Three places to get a mezcal cocktail in Berlin

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Mezcal is one of those spirits that was all the rage in San Francisco five years ago but still hasn’t managed to gain a foothold in Berlin. When I first moved to Berlin two years ago, I was quite disappointed when I realized it isn’t commonplace to see mezcal on a drink menu here, even at many of the more hip and upscale establishments.

I’ve asked about mezcal in just about every fancy bar I’ve set foot in, from Butcher’s in Mitte to The Antlered Bunny in Friedrichshain. It’s just not really a thing here. (That’s not to say that the cocktails at the bars I just mentioned aren’t köstlich.) I have, however, found three places in Berlin where one can order a decent, even outstanding mezcal cocktail.

1. TiER (Weserstraße 42, Neukölln)

Tier is one of my favorite bars in Berlin, in spite of the fact that it’s usually way too crowded and smoky, even on weeknights. The interior is super old school and gemütlich and it’s one of the few places where I’ve seen Bulleit Rye behind the bar. My go-to mezcal cocktail is the Selma Hayek.

Favorite mezcal cocktail: Selma Hayek

2. The Bar Marqués (Graefestraße 92, Kreuzberg)

In spite its being around for a while, this place is a bit under the radar. I never have trouble finding a seat here. Located in the basement of a not particularly bumpin’ tapas restaurant, this bar features old style furniture, hospitable service, and of course, top notch drinks. We first heard about the bar about a year ago through a friend who has a thing for gin and tonics. I remember inquiring about mezcal back then only to be met with a “leider nicht.” My mild disappointment was assuaged by their formidable selection of tonics and the presence of complimentary nuts.

But the last time I was there, I noticed something new. I was handed a menu when I sat at the bar (previously the bar had no menu, and a conversation with the bartender was offered in its place). Flipping through the pages, I saw it: a mezcal cocktail. Confused, I asked the guy behind the bar if they really do have mezcal. He pointed to not one, but several bottles behind the bar, including my old SF standby. Turns out The Bar completely changed its bar program and staff in September. Now it’s even better than ever! (As evidenced by the fact that we spent 100 EUR there last night.)

Favorite mezcal cocktail: Mezcal Last Word

3. Würgeengel (Dresdener Straße 122, Kreuzberg)

Funny story about Würgeengel – it was one of the very first cocktail bars that K took me to during my first few months in Berlin. I was ecstatic when I saw they had mezcal on the menu. We used to go there quite often and I would always order the Last Call with mezcal, but one evening, I was in the mood for something different. I asked the bartender to make a custom cocktail — something kind of warm and spicy, perhaps with chocolate bitters and a bit of citrus — using mezcal as the base spirit of course. The resulting drink was perfection — so good, in fact, that the bartender said he would put it on the menu and asked me to choose a name for the cocktail. After consulting with K, we decided, jackasses that we are, to call the cocktail “The Entschuldigga”, a portmanteau of the expressions “Entschuldigung” and “Digga”. The bartender was not at all amused by this idea, and urged us to come up with a more Spanish-sounding alternative. We stood our ground.

The next time we were at Würgeengel, which was some months later, we saw that my drink had indeed made it onto the menu, but that it was called the “Santa Ana”. (As in, that city in Orange County.) Womp womp.

Favorite mezcal cocktail: Santa Ana

N.B. Mezcal cocktails at home. 

israeli kofta with tahini + salad

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I know you can find it at basically any health food store in Berlin, but I felt really cool for smuggling tahini (along with this weird pop rocks chocolate) in my suitcase back from Israel. Maybe it’s just because it’s been so long since I’ve felt truly excited or curious about experimenting with a new ingredient. (Cooking with tahini may even be passé at this point, but I’m in Berlin, where the food scene lags SF and NY by three years, so I’ll cut myself some slack. ;) Since I’ve been back from my trip, I’ve been going crazy with the stuff. I made Molly Yeh’s sesame sauce, the Israeli kofta + salad that’s the subject of this post, hell, I even made a tahini cake! The container I brought back is almost empty. Tahini is the sexy, younger, Jamaican man who helped me get my groove back.

