June 03, 2011

Knowing Nina (Greek Galore)

Ousies - Schöneberg

Studying in Paris, I got acquainted with a number of characters I would not have met otherwise. Amongst them was a young man who always scribbled down the word “Prince” under the field “profession”, a girl who often arrived in tears because her parents would not allow her to employ more than three cleaning ladies for her 700 square meter flat (which they had maliciously bought for her in a posh suburb rather than in the city centre) and then there was Nina.

She was a mousy girl; quiet, timid and fairly introvert. Being Greek, she spoke French with an accent most of our fellow students frowned at. It was not entirely simple to become friends with her, yet I liked her and we got along very well from the very beginning. It did not take a genius to realise we had grown up in different circumstances and with different values. We were interested in different things and reacted differently to just about every possible situation. And yet we did not enquire too much into each other’s backgrounds. Knowing she had come from a very sheltered home was more than enough.

I learned more about her on a spring day after an excruciating set of exams and presentations. We needed a walk in the polluted Parisian air to get over the day’s traumatising start and we began by wandering aimlessly between some of Paris’s most expensive shopping streets. On more than one occasion, Nina would see a shoe she fancied in one of the shop windows and without blinking would then step decisively into the shop and come out two minutes later with a completed transaction and a colourful bag in her hands. I did not ask how she was able to afford any of it, as my mother had told me it was not polite to talk about money. Every now and again, however, Nina would murmur an undecipherable sentence about her father needing to wire her shoe money.

As the day came to a close and we were both getting hungry, Nina suggested food and asked me whether I knew a nice place. I proposed an Indian restaurant I knew behind Gare du Nord and we began making our way northwards in silence, which was not our usual state. A few minutes later it was Nina who broke it by saying she had never before been anywhere around Gare du Nord and that she was afraid. “Is it dangerous? Are there any... you know... strange people over there?”
“It’s alright,” I shrugged. “I’ve never had any problems over there.”
“Oh, OK,” replied Nina, not too sure about whether to trust me or not. “But I heard there were Arabs up there.”
I shrugged again. I did not like these conversations and could do without another one of her lectures about why Greeks felt unsure around Muslims and why I should not put her in danger. We had already had that same conversation a few times before. The girl should grow up, I thought. My sense of conviction did not seem to put her at any ease though. A few minutes later she asked whether Indian food was hygienic.
“You see,” she began, “I’ve never had any of it before.”
“Oh... it’s fine. It will be an experience.” Which it was. Upon entering the place Nina wanted to turn on her heel and run away as fast and as far away as possible. Her eyes balls seemed to want to pop out of their holes and every little muscle on her body twitched in utter panic. I made her stay though, as she kept staring at the mainly Indian crowd sitting around us.

But she liked the food. She kept on nodding in pure amazement, whispering she would never have imagined she could like it.
“You see,” she said, “I’ve never liked anything besides Greek food.” It was my turn to stare at her in pure amazement. Thinking she had lived in Paris for such a long time and that she had been able to afford buying pairs of shoes for a few thousands of Euros in one afternoon, it did not strike me finding good food in Paris would be all too difficult.
And yet, to her it was. It turned out she was a billionaire’s daughter. She had lived in a sheltered Greek paradise with access to every shoe brand on the face of the planet, but food diversity had never been all too high on her shopping list. To be fair, she did not enjoy discovering new food stuff. She just liked the homey feeling Greek food gave her.

After this evening, as more and more of our conversations turned to the subject of food, Nina would spend more and more time describing the wonders of the Greek cuisine. I was not always convinced, but these long stories about the abundance of meat served in a friendly atmosphere she obviously missed in Paris made me think of Greek food as a potentially utopian thing. As I later realised most Greek restaurants in the countries I lived in were of the greasy-and-bland type, I started recalling Nina’s descriptions ever more often as an alternative for the actual unspectacular quality I was otherwise confronted with.

And then last week, I was time to try out a new restaurant with a friend from Paris which somehow evoked the memory of Nina. The bizarre association called for trying out a Greek restaurant and we opted for Ousies on Grunewaldstraße in Schönberg, having heard it was a lot better than the average Greek experience in Berlin (little birds usually whisper in a cacophony, the place is always crowded. Reservation recommended).

We sat outside, which was nice in itself, but even if we had decided to sit inside, it would not have been any worse, as the usual columns and Zeus figurines are pleasingly absent from the large indoor space. Instead, the restaurant looks like a scene from a retro film about 1960’s Italy with pink walls, light tables and endearingly overused tablecloths.

Beans and sausage

The two of us were soon overwhelmed by a menu long enough to keep an army eating for a good week. Moreover, it was more expensive than most Greek restaurants in Berlin. This called for a clear strategy and we decided to order a number of “representative” dishes. The starters we opted for were the eleosalata (slices of tomatoes covered with olive paste and a slice of goat’s cheese, 5.00 €), dolmadakia (those stuffed vine leaves, served warm for 7.30 €) and gigantes me loukaniko (large white beans in tomato sauce with slices of Greek sausage, 6.50 €). All were very good quality. The vegetarian starter was fresh, the dolmas had the right consistency and a very distinct taste and the beans were just beans with very good chunks of sausage. And yet, it felt like paying a lot of money for what was – at the end of the day – just very simple food.

The main courses went along the same line. We ordered mousakas (a dish based on layers of minced meat, potatoes and aubergines, 13 €) and a bifteki gemisto (a minced steak with a cheese-pepper-tomato filling served with a side of potatoes, 12 €). The mousakas was very authentic – it was a simple, hearty dish with the right seasoning and the right amount of grease. The bifteki was too heavy to be pleasing, but the meat was well seasoned. The side of potatoes was utterly dry and not very appealing.

Bifteki gemisto

We left with bloated bellies and mixed feelings. Generally speaking, the food quality was pretty impressive compared to every other Greek restaurant I’ve been to in Berlin. And yet, the otherwise well known Berliner pattern of excellent starters and less inspiring main courses repeated itself even here. Moreover, even though the quality was definitely a bit better than anywhere else, the prices were also a lot higher, which was not necessarily justified by the fact that the food was not yet “amazing” or “inspiring”. If you are like Nina and crave Greek food in big portions – Ousies is probably one of the best choices around. If not, there are other things to get through an evening.

Overall mark:

Restaurant Ousies
Grunewaldstraße 16, 10823 Berlin
Tel: +49 (0)30 216 7959

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1 comment:

  1. Well I don't know if I'm ever going to come to Berlin, but thank you for this guide, it's very well done!
    Please visit