Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Finnland ist für Feinschmecker

I couldn't find a restaurant in Berlin serving traditional Finnish food, but I did find the Quadriga, a (one) Michelin-starred restaurant with a Finnish chef. It was all I could find, so I had no choice, but to endure a delicious if pricey Finnish-accented lunch. The Quadriga is located in the Brandenburger Hof hotel, a small luxury hotel in a sort-of no man's land bit of Charlottenburg. I'm not sure who stays here and there was certainly nobody else eating when we were there (at 12:30 on a Tuesday), despite their business menu deal: three courses served in 45 minutes. I am fairly certain that this can be explained by the fact that the Quadriga has priced themselves out of the business lunch realm. The food we had was very good and worthy of a Michelin star (NOT always the case in Berlin in my experience), but 52 Euros is a lot for "a quick bite to eat," particularly by Berlin standards (even in Charlottenburg).

If you're going to shell out for lunch though, it's nice that the food is so tasty (not always the case in Berlin ... coughFacilcough). At lunchtime you have the option of the "lunch in the garden" menu (aka the lounge menu), a set menu (two choices per course) at 52 Euros for three courses or 62 Euros for four or the "Taste of Bliss" menu (also labeled Edition I ... there are an awful lot of titles here), which offers a la carte options. We hemmed and hawed a bunch, but ultimately decided to go a la carte as the Taste of Bliss menu had more of a Finnish flair. We shared "Salmon & Scandinavia" aka Nordic Pot-au-feu (which are two fancy ways of saying salmon soup or chowder) and "Reindeer & Tarragon" aka Sauli's Osso Buco (Sauli being chef Sauli Kemppainen), which came with the guarantee: "'Rudolph' was spared – Promised!" In my humble opinion, there are too many words on the menu (the club sandwich even has a link printed beneath it), but both dishes were delicious, so who really cares. The soup had large chunks of perfectly (as in barely) cooked salmon with a few cubes of vegetables and some crispy bit of fried dark bread. Not an earth-shattering dish and certainly over-priced at 19 Euros, but delicious and very well-executed. The same goes for the Reindeer: the meat was deeply flavorful with a perfect glaze. It came on a bed of pearl barley in a delicious winter squash (or carrot?) sauce. I'm a little embarrassed to tell you that it goes for 32 Euros, but it was really very good. Would they have more customers if they knocked 10 Euros off that? Perhaps.

Portions from the Taste of Bliss menu allow plenty of room for dessert. My friend was allowed to order from the Lounge menu: a very pretty strawberry mousse with mascarpone ice cream. I went for the "Classical sweeter, Edition I" aka Cloudberries & Rosemary. The menu also informed me that "the berry is immortalised on the Finnish Euro coin ... the flavour: gold value!" I did finish (no pun intended) my dessert, but this was probably the worst dish of the four. The rosemary was in the form of a creme brulee - making for a rather dingy looking custard. It was also sprinkled with rosemary and the flavor was just too strong for dessert. I edited a Swedish cookbook in another life and the author raved about cloud berries. I so want to love them, and thought that perhaps it was just the poor quality of Ikea's seedy cloudberry jam (my only cloudberry experience before today) that was hindering my full appreciation of the fruit, but Sauli didn't really convince me either. It may have been the pairing with rosemary because the fruit's flavor - in both a quenelle of cloudberry ice cream and a blob of cloudberry puree were too mild to really appreciate.

At the end of the day, I do feel that I experienced a little something Finish in Berlin. My main issue with the Quadriga (aside from making fun of its wordy multiple menus) is the price. That said, I'd rather pay 52 Euros to eat at the Quadriga again than repeat my disappointing meal at Facil (39 Euros for 3 courses) -- not really a fair critique because I've only eaten in each restaurant once, but Facil was weird without being interesting or good and the service ranged from snobby to negligent. I complain a lot about people wanting to spend as little as possible for food regardless of flavor or quality or hidden costs, but there are limits. And just for comparison's sake, a three-course lunch at Cafe Boulud (a very nice restaurant) in New York will set you back just 32 Euros. And I may not have mentioned it before, but when it comes to ethnic food or really almost any food at at all, Berlin is not New York.

Eislebener Strasse 14

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