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It also forced me to tap into one of the few gastronomic boons of living in this neighborhood — the Turkish supermarket. The butcher at the Eurogida across from our flat is basically industrial grade. And yet, I never go in there! To think that this gem has been under my nose all along. I walked in after a failed attempt at trying to find lamb at Kaufland and had the butcher grind up some lamb meat for me, no problem. None of this running out of ground beef at 7PM on a Thursday bullshit. I’m lookin’ at you, Real.

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The hardest part of these recipes was the grocery shopping. And that wasn’t even that hard.

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ISRAELI KOFTA WITH TAHINI

Serves 4.
Adapted slightly from Ottolenghi’s recipe.

Ingredients

  • 300g ground lamb
  • 300g ground beef
  • half a red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • a handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus extra to serve
  • a big pinch of chili flakes
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • ½ tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ⅔ cup light tahini paste
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • ½ a cup of water
  • salt and pepper 
  1. Make the kofta patties. Combine the first 11 ingredients into a bowl and mix well with your hands. Shape into oblong-like meatballs. (Mine were on the larger side; each about the size of a stretched out lime.) Arrange on a tray and then refrigerate until you’re ready to cook them. Preheat the oven to 220 C/425 F.
  2. Make the tahini sauce. Whisk together the tahini paste, lemon juice, water, remaining clove of garlic and a quarter of a teaspoon of salt. The sauce should be a bit runnier than honey; add one or two tablespoons of water if needed.
  3. Heat up some canola or vegetable oil over high heat. Working in batches, brown the kofta on all sides. Transfer the kofta to a baking tray and pop in the oven for 2-3 more minutes, depending on their size. Serve with tahini sauce, pita bread, and Israel salad. 

ISRAELI SALAD

Serves 4 as a side dish.
Adapted from David Lebovitz.

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe tomato, seeded and chopped into tiny cubes
  • 1 medium cucumber, seeded and chopped into tiny cubes
  • a palmful of finely chopped red onion
  • 5-6 red globe radishes, chopped into tiny cubes
  • ¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • ¼ cup finely chopped mint
  • ⅓ cup cubed sheep’s milk cheese (e.g. feta)
  • 1-2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt, pepper, and sumac (optional)

Mix all of the chopped vegetables and herbs in a bowl. Dress with the lemon juice and olive oil and toss well. Season to taste with salt, pepper and sumac. Top with feta cheese.

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Berlin favorites: Cocolo Ramen, Mitte

At last! There’s a critical mass of eating establishments in Berlin that I can call favorites. Why not turn it into a series? Today I’ll post about my absolute favorite. I eat here more often than any other restaurant in Berlin. And I always get the same thing.

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Cocolo Ramen was one of the first restaurants that Kai took me to after I’d only been in Berlin for a few months. It was the first restaurant meal in this city that I actually thought was good, and I remember feeling so relieved.

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Since then, the restaurant hasn’t lost its game. They’ve even expanded and opened a second location in Kreuzberg (as most successful Berlin restaurants tend to do). I still think the location in Mitte is better though.

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If you do go there, remember to keep it simple: order a Tonkotsu ramen and an ice cold Asahi, maybe some edamame if you’re feeling especially hungry. Do not, however, make the mistake of ordering any ramen other than the Tonkotsu, for you will be invariably disappointed. (I’ve seen this regrettable fate befall many a dining companion, and now I always give them warning if I see them straying from ol’ faithful.)

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Soy-braised pork belly, soft boiled egg, rich cloudy broth, and some pickled ginger to balance it out. What could be better than that? I drag poor Ryan here after work at least once a month.

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Can I get this poster for above my bed please? Kthxbai.

sightseeing in Tel Aviv

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I didn’t have much time to explore Tel Aviv, mostly just the mornings, but managed to take in quite a bit of the city. Mornings are a great time to explore Tel Aviv — the streets are mostly quiet but it’s warm enough to wear just a light sweater. One morning I woke up at 8AM and managed to squeeze in Carmel Market >> Old Jaffa (via Homat HaYam Promenade) before a 10AM meeting. An hour was more than enough time to do this walk, though I did feel a bit rushed at the end in Old Jaffa. The path along the sea was pleasant and tranquil, punctuated by beachside cafes and the occasional playground.

