Berlin's Restaurant Vau
I knew that the only activity we could muster enough energy to accomplish was a nice, leisurely lunch. We had been awake since the crack of dawn to catch our Brussels Air flight to Berlin. It was just mid-day but we were tired. We needed a good, multi-course lunch that would relax us and set the stage for our week-long adventure in the city. After much research, I secured reservations at Restaurant Vau, a Michelin-starred eatery located in the heart of the Gendarmenmarkt neighborhood of central Berlin.
Bleary-eyed and casually dressed, we entered a serene courtyard. The main dining room was off to our left, but it was completely empty. I could understand the reason — it was a beautiful day, and the relaxing atmosphere of the courtyard would definitely enhance the meal. The waiters were a bit standoffish, but we pushed that aside as we opened our menus. The lunch menu consisted of 12 items, three of which were desserts. At first glance, it was impossible to determine if the other nine items were appetizers or main courses. They were neither or they were both; it was up to your interpretation. Here is how it worked. You could order one course only, or two courses or three courses, or as many as you liked. If you only wanted the desserts, order the desserts. If you wanted an all-beef lunch, then order the beef offerings.
We settled on three courses each, and no one ordered the same thing. Sipping excellent German wines, a "waiter" appeared with our first course, set them down on the table and began to explain each dish. Very quickly, he realized that we did not understand his rapid-fire German. He pulled back the plates, and for a brief second we all looked at each other and wondered if they were going to disappear. Thankfully, he placed them back on the table, and this time, explained to us in perfect English the composition of each dish. Dear Daughter had the shrimp salad with radish carpaccio. Dear Husband had chosen the house-smoked ham with cabbage, and I could not resist buffalo ricotta with a carrot salad. One bite, and we all forgot that we were sleep deprived. One bite, and we all smile. "It is amazing how good food can make you feel so good," quipped my foodie daughter.
Before we could finish the first course, the second course arrived. Yikes, we were not ready. We were still savoring the last flavors on each dish. Our English-speaking waiter looked visibly embarrassed and quickly turned around, taking the plates back into the kitchen. He came back to our table and explained that normally businessmen dine here for lunch, and it has to be quick. He went on as he poured us each a second glass of wine that he was always telling his cooks to move faster during the lunch hour. It then dawns on us that this was not a waiter; he was the chef!
The second course was as good as the first. My oxtail ragout had an incredible depth of flavor. Dear Daughter had opted for the cod with kraut and noodles, and the combination of textures and flavors was unlike anything we had ever had. Even Dear Husband's relatively benign dish of beef with asparagus and potatoes was prepared with amazing creativity and flawless execution. We all felt that it was one of the best meals we had ever had. It was that good.
The courtyard was thinning out as we were finishing our third course, each opting for a dessert. The chef stopped by the table and spent 10 minutes talking to us about Berlin and asking us questions. When he learned that we are from Pennsylvania, he excitedly told us of a trip he would be taking the next week to Nazareth, PA. Question: Why would a Michelin-starred chef be going to Nazareth? Answer: He was going with a group of other chefs, first to New York to see the food scene but then to Nazareth to buy a guitar. Evidently, he cooked, and he played in a band. Who knew?
Upon learning that we have rented an apartment in Berlin for the week, he wanted to know why we would not stay in a hotel. I explained to him that we like to cook and hoped to find some interesting markets. With great enthusiasm, he proclaimed that the best market in all of Berlin was just down the street from our apartment. "I love to go there with my fiancée on Saturday mornings. We buy lots of food and then go to my favorite wine bar. Then I have to go to work. But on Sunday, I cook ... for myself."
Dear Daughter was right. A good meal does make you feel amazing. I later found out that our chef, Kolja Kleeberg is a bit of a celebrity in Germany. Dear Husband laughed at the irony. I finally got the chance to speak to a great chef, and I didn't even know he was a great chef! I do now.