Where I live in Mitte, it’s all concrete, grit and black snow, I was hankering after something different – probably spring but I was willing to settle for a foray outside Berlin. And not Potsdam. (Heaven preserve us from overly sweet hot chocolate and towering ‘kuchen’). My husband, having grown up in a suburb, within a suburb, within a suburb, in other words 3 houses clustered together or where the fox says goodnight to the owl – has an acute fear of anywhere without a Starbucks. Not that he has a thing for Starbucks per se but you need a certain population density for a crowned green mermaid to take over a coffee shop near you. I on the other hand grew up in Athens, up in the mountains. From the age of 5, I could walk out by myself and get a Snickers bar from the kiosk to sustain me on my 5 minute amble to the video store. So I want a garden and he dreams of living in a hotel, where the ketchup and shampoo is miniature and sealed.Predictably, I started cooing over all the tree houses I saw in the large gardens. “Imagine how much fun children must have out here!’ He got tense and started driving faster, presumably reasoning that the faster we got there, the faster we could get out again. “And how did you hear about this place again?” he asked. “Someone I follow tweeted me the recommendation.” “You and twitter.” he mumbled. (See “I Tweet, Therefore I Am” in the NY Times)Carmens is about an hour outside Berlin. It is, as my husband’s rigid body language testified, very rural. A former butcher’s is now home to a restaurant specializing in regional cuisine. The Michelin guide lists it under best value and charming restaurants. We walk in, Hrabi carrying Layla, Layla carrying an armful worth of Disney characters, a Muller yogurt and a plastic spoon. A roomful of older people, stop eating, cutlery poised mid-air and breathe a sigh of relief when we are discretely shown a table on its own by the window. Not a place that welcomes children then. The feeling I got is that Carmens is a place that families (with older children) go for special occasions and where they eat food like they used to find in an interior that would go well with the outfits in Debbie Gibson’s 1989 video Electric Youth. Remember that time? The chairs are metal and painted in matt black paint, circular metal cabinets with glass shelves hold rows of glasses. The carpet is blue, the tablecloths are yellow. It has been a long time since the place was updated.
The food was similarly nostalgic. The components of the salad that came with my fish were all peeled. Everything; green peppers, tomatoes (deseeded), cucumbers (deseeded). The fish had been wrapped in an intricate confetti of potato and fried in butter. Fried in butter was the theme of the our main courses, it was wafting out every time the kitchen door swung open. Hrabi’s schnitzel had been similarly bathed in butter, the potato salad came with the superfluous addition of mushrooms. Dessert was an option between three different kinds of parfait. I don’t like parfait. When I was small and we used to visit Bucharest, parfait was all they had, my parents would tell me it was ice cream. One bite of the dense almost buttery parfait, often with -gag- pieces of orange peel or some other such horror would be enough for me to forgo dessert all together. I may have outgrown my fear of fat (see Phoebe in Berlin post) but I am standing firm behind my fear of parfait. I think I was expecting something else, regional food- yes but with an up to date spin. The high street Carmens is on, the interior it’s all like stepping back in time, which is quite an experience in itself. And it was nice to get out of the city, even if it was just for an afternoon. Considering the wonderful reviews it has received from Qype, Tip the Michelin Guide and so on, I am even willing to come back to try it in the summer, maybe sit at one of those 16 outside tables. I doubt, however, that I will manage to convince my husband to come a second time around.
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