On Mother's Day morning, my husband and I were trying to think of a place to go for brunch. We didn't feel like going to our usual haunts and were stumped on what to try. "I know," he said. "Search for an Arab restaurant serving brunch."
So I, uh, did just that: googled "Arab restaurant", "brunch" and "Berlin". The first result that popped up was Casalot, in Mitte, just around the corner from Friedrichstrasse. Whatever, I thought to myself. This is going to end badly. Who googles what I did and actually gets a winner?
Last laugh is on me, because, oh my goodness, Casalot was a total revelation.
It's a pretty spacious place, with both indoor and outdoor seating. When we arrived, the seats outdoors were all empty. Gah, I thought, figuring this was proof that we'd made a bad choice. But inside, the tables were packed. We got the last table (that we had reserved, which I recommend you do, too).
The buffet was set up in the front room where the bar is. There was a long table filled with big platters of cold salads, a table of hot chafing dishes and a dessert table. The selection of cold salads alone was wonderful - there were the usual suspects like hummus, labneh and baba ghannoush, but also many other things like fennel and tomato salad, a cooked tomato salad that was spicy and bright, flash-fried vegetable salad, artichokes, olives, and on and on. As our meal progressed, I realized that cooks were bringing out new salads to the serving table all the time, not just replenishing what was already there. Everything was impeccably fresh and perfectly seasoned. This was really, really good food. (The price per head is €12,90, which is a lot more than other Berlin brunch spots, but the excellent food more than justifies the cost.)
After we'd eaten our fill of the cold salads, we moved on to the chafing dishes, which held, among other things, lovely little mint-flecked lamb meatballs and roast chicken that was incredibly moist and flavorful. (Actually, I'm not really sure how it was prepared - but it was out-of-this-world. Even Hugo couldn't stop eating it).
The dessert table was full of fruit and little Arab pastries - date-stuffed, sesame-studded, rose-water flavored, you get the drill. I can't speak to any of those, because of this, but honestly, at that point, dessert would have been too much for me anyway. (Actually, that reminds me that although I didn't eat any of the bread, it looked sort of average - they're not making their own, as far as I can tell, which is a shame since the food is so good. But there you have it.)
On one run to the buffet, I ran into a chef sliding a new platter on the table, so I told him how delicious everything was and I asked him what kind of Arab restaurant Casalot is. My father and Max and I had spent the entire lunch wondering if the cooks were Moroccans or Lebanese or Tunisians or Palestinians or what. And actually, it turns out that we were all right. The chef told me that Casalot is the old Roman name for the Palestinian town his boss is from. But the cooks are from all over the place: Tunisia, Morocco and Lebanon, among many other places.
There are a lot of cooks in Casalot's kitchen and thank goodness for that, because what they're doing is delicious. I can't wait to go back.
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