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Posts from the ‘German/Swiss/Austrian’ Category

Bier’s Kudamm 195

Even if you don’t like hotdogs (I don’t—and while anyone who has only read things I’ve posted this week would think that I’m finicky, hotdogs and melon are seriously the only two foods I actively avoid) you must try a currywurst if you’re in Berlin.

Biers currywurst

Sure, it’s pretty much a fried wiener sliced into bite sized pieces, doused in ketchup sprinked with curry powder, and served with a roll on the side. You can order the dish with skinless or skin-on franks, though it was the grease-coated, crisped-up casing that I thought made the currywurst with a little textural contrast against the sweet, mildly spiced sauce. I only regret not ordering fries because the bright red goo would be a perfect dip.

Biers facadeYou can find currywurst anywhere any time of day or night. I just happened to pick Bier's, just outside the Friedrichstraße S-Bahn station, because it was near where I was staying and I had heard they made their own sauce unlike many others.

If anything, I was impressed at the rampant use of real plates and glassware, here and at other fast food and outdoor eateries around the city (at the Christmas markets you had to pay a 1.50-2 Euro deposit on the gluwein mugs) as well as the local penchant for eating and drinking outdoors, despite rain and near freezing temperatures.

Bier's Kudamm 195, Friedrichstraße 142, Am Eingang S-Bahnhof Berlin, Germany

Drinking In Berlin

BierIn Berlin you can drink on the streets, subways, pretty much anywhere you please, day or night. The beer of choice (and it’s always beer—though I did spy a group of possible Brazilians [there aren’t a lot of black or Portuguese-speaking people in Berlin] sharing a bottle of Jack Daniel's on the subway platform) is Berliner Kindl, not this generic bier that I couldn’t resist buying for the label.

You can also drink that green beer, but I didn’t get the chance to. While killing 20 minutes before my 10pm reservation at an American-ish burger restaurant (it had to be done) I stopped into a nearby bar and ordered the first beer I saw on tap. Only after I settled in did I notice Berliner Weisse, rot oder grün scrawled at the very bottom of the chalkboard above the bar. I never encountered those sweet words again.


You can drink Glühwein spiked with rum (or kirsch) from a little ceramic boot at one of the gazillion Christmas markets. You could also drink schnapps from strangers, but they might dose you with liquid ecstasy. Maybe that’s your scene?


If not, you’d better stick to talking, animatronic moose.


At Christmas markets you can also drink hot caipirinhas. Santa and heated Brazilian cocktails make perfect sense. I wouldn’t be surprised if hot mojitos existed somewhere in Germany, as well. From what I gathered caipirinhas are having a moment in Berlin, and bottles of cachaça (Pitu brand) were behind most bars. Good for them. In Puerto Rico I kept getting served caipirinhas made with rum because no one stocked cachaça, so no one should assume that geographical proximity has anything to do with authenticity.

You can also drink at a houseboat-like structure jutting out over a river. You can also eat quesadillas there, now a global bar snack, with a blanket on your lap while smoking in the heat-lamped but still freezing back room that’s open-air in the warmer months. New Yorkers are way less resilient to rain and chill.

Ankerklause front

Ankerklause menu

WatermelonYou can drink something called a Watermelon Man, which as a melon-hater wound me up unnecessarily. I thought it was a fluke when I first noticed it on a menu at Ankerklause, then realized it clearly a standard when it also appeared at a chicer café and was mentioned in club reviews in around town guide in the hotel room. The vodka and watermelon liqueur cocktail seems to be a ‘90s holdover much like our dated cosmopolitan. Supposedly, Bar am Luetzowplatz invented this "classic."


You can also drink at a tiki bar where they only other patrons might be a couple drinking tea and a young man nursing a beer while reading at the bar and the music is off-decade big band and ragtime. You might also get booted out at an unreasonable 11:30pm and when you order an old fashioned it will arrive in a giant tumbler gussied-up like a tiki drink. Of course, Watermelon Man is also present.


You can drink champagne bearing the name of the department store you’re in, while eating oysters. Can you imagine Bloomingdale’s champagne or a raw bar upstairs?

Becketts kopf

You can ring a bell, luck out that there are two free stools because you didn't make reservations on a Saturday night, and drink serious cocktails described only in German even though the names are all in English at a speakeasy with only a picture of Samuel Beckett as signage. You could try a classic Blood and Sand or a more unusual Scotch-based drink softened with cream, the Bonnie Prince Charles (which is nothing like the similarly named beverage at Mary Queen of Scots).  I had an apple-y Widow's Kiss.