Shuk Ha’Carmel (Carmel Market). That famous outdoor marketplace in TLV where you can buy various food items and flowers. I barely had enough shekels on me to buy a freshly squeezed pomegranate juice — one of the few items on my TLV bucket list. (Highly recommended by the way — that was super refreshing!) I saw a lot of high quality, fresh ingredients here, such as olives, spices, dried fruits, produce and fish, few of which made sense to carry back in a suitcase. ;)

Yafo (Jaffa). Tel Aviv’s old town, an ancient port city, featuring interesting architecture and supposedly the best hummus in Israel. (I also got multiple recommendations for this place, also in Jaffa.) Noteworthy sights include Masjid Al Bahar (The Sea Mosque) and the Jaffa flea market. The Sea Mosque, which sits on a hill overlooking the harbor, seemed like a favored lookout spot for locals and kitties alike to sit in peace while staring upon the sea. The Jaffa flea market seemed just like any ol’ flea market — full of junk that no sensible human would buy. No, I did not come to Israel to buy someone’s used Samsung flip phone. That antique chair is nice, but it won’t fit in my suitcase.

For the other Tel Aviv posts, see here.

Chinese-style steamed fish

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One thing Berlin’s got is good Chinese food, much of it in the western part of the city. This is unfortunately kind of far away for those of us who live in the borderline ghetto. I have trouble justifying a 1.5 hour total drive just to get dinner, not only to my German partner but to myself as well. (Although I did drive twice this long just to get dumplings the last time I was in LA.)

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I do however get cravings for Asian food relatively often. It’s in my genes I guess. As a result, I cook a lot more Chinese food here than I used to back in the States.

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That’s because Chinese food is like the low hanging fruit of Asian home-cooking. Sure I could do Japanese or Korean, but that requires a little forethought and a trip to the Asian supermarket for special ingredients like kimchi or miso. The same applies to Southeast Asian recipes except to much stärker degree, because many Vietnamese and Thai recipes call for extra exotic ingredients like lemongrass or banana leaves or that stinky herb.

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In contrast, it’s pretty easy to throw together a convincing Chinese dish using ingredients found in even the barest of German supermarket “Asia” sections. I can’t really go wrong with the Chinese route — not only are a lot of Chinese recipes basically fool-proof, but I greatly reduce my chances of having to change my dinner game plan mid-grocery shopping because a key ingredient is inexplicably out of stock, which happens to me a lot more often in Berlin than I’d like to admit, and which, it goes without saying, is the worst. That classic ensemble of  soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, chili, ginger, sugar and sherry/vinegar pretty much holds a permanent place in my pantry.

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It’s also pretty easy to find vegetables that “go” with Chinese food. My go-to Chinese style veg trio is carrots, sugar snap peas and mushrooms. Unlike most other vegetables, I can count on seeing these familiar faces in the produce aisle year round.

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Last Sunday I was in Kaufland and noticed something that I never have the privilege of seeing at our local Real supermarket — fresh fish. I chose a sizable filet of Seelachs (“pollack” auf englisch?) and decided to try steaming it like they do at Chinese restaurants. It’s actually pretty easy and doesn’t take very long at all. You just need to make a steamer. Even though I have a proper double boiler steamer, which I used back in the US to make the food of my people and actually brought with me to Germany, I ended up fashioning my own makeshift steamer setup. You just need a pot with a few inches of water in it, and then a smaller pan or dish that you can fit inside the pot, with a stand to keep it elevated above the water. I set a pie tin on top of some shot glasses inside my Le Creuset and it worked great. (This guy used a plate sitting on top of an old tuna fish can.)

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Here’s my recipe for Chinese-style steamed fish. This turned out deeeelicious. Shout out to Caro for Skyping with me about Iceland while I was cooking this!

