Chicago Williams, BBQ, Mitte

Chicago WIlliamsWhile I would argue that America’s soft power has taken some considerable hits over the last decade, its food culture is thriving abroad.  It crops up in the most unlikely places- like on Hannoversche Strasse.  A street that even a die-hard Mitte resident will struggle to locate.  There on the former site of BarCelona next to the cutsie Maialino is Chicago Williams.

Its walls are bare brick.  There are meat hooks to hang your coat on.  And a giant Beelonia smoker, hunched against the back wall like some sort of dormant beast.  Behind it,  “Don’t mess with the chef!”  is spray painted onto the wall.  (Because you might end up in the smoker?).

You place your order at the bar.  There is a wonky shelf, affixed at such an angle that the carefully stacked ceramic beer mugs seem sure to slide off with a crash.  There is a lot of humor in that shelf.   2 slushie machines whir and churn like fat hula dancers promising perfectly icy Margaritas.   When I try to order a diet coke for my husband I am told that it’s bad for you and they don’t serve it but would I like an Africola instead?
“What? And a platter of smoked meat is good for you?” I quip.
“It’s good for your heart.” Comes the answer. Read more of this post

Du Bonheur, Patisserie, Mitte

Canele from Du BonheurFew sweet pastries have the ability to dispense with my good grasp of self-control – except for Canelés.  The outside made up of a maximum caramelized, crunchy, sticky surface.  And the inside, solid custard, flecked with black vanilla seeds, yielding.  It’s a creme caramel you can hold in your hand, improved by texture, beveled edges, sharp ridges – pockets of bliss.

Not that I had to battle with lost self-control since the last Canelé I ate was at Dabbous, almost a year ago (post here).Du BonheurExcept, there is this new place that opened up on Brunnenstraβe.  With a striking fuchsia pink awning and tea roses on the tables.  There is an exposed brick wall, rough and dusty  which sets off the slick white counter with glass thick enough to safely display diamonds.  Within the cabinet are elaborate cakes, striking enough that they look like large fancy brooches more than anything edible. Read more of this post

District Môt, Saigon Street Food, Mitte

District MotSo District Môt.  On the former site of Chi Sing and from the people who brought us Si An Trà Café and Chén Chè Tea House.  The design is like being whacked in the face with a bag of obvious.  District Mot

It’s street food – so the whole place is meant to emulate that.  I’ve eaten street food in Vietnam and the experience is really not complete without the stench of Durian, a table of expired canines piled high with an oblivious boisterous puppy frolicking happily next to it (which makes me think the Universe is not a nice guy).  Oh and your eyelids should be stuck firmly open with sweat, so that to blink means to exert super human power.  For good measure, there should be a street urchin circling around you trying to sell you a) a bottle of tap water, its seal deceptively but meticulously glued back together, b) what looks like the Rough Guide but inside contains blank pages (actually fell for this), c) a tour.District Mot

You’re not going to get authentic and that’s fine.  If you can still get good.

But can you?

There were some dishes I liked at Chi Sing.  Enough that I took some friends from London the winter before last.  But the food was bland at best and plain old bad in other cases.  And the service was obnoxious.  That’s how it was with Chi Sing, I never knew which side of the coin I was going to get.

What to expect with District Mot?  More of the same I believe.

Mango saladI went for lunch, ordered three small dishes (€4 each).  The green mango salad was in fact ripe mango salad with what looked like Mickey Mouse ears, delicious all the same – although fish sauce and lime juice could probably make styrofoam taste good. Read more of this post

Mogg & Melzer, Delicatessen, Mitte

The hallway outside Mogg & MelzerI once attended a wedding where I was thoughtfully placed next to another woman with whom I had a lot in common. The two of us should have had a convivial evening. Instead we were like two positively charged magnets, repelling each other no matter how hard we  tried.

Equally confounding was my experience with Mogg & Melzer. A delicatessen in a former Jewish girls school, the hallway dressed in emerald-green tiles that go positively Wizard of Oz in hue when they catch the sun.  A place that serves a chicken liver creme brûlée.  What’s not to love?The space at Mogg & MelzerExcept I found the pastrami sandwich dry and didn’t touch the bland coleslaw.  The volume of the music was better suited to “I’m home alone packing up the flat” than a public space where people were trying to socialize.

That was 3 months ago.  I went back again this week.  And although I was irked that the solitary waitress was asking about my drink order before I had even taken off my coat (for the rest of the meal she would be mostly MIA) the two women in the corner were sharing a shakshuka that appeared to be delicious.Caesar salad, Mogg & MelzerThe menu reads really well.  I was torn between the golden beet & goats cheese salad (€6.50) and the Balsamic lentils, baked Crottin de Chavignol & wild herbs (€11).  (I’ll readily admit that when I read the descriptions, I imagined La Fromagerie calibre salads.) The menu at Mogg & MelzerI went for the lentils with the crottin. I received a plate with a stingy ladleful of lentils, doused in too much balsamic vinegar served on a papadum (?) . The wild herbs turned out to be a few leaves of bagged salad so generic they hardly needed a special mention on the menu. I forgot the lentils came with a crottin until I started to prod what looked like a mummified egg yolk perched on top.Lentils with goats cheese
That was the crottin? This crottin? And if it was the famous Crottin de Chavignol of the Loire Valley, how had its mottled exterior turned smooth and why exactly was it orange – instead of white or even white with blue?

Can I chalk up my lukewarm experience to a dud dish? Read more of this post

Galeries Lafayette, Food Hall, Mitte

My husband gave me a Nike Fuel band as a gift.  It stayed in the box for about two weeks.