You could drink at another serious, i.e. Watermelon Man-free, though less subdued bar, Reingold, right after eating at nearby restaurant named Reinstoff, and wonder how many Rein prefixed establishments might be in the area. I did not encounter anything particularly German about any cocktails I tried—most were very much in the American canon—so I was happy when German language covers of Ozzy and Santana came on while sipping my Martinez. Punks and their parents were welcome. And obviously, smoking was too–I just realized there's an ashtray in practically every photo here.

Cccp tadpoles

You can drink in a Soviet-themed bar next to tank most definitely not filled with fish. After a while the albino tadpole-like creature might grow on you.


And the paintings.


You can drink a Hamburg pilsner just because the label is cute. The sports bar where it was imbibed, a British chain, attached to a hostel, was less cute but maybe you acquiesced out of curiosity and to appease a boyfriend’s wish to see the Redskins game (the only American football game was Cincinnati). I bet they served a Watermelon Man. They definitely served Jager shots.

What’s In a Name?

Maybe I’m just blanking-out, but I can’t really think of a slew of bars and restaurants in NYC named after famous people (Jack Dempsey? Chez Josephine?). In Berlin, homages run rampant. I’m certain there are many more than what I encountered during my brief visit because it wasn’t like I was seeking them out, I just stumbled upon them.

I ate at Renger Patzsch (flammkuchen!) named after a German photographer Albert Renger-Patzsch and had cocktails at a ring-the-doorbell speakeasy, Becketts Kopf, with the only identifier being a picture of Samuel Beckett in the window.

Also: Tarantino’s Bar, Jules Verne, The Oscar Wilde, Diener-Tattersal (Franz Diener was a German boxer), Newton Bar (as in Helmut), and Joseph-Roth-Diele (Jewish Austrian writer).

This is all I have time to say about food and drink at this very moment (other non-food-related Berlin generalizations are here). There are always photos, of course.


Henne facade

Fried chicken is not the first (or the second or third) foodstuff that springs to mind when I think of Berlin. Yet Henne, basic in menu (chicken, potato salad, cabbage salad, and meatballs are just about it) maximalist in décor (all of aged dark wood, stained glass, antlers, and steins Americans associate with Germany) turned out to be one of my favorite meals. I love excess and outré combinations, but sometimes simple is the way to go.

Henne potato salad

You have to drink Bavarian landbier in a chunky ceramic mug. You don’t have to order individual potato salads or the cabbage salad at all, though you might get a funny look from your waitress and you'll definitely be in the minority among fellow diners. One mayo-heavy kartoffel was plenty to share, I thought.

Henne chicken

Do order your own half chicken, though, because that’s the whole point. Even knife-and-fork-crazed locals tear through the crackly, heavily salted skin into the juicy meat with their hands. The chicken manages to be different—hunkier and lighter—yet just as good as my favorite fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House.

Henne interior

I did wonder here and elsewhere  if the number of seasonal tchotkes (though it's not evident in this photo) and touches like the red tartan tablecloth were just for Christmas or permanent fixtures.

Henne * Leuschnerdamm 25, Berlin, Germany 

Bar Tartine

I managed to take part in Bon Appetit’s so-called “Germanic cuisine boom” in San Francisco despite having a contender two blocks from my apartment (two more days in Portland and I totally would’ve ended up at Gruner too). These things happen.

Bar Tartine struck me as more Austro-Hungarian than purely German. Some might say Cal-Hungarian. I wouldn’t, but that’s my aversion to the Cal prefix. James took to calling the hey-that’s-cool Bay Area style “Cal-tude,” which started getting on my nerves (him saying it more than the practice) but the service here was so careless and forgetful—we were given a free blueberry dessert, to be fair—that I kind of had to agree in this case. Cal-tude is not the same as the haphazard style that’s rampant in aggressively homespun/quirky Brooklyn restaurants because the venues—Bar Agricole was another practitioner—are polished in other regards.

I can easily say that I’ve never eaten food like this in NYC (maybe I should check out Hospoda?). The flavors—lots of hot paprika, offal, rye, quark—hewed traditional yet everything I sampled managed to be fresh and light instead of stodgy. And a little daring; I don’t picture goat meatballs or beef heart tartare being common in Budapest.

