Monday, November 14, 2011

Kroatien: das Glashaus ist transparent

I picked Glashaus out of the many, many Croatian restaurants in Berlin mostly because it was a good halfway point between our apartment and that of the friends we were meeting for dinner. Croatian restaurants aren't trendy, and I couldn't find any reviews of them in any local press. There are lots of reviews of Croatian places on Qype, but they all sound about the same: big portions!, low price! Like the pseudo-Argentine steak houses, Croatian restaurants in Berlin are frequented by a certain type of German who likes to eat a serious lot of meat, but doesn't much care about the quality, and doesn't want to pay a lot. I am quite certain low-quality meat doesn't define all Croatian food. Even the Wikipedia entry on Croatian food (once again, my Croatian cookbook is on the other side of the Atlantic) describes a diverse cuisine full of regional specialties. I did try to find one that distinguished itself from the others -- an organic Croatian restaurant or one that was slightly upscale or trendy -- with no luck.

So, Glashaus it was and really, there isn't much to say about it. It was fine. All of our meals came with a salad, which was, in all fairness, a little better than it had to be. A trio of grated carrots, fresh sauerkraut, and lightly pickled cucumbers on a bed of iceberg lettuce. Nothing to get all that excited about, but I have had worse salads here and the dressing was a nice oil and vinaigrette, not at all sweet as it frequently is. The meat, however, was pretty bad across the board: the "small" trio plate came with a pork steak, a turkey steak, and a couple cevapcici (it seems every letter of the alphabet offers an opportunity to enjoy these sausage-shaped patties), rice and french fries. My spicy pork stew (similar to a goulash) was full of mushy frozen peas and carrots, not to mention that it was way over salted. Next to the massive pool of stew were two servings of rice: one plain that tasted of bouillon cubes and one that was vaguely tomato-based and full of the same mushy frozen vegetables. The best dish of the night, ordered by our friend who has spent time in the Balkans and is a professed fan of Croatian restaurants (in their Berlin form), was a giant beef patty stuffed with a feta-like cheese and served with French fries. Not a great dish - better meat would help, as would homemade fries, and maybe a few spices, but the concept wasn't bad. While Glashaus doesn't offer any Croatian beer, they do have several Croatian wines on the menu. I tried two and neither was particularly good as they were both one-note wines (one of them could easily have been manischewitz), but I always like it when an "ethnic" restaurant makes an effort to showcase the wines (or beverages) of the country. The only Croatian desserts were Palatschinken (crepes) with ice cream. Not very exciting, and after a disappointing meal, we passed on them. Berlin-style Croatian restaurants are not the sort of place I started this "project" to discover, but because I'm so very dedicated, I slogged through Croatia. Now I'm just glad it's over. Cuba here I come.......

Lindenstrasse 29

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Kolumbien: Hin und wieder

It seemed for a while like Colombia might have been done in by The Curse. Friends of ours live next to Tierra Colombiana, so it had been on my radar for a long time, but the last time we were there I noticed a "closed until further notice"-type of sign in the window. Hmmmmmmm. La Chiva, another Kreuzberg Colombian spot closed "temporarily" due to some kind of "technical difficulty." They kept pushing their reopening date back (a real hoot when you show up the day after the originally posted reopening date) and are as of this writing neither open (as far as I can tell) nor answering their phone (or should I say, responding to calls because they only have a cell phone with a message saying they'll call you back). Just as I was about to give up on Colombia entirely, I called Tierra Colombiana one more time and they had magically reopened. Maybe The Curse can bring a restaurant back to life, too?

As it happens, I know a little something about Colombian food. My parents lived in Colombia before I was born. I don't remember them ever cooking anything Colombian at home, so they can't have missed the food all that much, but we did occasionally eat at a local Colombian hole-in-the-wall. Also, I spent a summer as an exchange student in western Venezuela and while they fact that yo soy marachucha means I'm required to tell you that arepas are really Venezuelan, in all honesty the two countries have very similar cuisines. In my experience, Colombian restaurants in the US have a fairly uniform menu and this is basically what you'll find at Tierra Colombiana. Between three of us, we shared the Picada Mixta, a Bandeja Paisa, and Ajiaco Bogotano. The Picada Mixta is a plate of little fried things (empanadas, yuca, tostones (fried unripe plantains), and chicharrĂ³n (fried pork belly) with a little hot salsa for dipping. What to was ok. The empanadas were a little greasy and bland and the salsa didn't have much heat or flavor. It's not a dish I would ever order again, though in all fairness, little fried bits are never my favorite. I had high hopes for the Bandeja Paisa - this is the national dish and any self-respecting Colombian restaurant should have it down. Wikipedia has this to say about the dish: "the main characteristic ... is the oversized amount of food and the wide variety of ingredients." Tierra Colombiana's version just didn't live up to this at all. It's not that I need or want to stuff myself silly, but this is peasant fare. It should be hearty and flavorful and fill you up so you can plow your Andean fields The chicharrĂ³n and chorizo were both good, if a little on the small side, but the beans were just wan. Sad, sad beans with very little flavor. Beans for a Bandeja Paisa need be cooked with a nice ham hock or the like and these beans were most definitely porcine-free. Tierra Colombiana has a surprising number of vegetarian options for a Colombian restaurant and I guess that's great, but they need to make a separate pot of beans for those dishes (with caramelized onion or something for a little flavor) and not force flavorless vegetarian beans on customers ordering the non-vegetarian Bandeja Paisa (ie, not the one with the soy patty). I hate to go on and on (really I do - I wish I had loved the place), but the rice was also sad. Great rice is harder to make than one might think, but this seemed dry and leftover, which just isn't acceptable. I will say that the Ajiaco Bogotano (a lightly creamy soup with chicken and potatoes, flavored with capers and guascas) was very decent. Not life changing, but a nice bowl of soup. To finish our Colombian feast, we shared a portion of Brevas con Arequipe y Queso or candied fig with arequipe (very similar to dulce de leche) and fresh cheese. This is just about three sweet bites and it's a nice, typically Colombian way to end the meal. Another point of excitement: Tierra Colombia offers three Colombian beers and a variety of Colombian rum and aguardiente. Unfortunately, in Germany of all places, Colombian beer isn't enough to overcome Tierra Colombiana's shortcomings.

Tierra Colombiana
Mittenwalder Str. 27