CHINESE-STYLE STEAMED FISH & MIXED VEGETABLES

  • 1-2 shallots, sliced
  • 3-4 green onions, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons of sliced ginger
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons brown or raw sugar
  • chili flakes
  • sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 + 1 tablespoons of Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
  • a nice, sturdy filet of white fish, such as “pollack” (I’ve never seen this in the US?)
  • mushrooms, sliced
  • carrots, peeled and cut into thin strips
  • sugar snap peas, trimmed

Steam the fish. Set up your steamer and get two inches of water simmering in the pot. Season the fish with salt and pepper. Take about a third of the ginger and green onions and make a bed in your pie tin (or other steaming dish) for the fish to lie on. Set the fish on top and pour a tablespoon of sherry over it. Transfer the pan to your pot with boiling water, and cover with a lid. Steam the fish for about 10 minutes or until it’s cooked through. Remove the fish from the cooking liquid.

Stir-fry the vegetables. Take half of the remaining ginger, half of the remaining garlic and the shallots and stir-fry in sesame oil until the shallots are softened and the mixture becomes fragrant. Add half the brown sugar and some chili flakes, stirring to combine. Add the vegetables and season (lightly) with salt and pepper. Add half of the remaining soy sauce and half of the remaining sherry and put the lid on for a few minutes so that the vegetables steam through and the mushrooms lose their liquid. Remove the lid, let some of the liquid evaporate, adjust seasoning, and turn off the heat once the snap peas are bright green and the carrots are tender.

Prepare the sauce for the fish. Stir-fry the remaining ginger, garlic and green onion in sesame oil until the ginger and garlic turn brown and the mixture becomes fragrant, a few minutes. Stir in the remaining sugar, soy sauce, and sherry and let the alcohol burn off for just a few seconds. Turn off the heat. Pour the sauce over the fish. Serve immediately with steamed rice and the stir-fried vegetables.

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I also posted this recipe on Yummly here.

eating well (and alone) in Tel Aviv

I’m not afraid to dine alone. I feel sorry for people who are. I once read an answer to a question on Quora that said the most valuable skill a person can learn is the ability to be happy alone (because then no one can take your happiness away from you). Although I’m still working on that in many ways, I appreciate the sentiment.

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I’ve grabbed more than few solo bowls of pho while living in SF and Berlin, but eating alone while traveling is a completely different sort of ritual. There’s something about having a new experience, in a foreign land, just for yourself, that is so dreamy and liberating.

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You can walk into any restaurant, on a whim, without having to consult anyone else. You can sit at the bar, people watch, talk (or not talk) to strangers, and take photos of your food without your dining companions losing patience with you. You can soak up the scene and just be. You can get lost in your own internal monologue.

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You can take a bite and sigh to yourself, “Damn that’s good!” and pat yourself on the back for having made such a good decision. (I actually did this at Mizlala.) You can revel in the pleasure of treating yourself. You can order that last glass of dessert wine, just because.

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I discussed this at length with Eva on Saturday, about how it’s actually the expectation of company that makes one feel so shitty when plans fall through. This would explain why I felt so secure and content traveling alone in Israel but almost cried when two different people flaked on me last Sunday. If you set out to do something on your own, or have it in your mind that the company of others, while welcome, is optional, then you won’t necessarily feel like you’re missing out by not having other people to share your experiences with. Why should we deprive ourselves of new experiences on account of other people, anyway? (Said the neediest person, ever.)

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The older I get, the more I learn that being alone doesn’t have to feel lonely. (Especially when you’ve got social media. ;) I’ve got eating alone down; let’s hope the rest will be soon to follow.

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Some places I ate in Tel Aviv that I would gladly return to, alone or otherwise.

Mizlala – Fine dining by one of Israel’s premier chefs. This place has a great vibe. I had a ton of fun sitting at the bar and getting drunk by myself. The space feels classy yet cosy and my entree was amazing.

Port Said – A gastropub with delicious food and a spacious patio.  Apparently it’s also known for its hip music and vinyl collection, which I didn’t even notice because I was too busy stuffing my face with eggplant and short-ribs.

Delicatessen – A nice place to get lunch and people watch, cafe-style, on one of the hippest streets in Tel Aviv. You can buy all sorts of gourmet things inside. (Although I didn’t get a chance to because I had to rush to the airport.) THEY SERVE ICED COFFEE THERE. (Something I miss in Germany.)

For all other Tel Aviv posts, see here.