Bar tartine dinner

Bottarga, grilled bread, butter, radish. At first I thought the butter had been smoked Extebarri-style, the flavor was so prominent, but I think it was simply the heavily grilled bread. A simple open-faced sandwich was made special by the translucent slices of fish roe.

Grilled tripe, fennel, cabbage, coriander. This dish almost never came, but I wasn’t about to say, “oh, never mind” because I have a thing for cow’s stomach in all preparations and like to see how it’s handled in different cuisines. These tender strips were also given a serious grilling, and despite the presence of fennel and cabbage had a vague menudo quality thanks to a spicy broth and cilantro.

Kapusnica – smoked blood sausage, pickled cabbage, cherry, chili, hen of the woods. I’ll also always order blood sausage if I see it (I’ve never seen one quite this obscene) especially when paired with unusual mushrooms, a hit of spice and cherries (which I encountered time and again on this trip—you know you’re eating seasonally when the same ingredient shows up on your plate in numerous restaurants). The richness of the sausage still dominated, but wasn’t overly heavy.

Halaszle – Rock cod, Hungarian wax pepper, smoked broth, purslane, fennel, onion. Hmm…if they can smoke broth, maybe that butter was smoked, after all?

Bar Tartine * 561 Valencia St., San Francisco, CA



After so much gravy and fries, I just wanted something light and fresh like…fondue. Ok, what I really wanted was something old fashioned and festive. Alpenhaus more than met my needs.

Alpenhaus seating

Fondue is a confusing dish, though. I treat it as an entrée (American entrée, not entrée meaning appetizer like in the rest of the world including Canada). But it’s always on a menu with other big dishes, whether veal cordon bleu at a traditional restaurant or heritage pork cassoulet at a more modern one. Are you supposed to treat it as a starter? At Pain Béni in Quebec City (which I’m not blogging because I’m trying to be more restrained) a group ordered cheese fondue as dessert, which isn’t a bad idea.
Alpenhaus fondue

I’ve never encountered a fondue for two as massive as the three-inches of melted Emmental and Gruyere that was presented to us in this weathered, red crock. We were warned against ordering a rosti and the large cheese-and-sausage heavy salad, and I can see why.

Nonetheless, the male half of a couple sitting nearby yelled out to the waiter, “Yes, now I do want the wienerschnitzel!” implying that his original order had been tamed, as well. He got his veal cutlet.

Alpenhaus salad
And we ordered the Alpenhaus salad anyway.

Alphenhaus * 1279 Rue St-Marc, Montreal, Canada

Der Schwarze Kölner

I wouldn’t say that I favor beer halls over other drinking establishments, so it was odd that I ended up at semi-isolated Hungarian, Draft Barn, Friday evening and at Der Schwarze Kölner two nights later.

Fort Greene’s German contribution isn’t a true beer garden—there are smattering of outdoor folding tables and chairs facing Fulton Street—and food isn’t really the point, but the bar was just right for a Fourth of July stop, post-BAM.

No, I didn’t mess around with fireworks or barbecues this year. Instead, I witnessed my first Nathan’s hotdog eating contest in person, then sobered up with some bleak Americana while watching Winter’s Bone.

The dark (and extra echoey) room was the perfect setting to test out my new point-and-shoot, an uncharacteristic impulse buy. My old-ish PowerShot SD800 died last week and I could make do like the rest of the world who now seems to rely solely on iPhones for photos, but the quality doesn’t cut it (plus, I don’t have an iPhone). I’m not always in the mood for cramming an SLR in my purse, but still want to take casual photos on occasion. Things like pretzels and sausage that can only be so pretty.

And clearly, I still have some way to go in mastering this new camera. These are not glamour shots. (By contrast, the first time I ever used my SLR in the wild at Hill Country, my photos turned out well despite not knowing what I was doing—amusingly, one of these test shots was recently used in an Ozersky post).

Der schwarze kölner weisswurst

True confession: I hate hotdogs. My patriotic eating duty went unfulfilled at Nathan’s. That doesn’t mean I dislike sausages, though. Weisswurst are more delicate and I kind of like their albino appearance. And no one can argue with a soft pretzel.

Der schwarze kölner obazda

Obazda was completely new to me. The cheese spread, a sharp blend of cream cheese, butter, brie, beer and caraway, is like Bavarian pimento cheese, in a way. The radishes and dark Spaten Optimator added an additional layer of welcome bitterness to the dip.

