Adjectives like sensitive, delicate, and expressive rarely describe German cuisine, at least not the stereotyped foods so common in America: bratwurst split over hot coals, a tall stein of beer. All served with a jolly smile straight from the hands of a barmaid or mustachioed, portly man in lederhose. I always imagine a rather drunken, lecherous Santa Claus shipped direct from the Black Forest, a glorious icon of gluttony. Although restaurants offering this experience do exist within the beautiful but slightly creepy neoclassical wonderland that is Berlin, a new aesthetic has emerged. Wholly divergent from heavy, hyperclassical French fare, this new German gastronomy emphasizes subtlety and composure. Just as frail glass and steel megacities arose from the ashes of Potsdamer Platz, contemporary German food involves a transcendently gentle architecture of flavor. At Reinstoff, dishes feel more ethereal than monumental; barely any pork or beef appears on the menu. Huge sausages hold no place on these plates; no brats and no beer here.
Reinstoff offers two tasting menus, “quite near” and “far away”—”quite near” focuses on traditional flavor combinations, while “far away” explores unconventional pairings. Since I wanted to consider Reinstoff’s “covers” of German classics, I opted for the former. Both menus begin with an identical series of canapes entitled “waking up the senses.” Despite the goofy title, these miniature bites succeed as a whole, particularly vegetable muesli. An eccentric lollipop of dehydrated vegetables simulates the cereal, and an accompanying shot of yogurt completes the breakfast experiment. In fact, after forcing the entire lollipop into my mouth at once and downing the drink, my mind fixated on eating granola mixed with sour, thin yogurt in the college dining hall. Campy, but outlandishly delicious.
Of course, the six course string of substantial plates possesses a peculiar name too, “pampering the senses.” Were my senses especially “pampered?” Frankly, I have no inkling as to what this phrase means contextually, and largely chose to ignore it during the meal. The first dish, raw marinated beef tenderloin, meadow grasses and turnips, also perplexes. Where are the meadow grasses? All I discover on the plate, a thicket of herbs, barely recalls a romp through a vacant lot, let alone an idyllic meadow. Nevertheless, alternating between ruby beef slices, beet purée, and molten turnips produces an approximation of sunshine and earth.
Melon, tomatoes, Bobalis mozzarella and vinaigrette granite feels more Elysian in persuasion. Each tomato fills the entire mouth with an unbearable concentration of soil, acid, and rain; spherified mozzarella blossoms into liquid curd, and grilled watermelon contributes a smoky sweet flourish.
Regrettably, a bowl of trout from Königsee, comfited potatoes, Vichyssoise and chive oil interrupts the developing rhythm, a dismal failure. While the two underportioned trout pieces feel as luscious as sable, the pale green soup comes lukewarm. Instead of a pleasurable interplay between chilled potato and oily fish, the dish seems scummy and lifeless.
For the main course, danish pike perch, parsley, spinach, beurre noisette and dried morels reinvigorates Reinstoff’s lagging energy. Technically superb, the fish takes on a terrestrial quality in conjunction with the morels and spinach. Light and unimposing, the entire dish speaks to the boundaries between sea and shore, even the most microscopic intersections of puddles and roots and sandy hillocks.
Dessert champions simplicity in the guise of complexity; local wild berries, herb floss and raisin pancake ice cream arrives at the table with a tangle of cotton candy wavering precariously atop the serving piece. A cold berry soup poured over the floss races into its spiderweb structure, consuming every strand in sugary delight. Flawlessly smooth pancake ice cream melts over tart blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and gooseberries, creating the impression of a crepe. As the “quite near” menu’s telos, these berries speak to a streamlined purity of flavor, unadulterated and unviolated.
According to the menu, a group of petit fours “strokes the senses.” Orange carrot Solero reminds the American me of a “Dreamsicle,” albeit with a vegetal twist. Piña especial, coconut foam and roasted pineapple, feels gimmicky and unnecessary. Summer truffles and cereals is a mushroomy rice crispy, accomplished via strategically aimed melanosporum and quinoa. A bite of mint chocolate finishes this tedious list of mignardise off, a thankfully quiet last treat.
At Reinstoff and its brethren across Germany, a new food aesthetic privileges simplicity over absolute tradition. Therein, Reinstoff’s menu works when overintellectualization and boring witticisms fall under the heel of seasonality. Those vibrant berries remain vividly imprinted on my palate; better them than another Bratwurst mit Brötchen at an unabashedly touristy Biergarten.