservation and when we arrived the room was almost empty, but the atmosphere was still quite warm and lovely.  They made Peter and me vegetarian versions of all the regular tasting menu items.  Sometimes they just left off the meat and sometimes they substituted a vegetable, usually beets.  My favorite dish of the night was a dish with pea puree, little pea puree pillows, carrot spheres, and kombu.  The kombu was so thin you could see through it, and very delicate.  Whenever I’ve cooked kombu it’s really tough, so I asked the waiter what they did to it.  He said that they peel it.  How in the world do you peel kombu?  The pea flavor was marvelous.  Everyone loved it.  Now I see why the Russian guy on Top Chef won an episode because of his pea puree.  All the other dishes in the tasting menu were well-done.  Everything had interesting flavors, but nothing excited me like the pea puree.  There was a radish dish with a radish sorbet that was kind of interesting, but I found it a bit too insubstantial.   When they took out the meat they needed to add something else with a little heft.  The “main course” in particular I found lacking.  They had suggested a poached egg as the vegetarian main, but I’m not so into eggs and so I asked for something else.  They ended up giving us a plate of just various vegetables.  It was very artistic and all the vegetables were tasty, but still I was underwhelmed.  Peter loved it though.  I think it was his favorite dish of the night.  Derek and I got the two different desserts and shared, and both were very tasty but not as unusual as I’d expect for such a progressive restaurant.  One tasted kind of like an orange creamsicle and the other was similar to an apple crumble but with plums not apples. Overall I was impressed that they perfectly nailed the quantity of food so that you left feeling full but not stuffed.  I was disappointed, however, that they didn’t seem to care about using seasonal ingredients.  It was mid-October but they used numerous vegetables and fruit that in Germany are in-season in Spring and Summer.   Reinstoff, in the end, was better than I expected.  It was certainly way better for vegetarians than some of the other European one-star (or near one-star) Michelin restaurants I’ve eaten in (Ze Kitchen Galerie in Paris, 21212 in Edinburgh, Le Noir in Saarbruecken, and La Bonne Auberge in Stiring-Wendel).  It wasn’t as good as Alinea, but it was much cheaper.

KaDeWe buffet (U-bahn Wittenbergplatz):  I went to the KaDeWe department store to check out its legendary food hall.  The food hall was truly impressive.  Huge, and with all kinds of products I can’t get in Saarbruecken.  They had all kinds of exotic fruits, Castelvetrano (or were they Cerignola?) olives, non-German beers, and even instant oatmeal!   The prices, however, were steep.  They also have lots of stands with all kinds of hot foods–a pasta station, a stir-fry station, a cheese station, etc.  But the prices weren’t cheap and I just wanted a light lunch.  So I head upstairs to the buffet, where they had a really extensive looking salad bar.  I made sure to stay away from heavy items, since they charge by the gram.  But then I got seduced by all the other tasting looking foods, and took a small bowl of pasta and mushrooms.  Wow was I shocked when my plate of salad and few raviolis ended up costing me 17 euros.   Whoops!  I guess I should have eaten downstairs after all!  The enormous domed glass ceiling (see a foodieinberin photo) did make for a pleasant atmosphere, despite the cafeteria vibe.

Cafe im Literaturhaus (German Cafe, U-bahn Uhlandstrasse):    The Literaturhaus was close to our hotel, and I had read that the atmosphere inside was quite lovely, so I suggested we check it out on the way to the U-bahn.  Derek was so hungry that he took one lightening glance at the menu posted outside and said “look’s good, let’s eat here.”  There was a very cute porch, but it was too cold to sit outside, so we were seated inside.  The inside of the cafe wasn’t nearly as lovely as I’d been led to believe.  I thought there would be glass walls or lots of plants or something. But it was just a normal room.  There was a nice family vibe, however, with kids at almost every table.  I wasn’t convinced that the food was going to be good, so I just ordered a bagel.  I was curious if they have real bagels in Berlin, unlike the tasteless, fluffy imposters they sell in Saarbruecken.  Nope–Berlin’s bagels don’t deserve the name either.  Derek ordered one of the lunch specials–a goat cheese ravioli with some kind of poultry ragu over the top.  He thought it was okay but way overpriced.  He said the ravioli were kind of tasteless but the sauce wasn’t bad.  Overall we wouldn’t recommend it.

1 Comment

  1. Vegetarian Berlin 2011 Trip Report « The captious vegetarian said,

    […] I want to write reviews of the restaurants we tried before the details fade away.  Compared to our 2010 Berlin trip, this time Derek and I veered towards fewer Asian restaurants and a few more American and European […]

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