Der Schwarze Kölner * 710 Fulton St., Brooklyn, NY

Bei Otto

As has become de rigueur on Southeast Asian vacations, I ate at a German restaurant in Bangkok. Indulging in a little pork shank and sauerkraut doesn't make me feel guilty in and of itself, but I shudder at being pegged as a homesick tourist (that's what Sizzler is for). German food isn't any less foreign than Thai food to me; it’s the double-foreignness that makes it perversely fun. The sickest thing about German fare in the tropics is how heavy it is for the climate. On our stop early into this trip, I couldn't bear to sit in the front beer garden (we sat inside). By my last night in Thailand, two weeks later, I was drinking outside in the elements (at a Thai bar, thank you) like a pro.

Bei otto pretzel rolls

These pretzel rolls were amazing. Why have I not encountered this warm, chewy bread before? They were also the first non-airline food I'd eaten in over 22 hours so my judgment could've been clouded.

Bei otto pork shank

Welcome to the pork shank. From this angle, the porcine hunk almost resembles a beige heart. Some of my favorite crispy pork preparations are Thai, so I knew they would get the tender-crusty contrast right. The dense, spongy potatoes had to have been instant (I have a fondness for instant potatoes but realize this isn’t a selling point for most). Luckily, they were the only dud and this meal was about the meat anyway. 

Bei otto

I don't generally recommend eating non-local food unless you're going to be in a country for at least two weeks. I couldn’t resist seeing how double-foreign food will turn out. There were no obvious Thai twists, the cuisine was very traditional. If I had more time to spare, I would've gone to Tawandeng, a brewery/entertainment center outside the city center that is more of a hybrid. They serve their deep-fried pork knuckle with a chile dipping sauce (and the requisite mashed potatoes and sauerkraut). I like my fatty meats cut with hot, sharp condiments like this. Now that I think about it, Bei Otto probably had sriracha sitting around—it’s not as if they don’t get Thai clientele.

Bei Otto * 1 Sukhumvit Soi 20, Bangkok, Thailand

Schnitzel Haus

I've come to this place in life where Friday night I want food I don't have to think about, wait 30 minutes in a bar area with one square foot of personal space or make reservations for. Last week it was bone marrow on toast and stout and Gouda fondue at Bar Artisanal (which I did not blog because I'm trying to value my time more in 2010).

Schnitzel haus pork shank

This weekend was kicked off with a pork shank, only made German by its pool of brown gravy and side plate of red-skinned mashed potatoes and sauerkraut tempered by oily nubs of bacon. This is the medium, which will provide a generous dinner, late night snack the next night and a lunch 36-hours later. I have never been witness to the large or extra large. The bone-in meat cudgel will garner stares, of envy or disgust I’m not sure.

Schnitzel haus potato and sauerkraut

All I know is that the skin has been burnished to the consistency of caramelized sugar and that the dark, tender meat and fatty gelatinous folds within are far more exciting than any crème brulee.

Schnitzel haus trump Bay Ridge’s Schnitzel Haus doesn’t have the aged charm or impossible-to-get-to-by-subway allure of the Staten Island or Queens stalwarts, but those old-timers don’t have a pork shank. They also don’t have a photo of Donald Trump prominently featured in the front of the room.

Previously on Schnitzel Haus.

Schnitzel Haus * 7319 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Gustav’s Pub & Grill

Did I love it? Not as much as The Rheinlander next door.

There are two reasons to go to The Rheinlander: fondue and Victor Meindl. Gustav’s, the adjoining cuckoo clock-free bar-centric offshoot (now a chain), only has the melted cheese in its favor.

Victor Meindl was the gangly Christopher Kimball-looking gentleman in lederhosen and a jaunty Tyrolean cap that roved around the restaurant playing accordion on our almost annual Christmas visits in the ‘80s. He was still there when I celebrated high school graduation at The Rheinlander. And he was still there when I was in my mid-20s and I thought I was too cool for him when he asked if had any requests. I brushed him off with a “No, thank you” then irrationally changed my answer to “Do you still play that Consider Yourself at Home song?” (Oliver—and Victorian England in general—always gave me the creeps) While being serenaded the confusion between kitsch and genuine love overwhelmed me and my nervous laughing turned to tears. That was over a decade ago, and the last time I saw him.

