23
Feb

BRUSSELS AND BERLIN 1/26 TO 2/5/2015

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BRUSSELS AND BERLIN 1/26 TO 2/5/2015

BRUSSELS

ANTWERP HAS ITS DRAMATIC PORT AND A HIP, COSMOPOLITAN VIBE. BRUGES, THE PRESERVED MEDIEVAL TOWN OF STONE BRIDGES AND COBBLED STREETS, EXISTS FOR TOURISTS BUT IS SAVED BY ITS EXTRAORDINARY RESTAURANTS (SECOND ONLY TO PARIS IN MICHELIN STARS) AND FLEMISH ART. BRUSSELS IS AN AMALGAM OF BOTH, THE COMMERCIAL AND BANKING CENTER OF EUROPE, A CARELESS MISHMASH OF CONTEMPORARY OFFICE BUILDINGS, 19TH CENTURY NEO- CLASSIC MONSTROSITIES AND ART NOUVEAU GEMS LIKE HORTA HOUSE.

WE STAYED IN A LARGE ROOM ON A HIGH FLOOR WITH GREAT ROOFTOP VIEWS AT THE STEIGENBERGER, A BIG HOTEL IN THE CENTER OF THE UPPER TOWN, WHERE THE WIDE BOULEVARDS ARE LINED WITH EVERY STORE YOU’D FIND ON FIFTH AVENUE OR BEVERLY HILLS.

WE HAD FABULOUS MUSSELS AT EISIEBENEK, JACQUES BREL’S FAVORITE HAUNT. WE WERE THE ONLY DINERS AT JB, A LOVELY RESTAURANT WITH PERFECTLY COOKED DOVER SOLE AND SWEETBREADS WITH MORELS. LE MONDE EST PETIT, A MICHELIN ONE-STAR, PROVED INCONSISTENT.

THE CULINARY HIGHLIGHT WAS LES PETITS OIGNONS, A BRASSERIE WHERE WE ATE FOR LUNCH ON OUR WAY TO THE MUSÉE DES BEAUX ARTS AND THEN FOR DINNER THE SAME NIGHT. THE CHEF WHO IS PART MOROCCAN, PART ITALIAN, PREPARES BISTRO CLASSICS LIKE TERRINE OF FOIE GRAS, COD WITH MUSTARD SAUCE, VOL AU VENT OF CHICKEN AND WILD MUSHROOMS, SOLE MEUNIERE, AND ROASTED SALMON WITH A LIGHT AND ELEGANT ÉLAN, ALONG WITH MORE MODERN CREATIONS SUCH AS CARPACCIO OF RAW SCALLOPS, STEAK TARTARE, AND A SPARKLING BOWL OF MINESTRONE. THERE ARE PHOTO MURALS OF BELLE EPOQUE BRUSSELS ON THE WALLS AND CHRISTMAS LIGHTS STILL SUSPENDED OVER THE BAR. THE ATMOSPHERE IS LIVELY; THE SERVICE BRISK BUT FRIENDLY; THE WINE LIST, INCLUDING A GREAT ALSATIAN RIESLING, REASONABLE ENOUGH TO KEEP OUR BILL FOR DINNER AT 111 EUROS.

ON TO BERLIN.

A LOT HAS CHANGED SINCE 2004 WHEN WE SPENT TEN DAYS IN THIS FASCINATING CITY, SO HEAVY WITH HISTORY, BOTH WORLD WAR TWO AND THE RE-UNIFICATION OF EAST AND WEST GERMANY IN 1989. BERLIN, UNLIKE VIENNA, HAS NOT

FORGOTTEN THE HOLOCAUST. IN ADDITION TO THE TOPOGRAPHY OF TERROR MUSEUM, LIBESKIND’S HOLOCAUST MUSEUM AND THE RECENTLY-COMPLETED MEMORIAL TO THE MURDERED JEWS OF EUROPE DESIGNED BY PETER EISENMAN, YOU MAY ENCOUNTER AS YOU WALK THE CITY, BRASS COBBLESTONES INSCRIBED WITH THE NAMES OF JEWS AND POLITICAL DISSIDENTS WHO LIVED AND WERE TAKEN FROM THOSE ADDRESSES, ONLY TO BE MURDERED IN THE CONCENTRATION CAMPS.

