Monday, March 29, 2010

Facil: It's Easy to Love

Berlin offers a smorgasbord of dinging experiences - arguably the most diverse selection of restaurants in Germany. You can find American burger joints, home cooked Turkish meals, traditional Bavarian fare. The range is as eclectic as the city's history and current population.

If you're looking for a haute cuisine experience, Berlin's Facil restaurant offers a truly remarkable one. Nestled atop the Mandala Hotel, Facil blends effortlessly into the elegance and Euro-sophistication of its luxury hotel home.

Minimalism is the mantra at Facil, where the cuisine has French inspiration but draws on regional cuisine as a base. The ambiance is refined and relaxed, from the green walls sporting cool gray marble wall panels and a Giallo Reale Patinalo-tiled floor. You'll feel you're eating in a hidden sanctuary, under a glass ceiling that offers stunning sunlight at lunch or the glow of Berlin's lights in the evening.

But don't let the elegance of the place distract you too much - the food here is seriously good. Facil is one of Germany's finest restaurants, and boasts a Michelin star. The food is exquisite.

Chef Michael Kempf offers a six course menu that changes every few nights. The dishes present a structural twist that combines unusual flavors and textures into memorable forms on the plate. Imagine individual amuse buches in colors so vibrant they remind you of spring flowers, or a squab with roasted fruit sauce that is simply presented, but explodes with flavor.

Facil's service also deserves special recognition. The staff are warm and hospitable, offering thoughtful suggestions on wine pairings (we were very impressed with sommelier Felix Voges's recommendations throughout our meal) and insights into the ingredients in each dish as requested, too. This wasn't one of those intimidatingly nice restaurants - it was a first class dining experience that was accessible and unpretentious.

And by the way, the desserts are so beautiful, it's almost hard to eat them. Almost. Until you realize how delectably delicious they are. . .

5th Floor, inner courtyard
The Mandala Hotel
Potsdamer Str. 3
Tiergarten, Berlin

Friday, March 5, 2010

Citizen Cake was a Let Down

I don't often blog about the bad stuff. But this experience was so sorely disappointing, I can't help it.

Compared to the dream like gnudi I had at Restaurant Zoe the week before, I recently ordered a dismal version of the same dish at Citizen Cake. To even call both plates by the same term is misleading. Would you call a Ford and a Bugati both luxury cars? Hershey's and Recchiuti both gourmet confections? Here too, the Citizen Cake version was a flopping failure compared to what Zoe's kitchen had majestically created.

The dish had a series of problems. One, the gnudi were pan seared and cooked as opposed to being boiled or steamed as they had been at Zoe. As a result, they had a hard almost skin-like texture on the outside and a mushy cheesy center. There was nothing delicate about the dish, and the texture was so severe it was hard to concentrate on the flavors. Although there wasn't anything notable going on there, either. The flavors overpowered. Too much of an eggplant-tomato-olive mush of sorts was served under the gnudi. The red onion puree at Zoe was tart and simple; the Citizen Cake accompaniment was overly sour and chunky. The marriage on the Citizen Cake plate was not a happy one.

I've eaten at Citizen Cake before and had a far more enjoyable experience. Maybe Elizabeth Faulkner's kitchen is growing lax?

Then again, something else was clearly afoot (and afoul) that evening. The kitchen was out of a number of the wines and dishes on the menu. I mean, they didn't even have potatoes to make french fries to go with their burger! Apparently Cake's getting ready to move to a new location in the Fillmore. But can't they at least keep a stocked kitchen in the meantime?!

Citizen Cake
399 Grove Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 861-2228