The Rheinlander wasn’t always the source of joy. In college my sister and I came along with my dad and his new family for dinner. The rotund druggie (I’m not svelte but I’ve also never been a meth addict and assumed the two went together) step-sister who wore Tasmanian Devil t-shirts down to her knees, demanded extra mushrooms in brown sauce and they actually brought her more in a little dish and her uncle got rowdy and angry when the waitress wasn’t familiar with a whiskey/beer drink he’d had in Germany while in the service. I wasn’t 21 yet and couldn’t drown my sorrows publicly but you’d better believe that when we had to spend Christmas with these folks my sister and I pillaged their well-stocked liquor cabinet (at the prompting of our step-sister who showed us where her wealthy grandparents—millionaires from the garbage business, trash genuinely—kept the booze).

Why didn’t I check in on Victor on my no-longer-recent Labor Day weekend visit? I think I was scared that he wouldn’t be there. But I also didn’t have the time to commit to a full-blown German meal. I was meeting one of my oldest friends before flying back to NYC in a few hours and The Rheinlander is only five miles from the airport. I thought I’d give Gustav’s a go once I saw online that you can simply order the fondue and that it would be happy hour.

Gustav's swiss fondue

Ah, the fondue, simple, sharp, creamy and served with a mix of pumpernickel and paler bread, none of that healthy vegetables and apples nonsense. If I’m correct this was the $4.99 version from the happy hour menu. There is a mini pot for $2.99 and you can also order add ons like sausage an pesto. As an old-timer pesto is just wrong. I’m torn on the new-to-me Dungeness crab and roasted red pepper version because that could be good if done right.

Imade fondue twice in the past two weeks and went totally classic: Emmental, gruyere, kirsch (ok, no Chasselas—I can’t even pretend to be highbrow now that you know I used Charles Shaw Sauvignon Blanc) and obviously good enough to prepare for two different sets of people. The Rheinlander’s version contains only Swiss cheese and no cherry brandy, and it doesn’t even matter. You’ll eat it and you’ll like it. This is Portland not Geneva. Wow, it’s all coming back to me; chef Horst Mager, used to (and still does for all I know) regularly appear in cooking segments on local morning news shows. It looks like he even has a self-published (Portland, always with the diy spirit) cookbook on Amazon.

Gustav's schnitzel fingers

The fondue is all you need to know about the food at The Rheinlander. The rest is just not that remarkable. However, I still went wild with a pre-flight repast ordering up a slew of bar snacks that I don’t recall from the original stodgier menu. Things like schnitzel fingers with honey-mustard, ketchup and thousand island. Both the fries and cutlet could’ve been crisper.

Gustav's smoked salmon, potato pancake

The potato pancakes with smoked salmon, chopped hard-boiled eggs and capers and sour cream were pretty good. I got these to share but no one seemed interested in them.

Gustav's sausage trio

James picked a sausage trio (brautrust, weisswurst and smoked bier sausage) with potatoes and two types of cabbage.

What I learned from Lema, the only person I’ve known for over 25 years that isn’t family: the last time she was in the Philippines she and her mom visited a mystic four hours from Manila whom they call Angie. She made them turnaround and drive back to the city for a belt to use in a spell. Details are blurred but I think it was her dad’s belt and he stopped cheating after the ritual was performed so it was well worth it. Also, her 80-something grandfather has a 30-year-old girlfriend, which no one questions. Supposedly, she wooed him with her cooking, though I imagine his US citizenship has something to do with it. Her aunt, who had been trying to come to America since the ‘80s, was finally granted permission, got here, hated it and promptly returned to the Philippines.

Meanwhile, I’m toying with idea of going to Manila in February. Years ago Lema told me that she knew someone who had his hand outside the window of a car and a passerby chopped it off to get his expensive watch (she also has an unbelievable tale about a prostitute and a randy tapeworm). I don’t wear a watch.

The tenuous Filipino/German connection: When I ate German food in Hong Kong I ordered the monstrous pork shank like the Filipinos at the table next to me (not like the Filipinas on stage singing “We Are Family”). They stared at me in a possessive way that questioned, “That American likes lechon?” But see, it wasn’t lechon because it was German food in Hong Kong. Neither of us owned it.

Gustav’s Pub & Grill * 5035 NE Sandy Blvd., Portland, OR