I went to Essen Fassen over a year ago and had such a mixed experience that I just took the whole thing, put it on a virtual shelf and promptly forgot about it. Then last week a friend suggested we meet there for lunch. A friend whose goulash I love and whose 3 male gendered children eat calves liver on (while my child only eats white food; pasta shaped like zoo animals, Philadelphia cream cheese, yogurt with crunchy pieces shaped like hoops, or stars, peanut butter with jam – no bits in either component). Needless to say if this girl says it’s good, it must be good and I must be wrong.Still…
“Really?” I asked “Don’t you just want to go to Brot und Butter? I had some weird food there last time.”
“Huh. I had a lentil dish the other day and it was very good. What did you have?”
“Leg of goose, I think there may have been some chocolate involved in the sauce, red cabbage, spaetzle. All delicious if ridiculously enormous a portion large enough to feed two – which by the way it ended up doing because Hrabi’s dish of spaetzle with sweet and salty peanut sauce was inedible. Then for dessert a dry chocolate brownie, corners showing signs of age, with a yummy plum compote of which ironically, there was not enough.”
“Ok, let’s go to Brot und Butter.”
“No, you know what? I need to get out of Mitte, my blog is becoming overly Mittecentric.And so we did which is a good thing because my lunch was great and I realized that I much prefer the restaurant during the day. At night it’s a little bit too dim and quiet, it makes me think of long winters spent visiting my grandmother who only ever had (still has) one feeble lightbulb in her 10 lightbulb chandelier. During the day, light bounces off the large white oval table (Ikea, I have the same one) onto the lovely silver and slate wallpaper. There are more guests adding warmth to the surroundings. The large (in stature) waiter, who because of his height, can give you quite a fright when he appears, lurch like, out of the shadows is significantly tempered by daylight.I’m not sure if this is a lunch thing or a-year-has-passed-since-you-last-ate-here thing but the food arrived on trays, with the napkin folded into a triangle to one side, cutlery on top. You keep the tray under your plate as you eat. I quite liked that detail, it made me think of times (long, long ago) when I used to look forward to what surprises and delights my airplane meal might have in store for me. Or when I am oh so blissfully alone (can count on my pinky toe how often this happens) because someone else has my child and is taking care that she is eating her white food, my husband (often culinarily challenged) has made other arrangements and I can make my food exactly how I like, place it all neatly on a tray, perch it on my knees and watch something I want to see while eating food that is not only delicious but still hot! (Ah, the craziness that such trivial details can induce.)The trays, the solitary large waiter, the salty and sweet peanut spaetzle, it’s all a bit oddball. But then you only have to look at the homepage which shows the chef, blond eyebrows furrowed together about to impale a yellow pepper with a very large knife to get a visual confirmation. This genial oddness is present in the dishes. The ingredients are often locally sourced and organic where they can be and sometimes chef-impale-yellow-pepper-with-large-knife does good things with a lot of it. The grilled polenta with pan-fried mushrooms and cheese was spot on but then “Oh, what’s that? Is that strawberry syrup drizzled on top of it all?”. My friend’s maultaschen were served in bowl, to accommodate a hot broth that tasted a little of bouillon cube with cold potato salad nestled up against it. Hot broth with fridge cold potato salad? Odd.
Don’t write the place off though, I rather like it. It’s experimental not in the modern molecular sense but in the pineapple and ham pizza sense, which can be fun. The whole eating in a drawing room vibe is thoroughly enjoyable, especially when coupled with the friendly waiter who serves the tray of food and then folds his hands over his belly and gazes at it fondly – as if he has just handed you the best thing in the world.
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