Posted by Rob Eshman
I was at a banquet for the USC Shoah Visual History Foundation a few weeks ago. Phil Rosenthal, the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond, was the MC. He killed—mostly by contrasting the sumptuous surroundings—the Four Seasons—and the lavish food, with the fact that we were all there because of…the Shoah.
“Every Jewish meal comes with a healthy side of guilt,” he said.
And that’s how I felt in Berlin.
As I wrote in my editorial this week, the banging nightlife, the rejuvenated neighborhoods and hip bars and ideal restaurants can be disorienting. Wait, I’m enjoying myself… in Berlin. I’m gorging myself… in Berlin.
That said, the visitBerlin people took a small group of journalists to some places that in any city I’d want to revisit, even with the guilt.
Two things in Berlin’s favor: it’s far less expensive than other European capitals. We stayed at the Hotel Regent, a four star, former Four Seasons pamper-palace in a 19th century building about a mile from the Brandenberg Gate. Marble floors, Meissen baubles, fluffy bathrobes and a staff that seemed to be put on earth to assent to your whims.
And between my forays into Berlin Jewish history, the visitBerlin people treated me to a series of fine meals. And I discovered: nothing helps you reconcile the dark past to the promising future like a good bottle of Riesling and real food..
With one happy exception, the food we ate reflected the trend toward local and sustainably-sourced food. Funny that going local is actually a global craze. All the restaurants touted their farm fresh local produce and meats—Berlin as Berkeley. Ditto the more casual, gastropub vibe and predilection for small plates and regional specialties. (The exception was that most places served a fresh fish or two, and last I checked Berlin is about 200 miles from the ocean).
It was fresh white asparagus season in Germany. The variety they all but pray to is called Beelitzer. Such adoration reminded me of a line from Jeffrey Lewis’ novel Berlin Cantata: “The Germans either believe in nothing, or too much.”
Every place, from two star gastro-temples to the local brew houses, paid homage to the white, densely flavored and frankly somewhat phallic . In three days I ate chilled asparagus salad, a creamed white asparagus soup, sautéed Beelitzers, or, the most common preparation, steamed white asparagus with boiled new potatoes and melted butter. I ate that last dish three times, and never got tired of it.
Of the places we visited, my recommendations are below. Keep in mind prices are generally lower what you’d pay in other European capitals, more in line with Los Angeles prices for moderate to high-end restaurants.
A two-star Michelin restaurant in the Hotel Regent. You pass one of the world’s five lobster presses in the foyer. For 280 Euros (but that’s for two people…), you can order Maine lobster in a sauce of pressed shell and coral jus slurried with cream. That wasn’t on offer (though check out the photo of the lobster press, below). Highlights were Tartar of Smoked Eel with Horseradish and Granny Smith Apple, Roasted Filet of Iceland Codfish with White Asparagus and a Morel-flecked Béarnaise Sauce, and a dessert of Stewed pineapple in Butter Caramel with vanilla ice cream and a dried pineapple chip. Okay, not local, but wonderful. Dinner here will cost $100 per person, triple if you go for the lobster.
In the top floor of the Reichstag Building. Once the symbol of German delusion, now an architectural landmark remade by Norman Foster, and featuring a Spago-like eatery with terrific views of the city.
In a converted former Jewish girl’s school—again, strange feeling that—this new, hip spot served one of my favorite dishes of the year: halibut with kohlrabi and stinging nettle risotto. The vegetables were so earthy and intense it tasted like the halibut was part forest animal. The food is sourced from local farmers, and often whole roasted animals are brought out to a central carving board to be parted out. My companions had wienerschnitzels the size of dinner plates, light and crisp over—poached asparagus—and a puff pastry shell holding wild mushrooms and more asparagus. One non-asparagus dish: a fish soup made from local crayfish stock with poached pieces of salmon and sea bass.
Mogg & Melzer
+49 (0)30 330 060 770
Berlin’s first Eastern European Jewish deli, though East Eurpean by way of Brooklyn. Home cured pastrami, made by New York Italian chef Joey Pesarreli, who also cooks a dense, tomatoey shakshuka. This is in the Jewish Girls School Building as well, and it’s authentic pastrami smell made me think of the Old Country, by which I mean Langers.
Café Einstein Stammhaus
In West Berlin, this local landmark is filled with real live Berliners, and you can see why. Housed in the converted villa of a former screen star, it delivers on atmosphere, on great coffee, and on Austrian style pastries. Take the strudel. A huge slice comes to the table from the oven, with buttery homemade strudel dough and tart apple filling. Only after I visited did I learn that the creepy scene in Inglourious Basterds, in which the Nazi hunter orders a strudel and milk for the Jewish heroine, was filmed here.
3 Minutes Sur Mer
That’s Minutes as in French minutes. A mostly French café in a quickly gentrifying artsy neighborhood, featuring bistro-style dishes and a French wine list. Crowded, fun, and a good break from German style food.
