Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Berlin von A bis Z: Chraazan

When I lived in New York, I had this crazy job as a cookbook editor for a very minor publishing house. It was crazy in many ways, the first being that I was hired with basically no editorial or publishing experience whatsoever. To top that off, I was in charge of the entire cookbook department with essentially no supervision because my boss was rather elderly, disabled, and a little bit senile. To add to the fun, one-quarter of our four-person office was a total wack job: paranoid, prone to semi-violent temper tantrums, etc. Oh and he had a ton of photos of his mom's cat in his cubicle. This job was seriously underpaid in a seriously underpaid industry and because I was the entire cookbook division, I was responsible for everything from acquisition to editing to marketing. Until my off-kilter coworker really started to lose it, this job actually had some perks: I got to read cookbooks all day long, minimal senile supervision meant I could focus on the projects that interested me and disregard my boss' dumb ideas (he wouldn't remember that he'd had them), and once a week we ordered lunch for the office. As the cookbook editor, it was naturally my job to coordinate this and of course I used my powers to influence the decision as to which restaurant we would order from each week. Also (being seriously underpaid and overworked) ordered way more food than I could possibly eat at lunch providing me with several extra meals. One of my favorite restaurants on our ordering rotation was Bamiyan, an Afghani place on E. 26th Street. After a few meals, I had my order down and would always order Fesenjen, a chicken dish with a pomegranate and walnut sauce and Mantoo, meat dumplings with spiced tomato and yogurt sauces.

A while back, thinking of how much I miss the quality and variety of "ethnic" restaurants in DC and New York, I had the silly idea of trying to find the best restaurant for every cuisine in Berlin. I'm not sure this is realistic -- I'm pretty sure many cuisines are not to be found in Berlin, but the idea amuses me even if I'm also pretty sure I'll just be disappointed by the quality of what I do find. But, I have to say that I'm not off to a terrible start. Last night found me at Chraazan, which according to my research is the only Afghan restaurant in Berlin. It wasn't quite as good as Bamiyan, which as I remember it was a little more complex in flavor with a slightly fresher product (we were the only guests on a Tuesday night at Chraazan so I'm guessing they don't move things quite as quickly as at Bamiyan ... nor is there any Afghan competition for miles and miles). Alas, Chraazan didn't have fesenjen and when I asked about it the waiter (who seemed to also be the/an owner) didn't light up, delighted that someone was remotely knowledgeable in his cuisine and offer to have the kitchen make it as I had hoped....alas. But, they did have mantoo, which were almost as good as at Bamiyan. The saffron-spiked rice pudding with pistachios, which we ordered to share, was a disaster, though. Mushy rice lacking any flavor of saffron or cardamom or other spice that had been microwaved as it was warm in the middle and cold on the exterior. I don't remember ever having dessert at Bamiyan, but I can't imagine it would be this inedible. Still, the mantoo took me back to a Wednesday lunch in New York washed down with cheap Georgian wine. I don't know if I'd go out of my way for Chraazan, but I might try it again if I were in the area. I'm definitely going to do something about my fesenjen craving now, though....