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Fine Dining at the Lorenz Adlon - In the Shadow of the Brandenburg Gate

Night was beginning to fall when we entered Lorenz Adlon, and the lights illuminating the Brandenburg Gate, visible from the dining room's windows, had just come on. Lit from below, the neo-classical columns and famed quadriga grounded the setting. We could be nowhere but Berlin. At the same time, the restaurant bespoke a moment -- the first decade of the twentieth century before the cataclysmic events that would wreak havoc in decades to come. Time and place merged this June evening in the gastronomic restaurant of the Hotel Adlon which is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2007.

This is the legendary property that had survived the bombing of the Second World War only to be destroyed by fire begun in the straw-filled wine cellar at the war's end. It was not until 1997 that it re-opened, a total recreation of the original hotel albeit enhanced by the benefits of modern technology and in a united Berlin at a time of peace and new beginnings.

The restaurant repeats the original luxurious touches of its former self with rich mahogany panels on the walls, thick patterned carpets on the floors, plumed pillars reaching up to a ceiling painted like the sky, and fine linens on the tables. Each table is set with Rosenthal china, elaborate sterling flatware, four scarlet roses plunged in a rectangular vase up to their blossoms, a silver ornamental fowl of some sort, a silver bell that there was no need to use, and a single candle in a silver candlestick. Sideboards are lined with long-stemmed roses in tall vases, and melodies from the "Great American Songbook" waft up from the piano lobby one floor below.

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Such serene and elegant environs form an ideal background for this Michelin-starred classic French restaurant whose menu is enhanced by seasonal items in an array of combinations created by the talented Thomas Nesser. Since it was late spring, asparagus appeared in its own special section on the menu with the note that Chef Nesser can provide "additional traditional asparagus dishes upon request."

There was also a Mediterranean menu featuring yellow-fin tuna, Provencal-style vegetables, Iberian pork with avocado and olives. And a five to seven Degustation Menu. All this, in addition to a healthy selection of starters, soups and six traditional entrees.   

Such an abundance of riches required some guidance which was expertly provided by  Headwaiter Sebastian Schwietzer, a true new-Berliner who was born in the former East Berlin, was six years old when the Wall came down, and grew up watching the city change. "I remember when this area was all rubble, and then, a few years later, the hotel was standing again," he told us.

Instead of passively waiting for us to make our selections, Sebastian familiarized himself with our preferences and suggested dishes, some of which were made specifically to order, every one of which was excellent. They were also aptly paired with wines selected by Norman Schmidt who comes from the north of Germany near the Baltic Sea. Norman began his professional life working in fine dining until he relocated to a newly united Berlin where he took up the study of viticulture. Judging from the wines the young sommelier matched to our dishes, Norman has learned his lessons well.

We began with a sparkling Riesling 2006 from Trocken, a winery in Rheingau which is south of Frankfurt. "Germany is the perfect region for Riesling, and 2006 year was an excellent vintage," Norman said as he poured the effervescent, perfumed wine created specially for the hotel's centennial. "We told the winemaker what we wanted, how we wanted it to be made, and how we wanted it to taste. We were there from the beginning, watching the grapes grow, age, and be made into wine. "

Headwaiter Sebastian Schweitzer - click to enlarge
Headwaiter Sebastian Schweitzer
Sommelier Norman Schmidt - click to enlarge
Sommelier Norman Schmidt

As we sipped the Riesling, an amuse bouche as light as the Riesling, arrived: a tiny piece of sole in mustard sauce with praline of mushrooms. It was followed by a pair of sublime starters: a croquet of miniature shrimp topped with a creamy sauce and dollops of caviar, and the anticipated asparagus, both white and green, cooked with wild garlic, surrounding a mini breast of  quail covered with a puree of watercress (a gorgeous shade of lime green) and accompanied by a tiny dumpling made of strudel dough and stuffed with squab -- "An anniversary dish; it was served when the hotel re-opened," Sebastian said. "The soil in this region is soft, perfect for asparagus," he added. "Wherever it is possible, we rely on products from the region."

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A vibrant duck broth prepared with fresh green peas and ravioli filled with flavorful spring chicken, mushrooms and green beans that suffused us with pleasure came next. Now Norman poured an Austrian Chardonnay-type wine that comes from a small wine-producing area south of Vienna. The Rotgiefler grape is darker and more golden than the typical Chardonnay; the taste was almost like a white Burgundy, a little fruity and long on the tongue.

After a raspberry and strawberry sherbet to cleanse the palate, the main courses were presented: pan-seared Norway lobster, which is like langoustine, done to perfection, resting on a bed of sautéed white asparagus and accompanied by tiny ravioli containing a puree of green beans. And amazing Atlantic turbot sautéed in white tomato tarragon butter served with barely sautéed Provencal vegetables. At this point, Norman opened a Montrachet, our favorite white Burgundy, and also a spicy and fruity Portuguese Tempranillo.

For dessert there were young and small strawberries with raspberries and cream, and an apple mélange: sorbet, parfait poached, and rings with crystalline sugar. And just a sip of a sweet and fresh wine from the southern part of Bordeaux that tasted like a light Sauterne.

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What can one say of such a dinner, of such an evening? A leisurely repast of superb preparations in a beautiful dining room directed by two informed and enthusiastic young Berliners. Nothing trendy; everything a reflection of quality, care, and no small amount of talent. Would it be possible to pay our compliments to the chef?


Chef Thomas Nesser - click to enlarge
  Chef Thomas Nesser

Thomas Nesser took us by surprise. He looks so young, too young to be handling so complex a kitchen. Yet this classically trained chef came to the Lorenz Adlon with a wealth of experience garnered at other renowned restaurants including the Martinez in Cannes (where, coincidentally, he was assisting Chef Christian Willer during our visit the summer of 2002).

"The cuisine in the hotel is basically French but we add to it German food," he told us, "international touches, organic foods and regional products, a little bit from Italy, a little bit from Asia. In the cold weather, we have more of the cream dishes, the meats, the mushrooms. In the warm weather, the fresh vegetables."

Thomas Nesser, Norman Schmidt, and Sebastian Schweitzer -- a trio enhanced by other unseen but nevertheless important members of a company who together choreographed an evening not easily forgotten. Beyond extraordinary dishes, each so delicious, each so attractively prepared and elegantly presented, there was a rhythm to the entire process: the arrival and presentation of dishes, the clearing of plates, the refills of water and wine at just the appropriate moment -- all performed with grace and unobtrusiveness.

To dine at the Lorenz Adlon is to partake of the rarity of classical cuisine in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate, which after so tortured a history, has become emblematic of the new united Berlin in a democratic Germany. Truly an experience of fine dining. 



Lorenz Adlon at the Hotel Adolon Kempinski
Unter den Linden 77
10117 Berlin

Phone: 030 2261 1016

Photos by Harvey Frommer

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.


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