Update: sadly, Nansen closed in October 2016.
I never in my life thought I would be writing about a restaurant, but sometimes you just discover the fun in something while doing it. I have also never really been a food person to be honest and when my friends ask to “have dinner” with me I always roll my eyes thinking that this is the kind of shit rich people in New York do. You know, like the women from Sex and the City who hardly work but always make it to the openings of the hottest new restaurants in town.
But then one day a friend from Cologne took me to a place that is run by an old friend of hers and I found myself at Nansen and pretty much changed my mind about the uselessness of having a great dinner once in a while. First of all, this place is relaxed and extremely unpretentious, which I love. I don’t want to dress up and play a role when I go out to eat so the first thing I do is sit at the beautiful old counter, roll a ciggie, and have a cocktail or a glass of the perfectly chilled, wonderfully fruity, and dry Green Veltliner.
Here I go, sounding like Carrie Fucking Bradshaw, but what the hell, I don’t go out to dine that often. So, I am having a little chat with the new waiter from Scotland about the pros and cons of his way of making a whiskey sour and I already start forgetting some of the bullshit of the day that had been bugging me before. In fact, when I go to Nansen, I go there to escape and be happy because that’s what their food and the entire place with it’s charming, but fittingly plain interiors can do. The staff is great; friendly and attentive but still Kreuzberg enough to give you the feeling that it’s real and that they mean it.
A week ago, I went there again with Mary and we had a wonderful dinner on a sidewalk table at their pretty uncongested corner, directly at beautiful Maybachufer. The menu at Nansen changes weekly. It usually includes two starters, four or five main courses, and then two or so desserts.
I chose Tafelspitz with sorrel for a starter but I have no fucking clue how to translate that, nevertheless it was great (8,90 Euro). So Tafelspitz is the meat cut from the bottom sirloin primal cut. It might be called cap of rump, prime boiled beef, or soured boiled rump, boiled beef top side, or boiled fillet, depending on where you look it up. It’s a typical Austrian dish and the Nansen version had a nice thin fat crust, the typical sour taste and was garnished with coarse salt, cress sprouts and a side of sorrel. It was followed by a perfectly cooked lamb shank, slightly rare yet tender and served with exciting accompaniments that made my taste buds jump with joy (22 Euro). For one, there was a half onion that had been pickled in fine balsamico vinegar (it makes my mouth water again now that I am writing about it). Then there were green and white beans, a delicious spicy meat gravy and as a highlight tiny pears from the Brandenburg region that were soused in a white wine stock. Mary’s vegetarian main dish looked even more spectacular than mine: the eggplant tempura (14,80 Euro) was served on a pumpkin puree and a string of fried cherry tomatoes, garnished with Indian cress (these are all words I have never used before). Look at the picture and tell me that doesn’t look amazing…
The combination of seasonal products, unexpected combinations of rare ingredients, and surprising spices ranging from Mediterranean to Oriental is what makes Nansen’s menu so unique. You’ll find hock as well as polenta on the menu and if you think you already know exactly what you’re getting, you’ll be surprised to discover new tastes and nuances, combinations and styles that send signals directly from your tongue to your endorphin centre. Well, at least in my case that’s true. So far, I have successfully tried to cure my bad mood with good food at Nansen a couple of times and finally understood what it means to treat yourself in a culinary fashion.
The desserts we had were a beautiful finish to the great satisfaction that lay behind us. Mary had a tart tartin with coffee liquor cream and I ordered a nice orange parfait with bits of bitter chocolate and an herb that I figure was marjoram, which gave me a perfect post-food-orgasmic sensation that I flushed down with a strong espresso and an Averna on ice.
I realized that a casual affair with Nansen was better than waiting for Mr. Big and so I drove home, wrote my column while speaking the words, and lit a cigarette because this is still season one. I couldn‘t help but wonder: Is it always so easy to do something you thought you hated and if so, shouldn’t we all do it more often? I would have to wait for tomorrow to discuss this issue with my three best girlfriends over some mimosas at that new hot lunch place that opened up in Neukölln.
All pictures by Mary Scherpe