Friday, July 1, 2011

Aserbaidschan: Fast Italien

Baku-Napoli is the classic combination Azerbaijani-Italian restaurant (they also serve Russian and German food). I have to give them credit for pointing to a link between Baku (the capital of Azerbaijan) and Naples on the website with a Maxim Gorki quote: "No streets in the world remind me more of Naples than those in Baku" (Baku being the capital of Azerbaijan for those of you not up on your Azerbaijani trivia). I'd so love to tell you that this is a hidden gem, that the restaurant's generic sign and unappealing location on ugly Potsdamer Strasse belie amazing homemade treasures, delights found nowhere else in Berlin. In all truth, on the inside the restaurant is a lot more charming than you would guess. The walls are decorated with murals of what I guessed to be Baku street life and in the back is a nice little Biergarten for outdoor dining in case summer weather ever returns to this city. You can get a good sense of the music they play a little too loudly from Baku's website: Russian pop and funny covers of American show tunes, etc. (we actually thought they had started doing karaoke in the main dining room at one point, but it was a CD). Some of the food at Baku-Napoli is pretty decent, but nothing was so good that I'm planning to go back. And importantly, the prices are way out of line with the portions, the neighborhood, and the quality of the food.

The menu offers a wide selection of Italian dishes: pizzas, pastas, various salads, along with a few German or Berlin standards, such as Chicken Schnitzel, Currywurst, and Eisbein (pork knuckle), but we stuck to the Azerbaijani/Russian section of the menu. The Pelmeni, little ravioli-style dumplings with a ground chicken filling (these are more Russian than Azerbaijani as far as I know) were served with sour cream and oddly with yellow rice and a little salad of a couple cucumber and tomato slices on a spoonful of sauerkraut. They were OK, but I'd guess they weren't homemade and they were quite bland. Also, I'm not going to claim to be an expert on Azerbaijani cuisine, I don't even have a cookbook, but I don't think rice is a traditional or logical accompaniment to dumplings. Especially such insipid rice. Whatever gave the rice it's yellow coloring (certainly not saffron as is traditional) had no flavor whatsoever. Our grilled veal kebab came with the same salad and tasteless rice, but the meat had very good flavor and was served with pomegranate molasses and a sort of plum-based smoky barbecue sauce. The quantity of food was certainly enough to fill up two diners, but was on the meager side by today's restaurant standards. It's not that we needed to eat more (although the menu does claim that all the grill dishes are served with grilled vegetables and all we got was a half a grilled tomato). It's just that for almost 14 Euros (especially in this town) one expects a little more. If the rice had been good and there had been some nice grilled vegetables .... Maybe if the bread they serve was homemade (Azerbaijani Tandoor bread is supposedly quite delicious)...then maybe I can see charging 14 Euros, but what they actually serve and how it's presented just doesn't justify that much money in this town. Sigh....

Potsdamer Strasse 131

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