May 24, 2011

A Spring Diatribe

 Jäger und Sammler - Schöneberg

Veronika, der Lenz ist da“ is probably the most accurate representation of Berlin’s quirkier side to this date. It became a hit in 1930 when the Comedian Harmonists, the first ever German boy-band (who had to flee the country for the bonus of being Jewish) started performing it: A spring serenade to a certain Viktoria about phallic asparagus growing in pre-war Berlin. Oh, springtime!

To be fair, the world that produced the Comedian Harmonists is long gone. Viktoria is probably dead, as are most of Berlin’s Jews together its pre-war flair. What’s left is that pure joy and excitement that never fail to arrive alongside the first day of spring, when everyone suddenly becomes nice, accommodating and flirtatious. The sour faced cashier at the supermarket who had grunted resentfully at the very sight of a customer just a day earlier suddenly winks suggestively as she licks her upper, voluptuous lip and asks the first male customer she spots whether he’d already seen their fresh Spargel. Spargel? Really? Now, that’s another example for the Comedian Harmonists’ legacy.

Spargel, or white asparagus, is the local spring obsession. During the asparagus season, every place in town - including Chinese, Indian and Mexican restaurants - will offer a bland asparagus menu for double its weight in gold. Inquisitive TV shows will screen special reports about this year’s Spargel-consumption and greedy farmers will erect half legal stands selling organic Spargel to those who can afford it. If it weren’t for the fact I found white asparagus completely useless, I would find it all quite amusing.

I grew up knowing that green asparagus was a delicacy, whereas white asparagus was used to feed the hogs. And I fully agree. White asparagus’s phallic form might be appealing to some, but it still has the consistency of sperm, being rubbery, stringy and mushy all at the same time. Before this diatribe takes me to places we all should avoid, I really should say I don’t mind white asparagus. I just do not see the point of serving it absolutely EVERYWHERE. What I find even more baffling is the fact people here actually eat Spargel as a main course with only potatoes as a side. To each his own, but I find that particular combination a tad too much.

And thus I was looking for a spring feeling without too much Spargel and decided to go and try out Jäger and Sammler (Hunters and Gatherers) in Schöneberg. It was one of the first sitting-outside-evenings of the year, and we decided to make the most out of it despite the fact that the interior was remarkably attractive. We soon discovered the place had a very limited seasonal menu, which suited us just fine. The only problem was that the only starter was a (Spargel) soup on a warm day, so we decided to just share the “spring risotto” to kick start the evening (risotto with beans, asparagus and spring onions, 10 €). And what can I say? The dish was perfect. Risotto is a tricky one. Especially in Berlin it can be either extremely bad or perfectly endearing with very few middle-ground compromises. This one managed to get everything just right with a perfect texture and a pleasingly light taste.

We continued to the main dishes, which were the Finkenwerder Mai-Scholle (a dish of fried flounder with bacon and a side of potatoes, 14 €) and Rinderschmorbraten (beef roast in a vinegar-cream sauce with a side of mash, 14 €). Both main courses were quite alright, but not inspirational. The fish was impressively large, nicely fried with greasy bacon, which made it quite pleasing in a piggy sort of a way. However, it was too greasy to be refined and the bacon tended to outshine the fish, which was, unfortunately, not the main idea when we had ordered a fish. The meat was good. It was tender, high quality and the sauce was also nice. If it had been a bit cheaper, the first course a bit less impressive and the restaurant a bit less fancy, I would have approved whole-heartedly. But it was not cheaper, the first course had set the bar fairly high and beautifully decorated restaurants raise expectations as well. Tough luck.

Panna cotta

Even though these main courses were more than filling, I am glad I was smart enough (not to mention obliged by the blog) to order a dessert. The only sweet treat on the menu was a panna-cotta (served with strawberry sauce for 5 €), which turned out to be a dream come true. For some unknown reason, panna cottas tend to be fairly unimpressive. People who don’t know how to cook think vanilla creams are always an easy option and usually get it wrong (or bland, which is even worse). But Jäger and Sammler was one big exception to the local rule. It managed to get everything right: the cream, the texture, the strawberry sauce and the visual presentation. It was a fantastic way to end a meal.

At the end of the day, Jäger und Sammler is a good address. It is a sterling example of how some restaurants manage to raise expectations before getting to the main course, just to create disappointments with food that is fairly good, but just not enough to rise to the challenge of perfect ambiance, ambitious menu and wonderful starters and desserts. And yet, don’t let it scare you off. It is a perfect four-printer.

Overall mark: 

Jäger und Sammler
Grunewaldstraße 81, 10823 Berlin

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