EUROPE 2022 – PART 1 – BERLIN

After an uneventful overnight flight on United, we arrived in Berlin Sunday morning. Our premium economy seats were very comfortable, but the one complaint is that the food was so bad they couldn’t have made it worse if they tried. Airline food we’ve had over the years has ranged from mediocre to pretty good. This was just awful.

Sunday, 9/24

A quick taxi ride to the hotel (the Axel) got us there by 9:30 and of course it was too early for check-in, so we dropped our bags and went for a long stroll before having lunch at noon. Fasanenstrasse is a particularly pretty street, with significant late 19th and early 20th century architecture.

Literatur Haus Berlin https://www.literaturhaus-berlin.de/

The Berlin marathon was going on, so the Kurfurstendamm was very busy and festive. Otherwise the Schoeneberg neighborhood was very sleepy.

Kaiser Wilhelm Church

We had a very nice lunch at Elefant, around the corner from the hotel. The food is traditional German, with a huge selection of schnitzels and other standards. Stanley had veal schnitzel with mushrooms and onions, accompanied by home fries and a salad, while I had beef roulade with red cabbage and very good potato dumplings. We really enjoyed the food. We had a couple of bottles of Kostritzer black beer. Service was cordial and efficient. The bill with tip totaled just over 50 euros.

After checking into the hotel around 2:00 we got settled and took a nap for a couple of hours. I should note that we were wary after reading many negative reviews of the Axel, but either they have corrected the problems or the complaints were unfounded.

The room and public areas are very clean, the staff is helpful, and our room appeared to have been recently refreshed. The mattress looked new and was very comfortable, and the carpet was probably new too.

Dinner was at Rutz-Zollhaus, a former toll house on a canal in Kreuzberg. It was an easy subway ride back and forth, and as it is one of very few top restaurants in Berlin that are open on Sundays I was very happy to have chosen it.

The staff were very warm and welcoming, and the food, service and atmosphere were absolutely delightful. The chef, Marco Muller, has a Michelin 3-starred restaurant in West Berlin called Rutz.

Rutz-Zollhaus is his simpler place, but it feels like it should have at least one star.

We began with a trout mousse with bone marrow and celery, salami of game, and liverwurst mousse with wonderful bread and butter. For mains, I had saddle of venison and Stanley had braised ox shoulder. Both came with carrots prepared three ways. We shared a dessert of a thin brownie topped with a red pepper semifreddo, the whole smothered in a green apple puree and bits of apple. Every dish was beautifully presented and delicious.

We had a bottle of Wallufer Spatburgunder from the Reingau, very well priced at 45 euros, and with dessert, glasses of sweet riesling.

The total with tip was just over 180 euros, quite a bargain for a restaurant of this caliber.
https://rutz-zollhaus.de/

Monday, 9/26

First order of business was to buy a couple of bottles of Pedro Ximenez sherry, which we were able to get at KaDeWe, the famous department store just a couple of blocks from the hotel. The food courts on the top floors are spectacular. There is every kind of wine you could imagine, so we had no problem finding the sherry. We then walked around checking out all the food offerings as we would return there for lunch.

We decided on Fischkutter, which offers a large menu of all sorts of freshwater and saltwater fish.

Stanley had Adlerfisch, which translates as meagre, from Corsica, with saffron butter, and I had Steinbeisser, translated as spined loach, from Iceland, with citrus wasabi mayonnaise. We shared the two side dishes, stewed cherry tomatoes and sweet potato fries. Both were perfectly prepared. We also had a bottle of spatburgunder rose from the Rheingau, for 27 euros. The total with tip was 88 euros.

https://www.kadewe.de/store/restaurants_bars.html

The beautiful desserts at Lenotre beckoned us, so we had a hazelnut mousse cake and espressos.

Next we walked over to the Kaiser Wilhelm church, which you can see in the photo from the marathon on Sunday. It was severely damaged in the war, and a modern bell tower and church were built next to it.

Interior of the old church

The church as it appeared in 1933

Interior of the new church

After that we took the subway to Stadtmitte, the old city center in East Berlin, walking up Charlottenstrasse, past the Gendarmenmarkt and the three buildings framing it, the German and French cathedrals and the concert hall.

We continued to Unter den Linden, and walked along it to the Brandenburg gate, where the Berlin wall once divided East and West Berlin, and to the Tiergarten beyond. Unfortunately it is not as pretty as one might expect, lined with ugly modern buildings.
Brandenburg gate
Tiergarten

We walked through the park to the Potsdamerplatz, which is rather ugly. We took the subway from there back to the hotel.

Potsdamerplatz

For dinner we went to Reinhard’s am Kurfurstendamm, a large restaurant in a prominent corner location.

A dinner as good as we had the previous night is a tall order. As good as Reinhard’s was, it didn’t reach that level. Nonetheless, the food was quite good. Stanley had the fish soup and calf’s liver with shallots and mashed potatoes. I had carpaccio with dried cherry tomatoes and truffle oil, followed by guinea fowl with black truffles, haricot verts, carrot and mashed potatoes. It was all very good, as was the service. We had a bottle of German cabernet sauvignon for 56 euros. Total came to 165 euros including tip.

https://www.restaurant-reinhards.de/

Tuesday, 9/27

This was our day in Potsdam to tour the Sanssouci Palace, which was built by Frederick the Great. We took the U-bahn, S-bahn and a taxi and arrived just in time for our 11:40 tour. It was curious that the audioguide gave a wealth of information about the palace, who many of the guest were, and much about Frederick himself, but absolutely no mention of the fact that he was gay.