Fassbender & Rausch
Berlin’s legendary chocolate store. You’ll go here to see the four foot all chocolate bear, the Berlin landmarks like the Brandenberg Gate recreated in chocolate, and a huge offering of very decent chocolate products.
+49 (0) 983 208 431
In an old brewery, this is a brand new place with a young owner Ludwig Cramer-Klett committed to slow food—possessed by food-as-mission. This translates into very thoughtful takes on local ingredients, with the biggest crowd pleaser by far the French fries fired in organic duck fat. Oh. God.
030 610 74 033
Along the Landwehr Canal, in a converted electric generating plant— it turns out “volt” is German for “volt.” Hence the copper light fixtures and steel grating. Filled with an Abbot Kinney-esque crowd, and Gjelina-esque food.
Walk in and you enter your fantasies of German food. Hanging sausages, platters of pork haunch and beef shank, the scent of fresh-cured sauerkraut mixing with fresh-brewed beer—all in a beer hall atmosphere. And asparagus.
I can’t end this list with saluting the German bread. Everywhere you go, every table you sit at: brown bread, black bread, whole grain bread, sourdough bread, and tubs of sweet butter. I want to go back. Now.
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May 17, 2012 | 12:24 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
The most common question people ask when they visit our home is: “Why the goats?”
We live in the city. A few houses west of us, four lanes of Lincoln Boulevard traffic roar past day and night. Planes from cursed Santa Monica Airport buzz overhead. And on any given night, sometime between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., an LAPD helicopter will make sure to flood our bedroom with its searchlight. It’s Venice, man.
Two years ago, into this urban landscape, I brought our first goat.
Yes, I said goat. Yes, I said first.
My daughter and I were at John’s Feed, buying chickens. John’s, I assume, is a holdover from the days when Huntington Park was surrounded by farmland; there is no other reason for a ramshackle feed store in the midst of a treeless landscape of warehouses and strip malls.
John’s Feed stockpiles the chickens that end up next door at a live butcher shop called La Princesa. I usually buy chickens there for egg-laying. They are already full-grown, and I get the added pleasure of taking a creature off death row. On this day, when my daughter and I showed up, we noticed that, in the same crowded, feces-filled pen with the chickens, stood one miserable goat.
She was standing on her hind legs, straining to look out the window to the street.
We took her.
But why have goats? I often wonder if it’s in my blood. Eskimos have 30 words for snow. Jews have more than a dozen words for goat. You and I are generations removed from our agrarian ancestors, but their relationship with the world’s first domesticated animal lives on in our language. Azmaveth and tsaphir are he-goats. Gaddiel, a holy goat. Gedi, a young goat. Jaala and seirah are young she-goats. Ez, a she goat. Tayish, a butting he goat. Uzzah, a strong goat. Zibiah and aqqo, zemer, dishon and yael — mountain and desert goats. Ancient Jews depended on goat meat and milk for food; they slept in goat-hair tents. Their closeness created empathy: Jews were revolted by the thought of boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, and so, today, we can’t eat cheeseburgers. There is a Hebrew word for hell, familiar to us from Yom Kippur: azazel. It translates literally as “lost goat.” Hell, for Hebrew, was when you lost your goat.
The Christians saw goats as the devil. They were repelled by the very qualities in goats that seem most, well, Jewish.
Sheep huddle together and look to the shepherd for direction. Goats are stubborn and willful. The word capricious, meaning picky and discerning, comes from the Latin capro, for goat. Goats break fences and, thus, rules. Sheep are grazers, content to munch the grass at their feet. Goats are browsers — they refuse the grass and strive to eat the trees and bushes just beyond their reach.
Goats are deeply communal, bonded to one another. Sheep run, goats stand their ground. (Thoroughbred trainers used to calm their skittish horses by placing a fearless goat in their stall. To throw a race, you would sneak into the stall at night and get someone’s goat. A cliché was born.)
Rob Eshman’s goats: Ollie, left, and Goldie Horn
So, the apostles saw themselves as obedient sheep, Jesus as their shepherd and the Jews as unruly goats. In Matthew 25:33, the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, Jesus tells how he will judge nations when he returns: “And [Jesus] will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on his left.” Sheep go to heaven, goats to hell. The horns Christians imagined on Jewish heads did not make them look like the devil: They made them look like goats.
Is it any wonder that goat beside the butcher shop called out to me? It’s not just that I couldn’t see her ending up as birria — Mexican goat stew — or chavito — split, grilled goat. It’s that we shared cultural DNA.
I had driven my wife’s Prius to John’s Feed Store that day. The goat, a black-and-white Nigerian pygmy about the size of a small spaniel, went into a cardboard box and into the trunk. Somewhere on the 110 Freeway North, I heard a crash. Her two devilish horns had busted the packing tape, and I drove home with a goat in the rear view mirror.
We named her Goldie Horn. When my wife arrived home from a work trip, she found her car had been completely waxed outside and detailed inside. She said I was the nicest husband in the world.
Then she saw the goat.
We moved Goldie into a spacious side yard. But goats, every goat book informed me, care about two things: food and companionship. See, I explained to my wife, they are Jewish. Soon my daughter and I visited a goat rescue, and returned with a dun-colored mutt goat we named Ollie.