ON A MORE CHEERFUL NOTE, BERLIN HAS ACCRUED A CONSTELLATION OF MICHELIN STARS SINCE 2004, WHEN, AS FAR AS I CAN RECALL, VAU WAS IT. NOW THERE ARE 19. THAT’S THE GOOD NEWS. THE BAD NEWS IS THAT AFTER DINING AT THREE MICHELIN TWO-STARS AND ONE ONE-STAR, THERE WAS NOT ONE UNFORGETTABLE MEAL, ONLY A HANDFUL OF GREAT DISHES: AT PACO PEREZ, THE EPONYMOUS RESTAURANT IN THE STUNNING DAS STUE HOTEL (THE FORMER DANISH EMBASSY), I HAD A 64o EGG WITH BLUE LOBSTER SASHIMI, FLOATING IN A BROTH OF BLACK TRUMPET MUSHROOMS, FLECKED WITH LITTLE CUBES OF JAMON IBERICO AND ACCOMPANIED BY A WINEGLASS FILLED WITH FRESHLY SHAVED BLACK TRUFFLES. AT PAULY SAAL, WHICH IS HOUSED IN THE GYMNASIUM OF WHAT WAS A JEWISH GIRLS SCHOOL IN THE MITTE, WE WERE SERVED A CAKE-PLATE OF DELICIOUS HORS D’OEUVRES ONLY TO BE DISAPPOINTED BY AN OVERCOOKED SHORT RIB. TIM RAUE, AT HIS BEAUTIFUL MODERN RESTAURANT IN KREUZEBERG, OFFERS UP HIS INTERPRETATION OF CHINESE AND ASIAN DISHES. BUT THE DECONSTRUCTED PEKING DUCK SERVED IN SEVERAL COURSES AS PART OF A 168 EURO PRIX- FIXE, IS NOT MUCH MORE EXCITING THAN THE REAL DEAL AT DUCK HOUSE IN MONTEREY PARK. FISCHER FRITZ, IN THE REGENT HOTEL, AS ELEGANT AND FORMAL AS TAILLEVENT IN PARIS, IS JUST AS EXPENSIVE AND NOT NEARLY AS GOOD – ONE GREAT TERRINE OF SMOKED EEL AND FOIE GRAS IS ALL I REMEMBER; THAT AND THE PIANIST PLAYING CORNY STANDARDS ON AN UPRIGHT GRAND.

MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY, NOUVELLE CUISINE AND MODERN INTERPRETATIONS OF THE DISHES OF HIS CHILDHOOD ATTAIN THEIR APOTHEOSIS AT HORVATH ON A GRIM STRETCH OF THE SPREE RIVER IN KREUZEBERG, WHERE THEY’VE PRESERVED THE WOOD-PANELED TAVERN-LIKE FEEL OF THE 105-YEAR-OLD RESTAURANT, GIVING IT A WARM GLOW ON THIS COLD AND RAINY NIGHT. BUT THE MENU LISTS TEN DISHES WITH DESCRIPTIONS SUCH AS MUSHROOMS/CELERY/MALT/ OR SCHNEENOCKERL”/ SMOKE/ROOT VEGETABLES OR QUINCE/CHEESE RIND/ APRICOT STONE. EACH COURSE IS ACCOMPANIED BY A LITTLE CARD EXPLAINING HERR HORVATH’S PHILOSOPHY ABOUT THE

DISH. THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN OKAY IF WE’D BEEN SERVED MORE THAN FOUR DISHES IN THE THREE AND A HALF HOURS IT TOOK TO EAT THEM.

I REALIZED HOW WEARY I’VE BECOME OF CHEF-CENTRIC RESTAURANTS WITH MULTI-COURSE TASTING MENUS WHEN WE GO AROUND THE CORNER FOR OUR LAST NIGHT AT HASIR, A BUSTLING, RAUCOUS TURKISH RESTAURANT WHICH WAS SO CROWDED WE HAD TO GO BACK TO OUR HOTEL AND HAVE A MARTINI TO KILL TIME ENOUGH FOR THEM TO FIND US A TABLE. BUT SO WORTH THE WAIT! THE CENTERPIECE OF THE KITCHEN IS A WOOD-BURNING PIZZA OVEN WHERE THEY GRILL KABOBS AND BAKE PUFFY FLATBREADS, SPRINKLED WITH SESAME SEEDS AND FRESH GARLIC. THE MEZZE – FATOUSH SALAD, MUTABAL, CACIK ARE ALL FRESH WITH CHOPPED PARSLEY AND HOUSE-MADE YOGHURT. THE LAMB KABOBS COME PERFECTLY PINK, SKEWERED WITH ONIONS, SEASONED WITH SUMAC AND ROSEMARY, WHICH I WASHED DOWN WITH TWO TALL STEINS OF WARSTEINER PILSENER. BAKLAVA AND COFFEE. TOTAL BILL, 71 EUROS. WHAT MORE IS THERE TO SAY?

 

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