Front view
Rear view
Reception room

Gallery
Music room
One of several guest rooms

https://www.spsg.de/en/palaces-gardens/object/sanssouci-palace/

After the tour, we took a bus into the old center of Potsdam, which is charming and filled with restaurants.

I had already chosen Der Butt based on Tripadvisor reviews, and it was an excellent choice. The lunch we had the previous day at Fischkutter was very good, but this fish restaurant was even better.

We started with a salmon cream soup and a crab soup with tiny shrimp. Stanley had a whole flounder stuffed with speck, and I had filet of black halibut. We drank a red ale that was very good.

The total with tip was 90 euros.

https://www.der-butt.de/

Dinner Tuesday night was at Volt, a restaurant in a former electrical substation.

This gets an A for design. Service was good too, but the food was unexciting. We chose the 3-course menu. There are no choices. You get sea trout, flank steak and a blackberry dessert. There were also two amuse-bouches and a miniature jelly doughnut (not very good) following the dessert. The dessert was very good, but overall there was nothing exceptional about Volt. With a bottle of wine for 40 euros and tip, the total was 218.

http://restaurant-volt.de/webseitevolt/

Wednesday, 9/28

This was supposed to be a rainy day, but the forecast was completely wrong. It was a mix of sun and clouds and pleasantly cool.

We took a taxi to the Reichstag to see the dome that’s been on top, with panoramic views.

We had planned to have lunch in the adjacent rooftop restaurant, but it was closed for a private event. Just as well, as it is expensive and the menu is extremely limited. Instead we found a nice place nearby that was very good and reasonably priced, Hopfingerbrau.

I had wienerschnitzel with a potato and cucumber salad and Stanley had currywurst with fries. It was very tasty and the portions were generous. We drank an excellent dark beer, and the total with tip was under 50 euros. I would highly recommend this.

https://www.bier-genuss.berlin/hopfingerbraeu-am-brandenburger-tor/

After lunch, we walked to the museum island, where we visited the Pergamon museum, which exhibits reconstructions of Greek and Roman architectural monuments.

Processional way of Babylon, ca. 575 BC
Ishtar Gate – The eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon, ca. 575 BC

Market gate of Miletus, ca. 100 AD

Back to the hotel, then dinner at Diekmann, a short walk away.

This was Stanley’s birthday, and I was hoping for dinner to be perfect. Thankfully it was.

This one beat our dinner at Rutz Zollhaus by a nose. The reason for the difference is that the main dishes did not both have the same accompaniments. Each was a unique creation.

We both had an Aperol spritz as aperitif, accompanying the amuse-bouche of stewed cherry tomato. We started with foie gras and pigeon, main courses were lamb belly and braised ox cheek, and desserts were creme brulee with strawberry sorbet and plum tart with vanilla ice cream. The presentations were absolutely gorgeous. We had an excellent wine from the Pfalz region and a glass of ice wine with dessert.

The service was perfect. This was definitely our best meal in Berlin, and the total cost with all the drinks, and tip, came to under 250 euros. It was worth every penny.

https://diekmann-restaurant.de/

Thursday, 9/29

Having had a wonderful time in Berlin, we left in the morning for our train to Paris, picking up food for lunch at the station.

OSTERIA 106 – A DELIGHTFUL SURPRISE

Apparently it’s been around for 5 years but never got on our radar. In an area with few good restaurant options, the location is one that is mostly unknown to anyone who doesn’t live nearby. Luckily a friend who lives around the corner recommended it and we went there with him last week. It’s a real find, likely the best Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side. The owners and staff are very welcoming and kind. The food is imaginative and the menu offers many choices.

The vitello tonnato was perhaps the best I’ve had outside of Italy. The fried artichokes were likewise far above anything we’ve had in the city. A special of osso bucco was far above average as well. A pear and nutella tart and espresso semifreddo showed real talent. We also had a great wine that was surprisingly low-priced.

http://osteria106.com/

MERCHANTS SOCIAL – HUDSON, NY

Finally, after many months of anticipation, Merchants Social opened on Warren Street. I would say it was worth the wait. The food, service and atmosphere contributed to a lovely evening.

The menu is small, so as in too many restaurants these days, the limited choice makes returning in a short time difficult. I hope they expand the menu and/or make frequent changes, as we would love to make this a regular spot. There is also a raw bar, and cheeses and charcuterie but I’d like to see more main courses.

We began with a beet salad and an octopus dish that was one of the best I’ve had. I then had the steelhead trout and Stanley had the chicken. The flavors and accompaniments were imaginative and delicious. For dessert we shared chocolate pudding, which was excellent if a rather small portion. The wine list is small but well-chosen and the markups were surprisingly low. We had a bottle of Los Bermejos 2019. from the Canary Islands, for $60. It was quite impressive.

https://www.merchantssocial.com/