My Swiss exchange partner Immanuel Willi insisted that we check out the hottest city of the moment in Europe — Berlin. So we booked a flight on Easyjet, one of those cheap-o European airlines and spent two nights and one day in Berlin. As it turned out, both our Irish friend Julie and our Russian friends Katya and Dima wanted to visit Berlin as well, so we all met up for dinner on Saturday night and brunch the next day.
Katya’s friend Anne was our local guide and knowing how short our stay was going to be, she put together a program for us. We rented an apartment in the former eastern bloc of Berlin called Mitte, but before we even had time to unpack, we were told to take a short walk to a restaurant called Pata Negra at Rosenstrasse 18. By the time we got there, the beer was flowing and the appetizer platter had already been ordered. Pata Negra (literally “black hoof” in Spanish) is also the name of a prized Spanish ham that is made from a domesticated breed of Iberian wild boar. Usually fed a diet of acorns, the ham is cured for up to three years before slicing. The result is considered by many as the best ham in the world.
We got a taste of this ham on our appetizer platter and indeed the flavor had a subtle hint of something sweet and fragrant. The meat was dense, yet delicate and the fatty part didn’t really taste like fat. To prevent a fight over portions, the platter was presented to our table of six already divided. How very civilized! There were a total of nine items on the platter to nibble on, and we were told that the selection varied every night. All of them were perfectly delicious, but the most unusual one was “mint air.” Yes, that’s right, the chef has somehow captured the fragrance of mint in a white foamy substance that contains nothing but “air.” Sitting outdoors in the restaurant’s courtyard on a warm summer Berlin night, somehow eating mint air felt very cultivated.
Since we were at a restaurant called Pata Negra, I could not resist ordering the “braised cheeks of Iberian pig” for dinner. Gamey in texture and flavor, the meat reminded me of venison, but much more tender. Unfortunately we ran out of time as Anne was holding tickets to Chamäleon, a hip and energetic Cirque du Soleil-ish act with an urban edge. Perhaps next time we’ll also get to try the sorbet made with liquid nitrogen for dessert (prepared tableside, according to the menu).
The next day, Anne had a wonderful surprise for us. To get us out of the tourist district, Anne told us to take the S-Bahn to Oestkreuz and then to walk down Sonntagstrasse to Cafe Vebereck. Cafe Vebereck has a wonderful buffet brunch for only 11 dollars per person and what a buffet it was. With more than 30 items to choose from, we went back again and again to load up on smoked fish, deli meats, fruit, cheeses, pastries and more. But what impressed me most was the salad and vegetable selection. There were marinated salads, yogurt-based salads, grilled vegetable salads, unusual grains and much more. We scored an outdoor table and helped ourselves to what may be the best Sunday brunch I ever had in my life. How very appropriate that it was Sunday and we were having brunch at a cafe located on a street called “Sunday Street.”
After brunch, we decided to do a five-hour bicycle tour of Berlin which included a stop at a beer garden in Tiergarten Park. Here, we were introduced to a local drink called Berliner Weisse, a beer and syrup concoction that tasted surprisingly refreshing. Available in red, yellow or green, the slightly tart wheat beer is injected with a shot of raspberry, lemon or woodruff syrup and tastes remotely like a wine cooler. Immanuel was right, Berlin is very cool indeed and the prices were surprisingly affordable. Thanks to Anne, we were able to taste some of the secrets Berlin had to offer. But our short stay in Berlin is now over. Next, we’ll hop on an Air Berlin flight to Milan where we’ll spend a week in Italy.