All I could think of when I saw it was: Martha Stewart. Martha Stewart dumbstruck that anyone would willingly don a shackle that monitors their movement, when she had to forcibly endure a home incarceration bracelet.  Martha Stewart whose business lost $50.7 million against revenues of $43.5 million in the 3rd quarter of 2012 and still felt upbeat enough to take the FT’s reporter along to check out ABC for inspiration on what to do with twigs. (I want whatever anxiety suppressing drugs she’s on!)

When it became obvious I wasn’t going to do it, my husband took it out of the box and loaded it onto my computer.Nike Fuel Band“See you can Twitter it and Facebook it.  You can even see what your friends are doing!”  I was going to explain to him that my friends are not 17-year-old girls and they would probably appreciate something that kept count of how many diapers they’ve changed or noses they’ve wiped and which counts down days since last pedicure, but I didn’t have the heart to deflate his considerable bubble.IMG_3843I’ve been wearing it regardless because around 10 o’clock in the morning, I press the white button and it says G*O*A*L and the letters do somersaults to a line of reggae colours at the top.  That is the why this bracelet will succeed, not because it motivates you to exercise but because it gives the wearer compliments.

Vanilla eclaireI wore it to Galeries Lafayette yesterday to buy Layla her weekly eclaire. She believes that their food hall makes the most sublime eclaires. I think they make damn good ones for Berlin, my favourite is coffee and hers is chocolate.  Yesterday the lady at the patisserie took a liking to her and gave her a chocolate macaron.

I’ve never written about the food hall here.  It’s small, but I love that by focusing on France, it makes sense.  You know what to expect.  Cheese, of course.  A good butchers, expensive but if you are clever, you can pick up some chipolatas or Merguez sausages and liven up a pot of lentils because sometimes (often) I just need a break from all the wursts.  The chiller cabinets stock things like thinly grated carrots with some raisins and a few parsley leaves masquerading as salad. Or expensive pots of yogurts or puddings.IMG_3842 Read more of this post

The Barn – Roastery, Mitte

The Roastery
I was sitting inside the child friendly Ginger and White in London when I read that Ralf Rüller had banned prams in his coffee shop. “Big deal!” I thought and soon tweeted – it’s not like prams fit in the teeny tiny Augustrasse shop. Only much later, while I sat with a group of bristling mothers, did I understand that there was a new bigger shop, The Roastery and that it also did not allow prams. Nor did they let you use their toilet, allow dogs, provide sugar, use soya milk and if you wanted to use your computer – you had to wait in line for the one table where it was allowed.IMG_1275

“Do you know that they deleted all the negative comments off their Facebook page?” one said “I mean if you are going to do social media, then you have to do social media!”

A big no!Even more confounding was the chosen location; the Mitte end of Schönhauser Allee – the other end of which is Prenzlauerberg.  Prenzlauerberg.  As in the bastion of designer babies and prams.  The styling of the babies and The Barn is nearly identical with a preference for wood (Prenzlauerberg babies don’t play with plastic), clothing in muted hues, even for the girls (especially for the girls) and no sugar allowed (The Barn because it thinks that  sugar would ruin a perfectly balanced coffee and the parents because they are trying to channel Gwenyth Paltrow).  Not allowing prams in that part of town  is like banning gambling in Las Vegas: absurd.

I set out for a weekend coffee in my SUV (3 kids people, need a big car) with Layla in the back so as to avoid the “what to do with the pram” conundrum.

There housed in a now defunct pharmacy was an extremely large coffee shop. I could have easily driven the Lexus up to the counter and placed my order without making a significant dent in the enormous space. Clearly the pram ban is not a space issue.

The set up is meticulous. The milking stools are lined up straight, with their legs crossed in a way that makes me think of how women used to be taught to cross their ankles demurely in finishing schools.  There is a young man exerting tremendous concentration over each cup of coffee.  He seems to be weighing every loaded portafiler then scooping out minute quantities of ground beans.  I have a lot of time to observe all of this because perfection takes a while.

IMG_1284At some point, a customer returning his empty cup drops a balled up paper napkin onto the floor, Rüller, who is operating the roaster, hones in on it immediately. He can’t leave the roaster (I know this because he’s already warned me in an overly weary tone that I must mind my child and that should she trespass into the space he will not be responsible because his first priority is the beans) but I can feel his irritation.

It lays there for maybe 5 minutes, all the while Rüller is shooting it harried glances. Until finally he catches the eye of one of his cowgirls, holds it, then casts his eyes down to the ground. She bends and covertly scoops it up. Read more of this post

Wiener Brot, Bakery, Mitte

Wiener BrotOn Tucholskystrasse, there is a little brown fox with what looks like a button mushroom (but is more likely a chef’s hat on one ear) surreptitiously climbing up the shop front of Wiener Brot. Inside the shop there is a shelf into which loaves of bread are filed vertically. Large red swirly lamps that look like thick brushstrokes hang from the ceiling.  A colour picked up in the lipstick and cat’s eye glasses of the buxom woman behind the counter.

On the back shelves are jars of Berliner Honig (a perfect Berlin themed stocking filler) and Berliner Bären Gold.  Then I spot a hoard of Sarah Wiener books.

“Is this a Sarah Wiener shop?” I ask the shop assistant
“Yes.” She beams back.
Oh.” I think flatly.

I had high expectations for another Sarah Wiener place Das Speisezimmer and although the design of the place was nice, the food was less than lacklustre.  Still that was over a year ago and I had only eaten there once.  I could be wrong about Sarah Wiener.

Except I’m not. Read more of this post


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