But why goats, people still ask.
To which I often answer: Why not? Nobody walks into your house and asks, “Why dogs?” even if your pet is not fit to protect, or hunt, or even play. No one asks, “Why fish?” though you can’t eat them, or, “Why canaries?” though they don’t lay eggs. And no one asks, “Why cats?”— except me.
Goats don’t bark or scratch. In our urban ecosystem, their odorless pellets work like plant steroids, replacing the need to buy fertilizer. They come when I call them, will stand on two legs for treats and enjoy a good scratch. As I write this, Goldie is rubbing her head against the card table I’ve set up in my backyard. In a moment, I’ll let her butt the palm of my hand. It’s a game we play.
It is weird, I know, but it really isn’t.
On Sunday mornings, I use a broom and dustbin to scoop up the layer of goat pellets, crushed dry hay and soil that carpets the animal pen. The dust plumes up and coats my face and fills my nostrils. It’s a fantastic smell — exactly like a fine unlit cigar passed under your nose. Next time someone is reaching for words to describe their $200 Cohiba, just say, “Hay, dust and goat s—-.”
I don’t even mind when I forget to feed them first thing in the morning. I have to go out after I’ve showered and dressed in my suit, carrying a slice of timothy hay, their pebbly poops squishing under my black polished shoes. I can see my wife, Naomi, at the window, watching — just like she did at the window of the Mendocino B&B one morning of our honeymoon when she saw me down by the shore tasting the seaweed. It’s a look that says, “Who, exactly, did I marry?”
I don’t tell her that when they break out of their pen and tiptoe into my study, Goldie always tries to nip a page from the same book — one of Naomi’s ancient Hebrew treatises on Jewish mysticism.
These goats, I swear to her, have made me a better Jew. Abraham, Itzhak, Yaakov, Moses and David were not scholars or preachers. They were the original men who stare at goats. Not surprisingly, the cycles of our holidays play out according to the cycles of these animals. That’s especially true now, during the holiday of Shavuot.
Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It’s traditional to eat dairy foods like cheesecake and blintzes during the festival. The rabbis will tell you that’s because Torah is like mother’s milk to us. But my goats teach me something different.
Goldie and Ollie have been fixed. But when spring arrives, Ollie still yearns after Goldie, and a long-dead urge reawakens, and he tries. If they weren’t city goats, rescued from other people’s appetites, Goldie would be kidding now, her milk flowing. There would be more than we could drink, and we would be making cheese, and out of the cheese, blintzes.
The first milk the Hebrews drank, the first simple cheese they made, came from goats.
“Why goats?” people ask, and then they answer their own question with another: “Do you milk them?”
No, but a few months ago, my goats inspired me to take a cheese-making class from Steve Rudicel, owner of Mariposa Creamery in Altadena, the only goat dairy in Los Angeles. Rudicel, a young, sturdy farmer type, started the class with a brief explanation.
“Milk needs to be small,” he said. “Milk needs to be local. Seek out quality dairy ingredients. It makes a big difference in the lives of the animals. The hardest-working part of the dairy farm is the animals. We’ve lost respect for the animals.”
“Goats are some of the sweetest creatures I’ve ever met,” he went on. “I’m often moved by the milk we make.”
In front of about 75 people, Rudicel had to stop to compose himself.
“Why goats?” That’s the answer. These animals start out in your blood, but they quickly make their way to your heart.
Follow Rob (and his goats) on Twitter @foodaism.
STEVE RUDICEL’S CHEVRE CHEESE
Fresh goat cheese is one of the easiest foods you can make. It takes five minutes of active cooking time, over two days. And its taste is far superior to the standard logs of chevre cheese product available in gourmet stores.
All specialty items are available by mail-order at dairyconnection.com.
Good liquid thermometer
Large, clean pot
Cheese maker’s muslin or molds
1 gallon pasteurized goat milk (I use Summerhill Dairy, which is readily available at Trader Joe’s. It costs $3 quart, or $12 a gallon, which yields just over 1 pound of goat cheese.)
1/8 teaspoon MM100 or MM101 starter cultures
3 drops vegetable rennet
1/4 cup spring or distilled (not tap) water
Heat milk gently to 74 degrees F.
Add a scant 1/8 teaspoon starter culture and stir for two minutes.
Dissolve rennet in spring water. Add to milk and stir for 2 minutes.
Drape a towel over pot and leave at room temperature for 12 to 20 hours. The curds are ready when they appear solidified and liquid whey floats on top.
Ladle curds into cheese maker’s muslin, tie around a wooden spoon or dowel and suspend over a pot. Allow to drip at room temperature overnight. Or, you can ladle into cheese molds and allow to drain overnight.
Unwrap cheese, sprinkle with sea salt, drizzle with great olive oil, and it’s ready to eat. You can also stir in seasonings (salt, chives, etc.), then cover and refrigerate.
Makes slightly more than 1 pound of cheese, enough to fill about 6 chevre molds.