Wednesday, July 10, 2013

worlDCrave: Hot Spot, Berlin

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 For a while Amanda and I tossed around the idea of creating a subsidiary site, worlDCrave that would be focused on travel recommendations as we make our way around the world. Truthfully, with full time jobs, we have a hard enough time keeping up with fooDCrave, so the idea of starting a separate site is a bit daunting. But since I spent the last two weeks in Germany totally intrigued by the food scene, I couldn't resist sharing at least one of my favorite meals with you.

In my personal opinion, Germany doesn't have the best food. I'm not a big "meat and potatoes" kind of girl, so it's hard to get excited about weinerschnitzel and currywurst. But as a result of Germany's large immigrant community and (surprising) melting pot culture, there is fantastic ethnic food.

One of the best meals I had on this trip was at a Chinese restaurant called "Hot Spot". A Chinese restaurant in Berlin with an English name. Without a recommendation, I never would have considered stepping into this unassuming storefront. It's not exactly a hole in the wall, but from the outside, this place does not look like anything special. Astonishingly, it was the best Chinese food I've had in years. 

When we sat down, the language barrier immediately posed a problem. Despite the English name, our waitress spoke Chinese and German, no English. Luckily the owner came over and knew enough English to converse about the wine list. I'm no wino, but believe me when I say this was an impressive wine list. The list would have been impressive at a fancy Italian restaurant in Washington, let alone at a tiny Chinese restaurant on a quiet side street in Berlin. We were delighted to learn that Germany has its own Pinot Noir, called Spatburgunder - and settled on a delicious bottle.

The menu presented some familiar items, but also a lot of new dishes. There were so many exciting options, I was overwhelmed. When the owner came back over to take our order, I asked for a recommendation. He replied, "Can you eat spicy food?" After I replied in the affirmative, he asked the same thing of my mom and brother who were with me. He then said, "Would be it be okay if I just brought you out some things? Maybe some duck? A pork dish? And beef?" Let me think: A custom tasting menu catered to our taste and spice level? No hesitation; I was putty in his hands.

To start he brought out three very unique appetizers. The first appetizer was a chilled cucumber salad. It was topped with shaved ginger, and a light spicy chile pepper vinaigrette. 

Then we had what appeared to be thinly shaved cured beef. Sadly the waiter was unable to give us much more information, but it tasted similar to roast beef with a mild Chinese Five Spice flavor. For something that looked like deli meat, it was surprisingly complex in flavor. 

The third appetizer was crispy wontons with a ground pork stuffing. This was my least favorite of the appetizers only because the pork to wonton ratio was off. In my opinion, there was too much wonton and not enough filling. But I have to admit that the filling it did have was totally delicious. 

The best part about this meal was that the food didn't stop coming out! All of the fun of Little Serow, without the two hour line to get in the front door! 

For the main course, the owner first brought out a crispy duck with a spicy hoisin sauce. The duck had a crispy thin crust, and then tender dark meat inside. The sweet and tangy sauce was the perfect accent to the crunchy and rich flavored meat. It was an amazingly balanced and perfectly prepared dish.

Next we had pork spare ribs in a sweet glaze. It was served on a bed of steamed bok choi- my favorite Asian vegetable- that absorbed all of the flavor from the ribs. The ribs were meaty and completely gone by the end of the meal! 

Lastly we had a stir-fry beef dish with mixed vegetables, including mushrooms, peppers, and onions. What made this dish unique was the clear presence of curry powder in the sauce. Rather than a typical "brown sauce" that so often accompanies Chinese dishes in America, this dish tasted as if it came from a Thai restaurant, but without the heavy cream sauces. The curry powder was an awesome twist.

I was totally swept away by this meal. It now pains me a little to know we don't have Chinese food like this in DC! 

If any of you know of any excellent Chinese restaurants that would challenge Hot Spot, I would love your recommendations! 

Monday, July 8, 2013


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Last week, we celebrated our friend Abby's birthday over drinks and noshes at new 14th Street hotspot, Ghibellina.  From the same people behind       Acqua al 2 in Eastern Market, Ghibellina adds another Italian eatery to the booming 14th Street restaurant scene.  The interior is absolutely meticulous.  Olive oil bottles line the wall close to the ceiling. There are intimate booths tucked along the wall and more traditional dining tables provide unique seating options. Also, the kitchen at the back of the restaurant is open, which allows diners to watch as their food is prepared.  

When we arrived at the restaurant, it was super crowded but we were lucky enough to snag some seats at the bar.  The bartender was very attentive and quickly grabbed our wine, prosecco, and an off-menu St. Germain cocktail.  All were stellar.  My only quip with the bar was the seats.  The stools were immobile, and were way too far from the counter top.  It made for really awkward leaning!  If I had been eating food there, I probably would have ended up with more on lap than in my mouth!  Luckily the whole bar does not feature these stools--the others were mobile stools with backs.  Make sure you choose those if you can!

We managed to sample a few of the offerings from Ghibellina's expansive menu.  It features small plates of pastas and various meats and fish, pizzas, and salads.  Abby and our friend Jackie decided to share the Salsicce e Cipolla Pizza (sausage with wood-roasted onions).  They were both extremely pleased with the thin crust pizza.  Abby usually adds red pepper flakes to everything, but said this pizza presented the perfect amount of spice.  Jackie thought that it combined the right amount of heat and tanginess!  

Liz and our other friend Casey decided to try the Bianca Pizza, which was topped with rapini, mozarella, garlic, calabrian chilies, pecorino romano, and fennel seeds. Liz and Casey both thought the pizza was absolutely delicious. Liz was so excited to finally have a thin-crust pizza option in the neighborhood! 

I  sampled this pizza and, as a self-dubbed pizza connoisseur, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. The flavor was spot on; the cheese combined with the garlic, chilies and veggies was quite literally a pizza party in my mouth.  The thin crust was also cooked perfectly--not too crunchy and not too soft.  The crust also had the perfect amount of char around the edges.  

We also decided to try something a bit more unique and sampled a carpacchio of octopus. Although carpaccio is usually raw, the octopus was boiled and served chilled in very thin slices on a plate with garbanzo beans, fried capers, and oil with paprika. The octopus was so tender that it practically melted in your mouth.  Combined with the garbanzo and amazing fried capers (who knew how good this was?!) the perfect combination of acidity and neutral flavors were mixed. 

The last dish we tried was dessert for the birthday girl.  We decided on the strawberry tart with mascarpone ice cream.  The pastry tart was flaky and light. I could have eaten 10 of these desserts on my own!  Strawberries and mascarpone ice cream, I must say, is a fantastic dessert combination.  The mascarpone ice cream was like an elevated whipped cream.  I liken this dish to strawberry shortcake for adults.  Way more mature.

Ghibellina is a much welcomed addition to the neighborhood.  It provides a unique option for Italian dining, and from what we tried, perfectly hit the mark.