Wiener Schnitzel or Sardines?
You have just gotten a small dose of Berlin’s history and culture here, reading about the Berlin Wall and the little green Ampelmann, as well as the sheer magnitude of museums you can visit. But you’ve got to eat too! Aside from the obligatory currywurst you’ll grab at the city’s omnipresent stands, there are tons of restaurants serving up traditional German cuisine, regional specialties, or spots where chefs are bringing in a bit of creativity – and perhaps lightening things up a bit in the process too.
What you’ll probably have on your plate at some point is Weiner Schnitzel, the flattened, fried fillets of breaded veal that find themselves on a large percentage of menus around town. One restaurant where you’ll want to order it is Lutter & Wegner, a Berlin institution (and wine merchant) since 1811 that serves hearty German fare with an Austrian slant. It was a “when in Rome” moment for Stuart Emmrich of the New York Times, who told readers that’s what he saw on every table there. I heeded his advice and went there with that in mind. Any expectations on my part of a rather short and perhaps less than exciting menu with only heavy meat-laden dishes was dismissed as soon as my exceptional (but oh not so cheap) lunch began.
Any wine lover will immediately feel at home and grow wide-eyed at the impressive wine list. Walls are covered with perfectly arranged wine bottles, the restaurant boasting over 750 different wines, mostly from German speaking countries, but also France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. You’ll find yourself gazing up towards the ceiling at the beautiful labels. But do be sure to glance across the street (below right) at the German Cathedral in Gendarmenmarkt, one of Berlin’s most beautiful squares.
In a place known for its Weiner Schnitzel, I have to admit that I instead tasted the very best canned sardines I may have ever had – and that’s including on the Brittany coast in France. Tiny sardines from Spain “swimming” in olive oil were served with toasted baguette, long thin breadsticks, Fleur de Sel and a lemon wedge. A beautiful and colorful antipasti platter was an excellent choice too with house-cured meats and local cheeses. I ordered one of the daily specials- butterfish tartare with salad. Divine. Talk about straying from your original intentions. My father hesitated between the Wiener Schnitzel and the Sauerbraten (marinated pot roast), ordering the latter when our waitress told him without even batting an eye that it was her favorite dish. Turns out she’s not alone – it apparently won a prestigious national award! We washed all that down with a Schloss Johannisberg Riesling (Gelblack QbA) from Germany.
Would I go back? I most certainly would, for a special occasion, for a glass of wine and antipasti – or really, just for dessert. Like a French soufflé, the Kaisershmarrn is ordered at the beginning of the meal, as it takes 20 minutes to prepare. If you forget and end up rereading the dessert menu, I would say it’s still worth the extra wait. Warm shredded pancakes with powdered sugar and raisins, served with stewed plums and vanilla ice cream. Light, sweet, satisfying and oh so delicious, exceptional when hot from the pan. So have your forks ready when it hits the table.
Lutter & Wegner