Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Zum Schwarzen Hasen

I think I may have found my favorite German place in town: Zum Schwarzen Hasen. (at the Black Hare's), which just so happens to be the final destination in my long trek through the cuisine of this strange and wonderful country. 

I immediately fell in love with the menu and the atmosphere. Both are fresh and stylish, yet somehow harken back to a certain old-world German flair. The restaurant's website calls it "a surprising and modern interpretation of German cuisine," which transforms "heavy meals into fine delicacies." This is a true German tapas joint, but here the concept works flawlessly. The dishes are reasonably priced and delightfully bite-sized, seamlessly combining traditional elements with fresh and unexpected flavors.  

We ordered four small plates, but I would've ordered the whole menu if I had the means. I think six plates would have been a better number for two people who were looking to eat a full meal. First we had the semolina dumplings with sauerkraut. These were the exact size that I would want a dumpling to be. When I popped one of these into my mouth, I was brought back to my very first night in Germany, when we were dragged, jet lagged and delirious, to a classic German restaurant. I ordered two colossal bread dumplings that were so filling I had no choice but to leave a full one on my plate, which I hate doing. They were just too much. With such a miniaturized version of this dish, I could actually enjoy the flavor, without eating so much of it that I felt sick. It's just so obvious-- the problem with German food is that it's too big, it comes on too strong, and it doesn't apologize for being bad for you. And the answer is just so simple--reduce it, clean it up, and today's Berliners will embrace it with open arms. 

Next we had the saddle of hare with celery mash, a baked plum and a pumpernickel crouton. This is how to do game elegantly. It's also a great example of simple, seasonal/regional products used in creative ways. The baked plum was an especially special companion to the hare, which really improved on the flavor. Plums are actually quite a staple of German cuisine, especially dumplings with plum filling.
As soon as I saw the word "pickles," I knew we had to order this dish: roasted bread with nuts, goose confit and homemade pickles. I am so obsessed with pickles, and have been so excited that they've become such a trend in the food world recently. Homemade pickling has really become a trendy hobby, who could have foreseen that. These were excellent, and I wouldn't have guessed they'd go so well with goose. The house made nut bread was also fresh baked and amazing.

Last we ordered the wild boar sausage in red wine sauce. This dish won the prize for attractive sausage presentation by a mile. While I love wild boar, these were a little bit tough, but the flavor was still there. Whatever the green sauce was really made the dish, I wish I knew exactly what it was, maybe some sort of pea mash. 

I think this was a perfect place to finish my project. It was simple but not forced, beautiful but not over the top, and new without sacrificing tradition completely. While I wish I could've tried some of Berlin's Michelin starred restaurants, I just couldn't shell out 100 euros for a tasting menu, and a mid-range place like this was more than adequate in letting me try "haute German" cuisine. When I left, I was still hungry, but my taste buds were more than satisfied. I felt like I'd seen the future of German food, and seen how it could have global appeal. Maybe if this is the direction German food is going in, we'll start to see German tapas popping up in America, not just kitschy faux-Bavarian beer houses that are only full during Oktoberfest. There's really something to be said for the cuisine, and it'd be a shame to see it die, which is what I think might have eventually happened if it hadn't undergone this update. Zum Schwarzen Hasen is 2012's answer to German food, and I'd say it's a complete success. 

Zum Schwarzen Hasen
Krausnickstr. 1
10115 Berlin
Tel: 030 63965032
Open daily 12:00 pm -1:00 am

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