Dinner at Casalot was a Seinfeldian experience, which is not to say that the food was bad, but sometimes awful service, even for those of us who really are most interested in how the food tastes, can be what you remember of a meal. I found Casalot by googling "Jordian restaurant Berlin" - it's the first search result that appears, but I still wasn't certain that it was actually a Jordanian restaurant. There's no mention of Jordan at all on the restaurant's website and who knows what tricks Google is up to. But then I found this little review of Casalot from the Berliner Zeitung last year, which sings the praises of Casalot's mansaf "the Jordanian national dish." So it had to be Jordanian, right? But a few weeks later when I was arranging to meet two friends at Casalot for dinner, I happened to notice that mansaf was no longer on the menu posted on the website. I called to find out (1) if Casalot is a Jordanian restaurant and (2) what happened to the mansaf? Casalot turns out to be run by Palestians, but if you know your Middle East geography, you know that Palestine and Jordan are neighbors. And of course, political borders do not usually mean that the food eaten on either side of the line is dramatically different. Besides, as the man on the phone told me, "Palestinians and Jordanians are the same." There may be different thoughts on this statement by some Palestinians and Jordanians, but according to Al Jazeera, Palestinians do make up about half of Jordan's population. And perhaps most importantly, a Palestinian restaurant serving the Jordanian national dish is the closest I was going to get to eating Jordanian food in Berlin. Except for the little issue of mansaf having been removed from the menu! This turned out to be a non-issue, however, because when I asked about it, the nice man on the other end of line told me that they would make it for me if I wanted. I wanted.
I'll try to spare you the boring details, but let's just say after devouring an order of mazza (often spelled mezze), which were, by the way, truly excellent - the best I've had in Berlin, our mansaf (the entire reason we were dining at Casalot) failed to materialize. This was a huge service failure on the part of the restaurant (Casalot is not a hole in the wall - there are table clothes - and a basic level of competent service is to be expected.) First, they should have known we were expecting mansaf when I arrived and gave my name as I had ordered the mansaf when I made the reservation. At at least two other points during the meal, I attempted to tell the waiter that we had pre-ordered mansaf, but both times I was interrupted and brusquely told that the food was coming. Not wanting to be pushy, I assumed the kitchen was slow and didn't push the issue until we had waited 30 minutes after finishing our mazza. The waitstaff realized their mistake quickly and what had been odd and surly serviced became annoyingly gushing and over-attentive service. There's not much a restaurant can do at this point except comp (part of) your bill or offer free drinks. We were immediately offered a bottle of very good Lebanese wine and water for the non-drinkers. I think they might have comped the drinks we had already ordered, but they didn't.
After another short while, the mansaf made it's appearance. At this point, we weren't even really hungry anymore, and I'm sorry to say, after all this fuss, I wasn't too thrilled with the mansaf. I think much of this had to do with lack of appetite and frustration with the overall experience, but I also think for my non-Jordanian palate, I would have liked something more. Mansaf is lamb served on rice with a sauce made from fermented dried yogurt (it's a originally Bedouin dish, I believe, and the nomads had to dry their yogurt so they could travel with it. You can see the hard lumps of yogurt here if you're interested). Anyway, the meat wasn't bad and the sauce was really quite good, but I was missing vegetables or pomegranate seeds or something to give a little more contrast. Still, I'd be game for giving mansaf another go under less irritating circumstances. And in all fairness, none of the tables around us seemed to be experiencing any service issues. So if you find yourself at Casalot, stick to the menu (or just get the very filling mazza) and the Lebanese wine.