My favorite dinner in Berlin was probably at VAU (pronounced vow to this non-speaker of German). It was the epitome of Berlin dining – flavorful, fresh, local ingredients, creative cooking with unique German flairs and no fuss, stylish platings, wonderful wines and warm, friendly service.
The web sites and books tend to laud VAU for being a pioneer in modern German cuisine. They also say that it’s still one of the best – is that a backhanded compliment? Does that mean that only blue-hairs go there now? We decided to check it out.
We chose the seasonal menu, which sounded fabulous, with a half bottle of dry German riesling for the first two and a Pommerol for the mains. Or so we thought.
Our sommelier recommended a dry riesling, but nixed our Bordeaux. As in, just flat out told us, in a nice way, no, that he would recommend another wine that would pair better. Since it was the last day of April, and the menu changed monthly, I guess he’d had a month of experience and feedback on the pairings? We were a bit taken aback – oh, he was terribly polite, but I can’t think of the last time a sommelier rejected our choice.
And … that’s why he’s a professional, and we are just (wine) consumers. The riesling was lovely, dry, crisp and minerally, with bright fruity flavors, very non-riesling tasting. To me, it was more like a gruner veltnier in flavor, in its minerality. The red, a Cote de Beaune, was fruity and earthy, not too elegant as my MIL would say (I would say “thin”), heavy enough to stand up to the rich food and acidic enough to balance out the flavors.
Here’s what we consumed:
- Roasted lobster, with young peas, mint and egg yolk – no worries, the yolk turned out to be a light, fluffy foam around the lobster. yum …
- Monkfish, with spring onions, saffron, dill and lemon
- Fried sweetbread, with liquid duck liver fagottini, morels and white asparagus
- Pink roasted leg of lamb, with olive tart (delicious), beans, barberries and artichoke – The head chef, Michelin-starred Kolja Kleeberg, brought this dish out to us. He was charming and engaging, describing the ingredients, but then tripping over the word “barberries.” He pronounced it with a German accent, then an English one: What is a barberry? He asked the couple next to us, who also didn’t know the proper translation. We all laughed it off. After a few bites, G and I decided a barberry is a current …. At any rate, the flavors were wonderful, and the olive bread was divine.
- “Obatzer” of brie de meaux, with paprika emulsion, caraway and pretzels – I wasn’t sure what an “Obatzer” was – turns out it’s a Bavarian cheese spread one eats as beer food – but it seems to be a fashionable way of serving cheese in Berlin, as we saw it at another restaurant later in the week.
- Baked honey milk on raspberry foam, with rhubarb and almond ice cream – so various custards and a mix of tart, sweet and creamy.
After our meal, I was dying to try the sweet dessert wine our sommelier offered, but that really would have been too much. Instead, we took him up on an offer of post-dinner schnapps. He brought out two small, very chilled glasses of clear liquid – mango schnapps, he said. I braced myself, not sure how this would be – I mean like peach schnapps we drank in high school …? Not at all. It was delicious, like a good vodka, flavorless and yet refreshing.
Probably our best meal in Berlin, a fabulous experience all around. One of my best dinners.