I had an idea for an article sitting in my head about Potsdamer Straße and how it’s been flipped upside down in the past couple of years, but I realized I really couldn’t care less about the development. After all, there’s hardly anything on that street of relevance to me. I like Kumpelnest 3000, an institution of Berlins nightlife, and I like to pass by ACNE just to realize I still can’t afford to splurge on minimalist fashion. Since I don’t have an elaborate interest in art or galleries, I thus complete the holy trinity of “to poor for this part of town“. Until PANAMA restaurant opened and I finally had a reason to broaden my horizon.
You see, it’s much easier for me to spend a lot of money on food, because food combines many important things which I hold dear in life: nutrition, meeting with friends, getting wasted, and judging other people. I also really, really like not being hungry. Unlike a pure shopping experience, dining out in a nice restaurant is not exclusively about consuming; it’s also about socializing. Maybe Potsdamer Straße was missing a social node like PANAMA – one which connects the working people, to the local residents, to the tourists and to the splurging upper class. Perhaps that’s what Potsdamer Straße needed to open itself: a place to be. Not to buy. 1
PANAMA Restaurant: Exotic Dreaming
PANAMA restaurant is fairly new – it only opened a couple of months ago – and has so far been praised mostly for its intricate design. Inspired by the children’s book “Oh, wie schön ist Panama” by Janosch (a German favorite), PANAMA was meant to be a playful paradise: wild, imaginative, and pretty… and they exceeded all expectations. If PANAMA was music, it would be like listening to the complete Devendra Benhart discography remixed by Nicolas Jaar, on a remote tropical island. PANAMA is almost an exception to the usual black-on-black of Berlins various industrial chic “temples of coolness”.
All of these positive characteristics of the design are additionally embodied in the attentive and welcoming service staff. That’s not to be taken for granted in Berlin, where waiters like to hate you in fine dining establishments, just because they can. I don’t know why this culture has been nurtured here, but PANAMA is definitely more on the Anglo-American-Australian side of staff, so you can expect to be smiled at, treated kindly and oh, my, God, they even like to crack a joke or two! As a German, I’m offended by the degree of niceness.
Oh, wie lecker ist PANAMA
Of course, now that the structure is set for dinner, it’s inevitable to come to the very core of PANAMA: the food.
The restaurant is young, and so is the menu. Just like the interior design, the concept of the menu is playful, risky, but without stepping out of the designated comfort zone. The ingredients are mostly sourced locally, then transformed into a new version of Berlin-Brandenburg, with one or two rather exotic ingredients.
Thus, classic dishes – such as the tartar of venison and currant – become elevated to a higher level. “Fish with granola” and “Spinach with tahini” don’t sound so great when you eliminate the complexity of the working process by chef Sophia Rudolph, but trust me, the results are divine. The food and the context in which it is served translate fine dining to fine dreaming 2.That’s a hell lot of applause for such a young place, but don’t you worry, I found some negative points in the margins! For one: I love dessert. I love my dessert to be dessert-y, meaning sweet. It may derive from the standard path a little bit, and I’m happy not to have to eat another sloppy Pannacotta, but for the love of God, never make dessert hearty and savory and heavy! Someone definitely lost control over the experimentation stage of the menu…
Another thing that’s been generally bothering me: the tapas concept. Look, tapas are made for drinking and snacking; not full menus! I get it: the restaurant puts out more variety, while the customers can try more things than usual. I understand that, and it works quite well for PANAMA restaurant, because the prices are nevertheless adequate. But I hate sharing anyway. I want either a full menu for myself or plates that are big enough to feed my insatiable hunger. This is crucial. Too much choice is never good for me or my wallet. The upside of this concept: many of the dishes can be customized to fit the specific dietary needs of customers. Vegan, gluten-free, whatever your heart may desire, albeit on a much shorter menu.
PANAMA is due to change their menu soon – every 3-4 months, as I understand – so I’m excited to visit for the next round. Oh and, the bar of PANAMA is also totally worth a quick stop for a drink or two to indulge in the cozy, hazy atmosphere of what Potsdamer Straße is meant to become.
- With the ultimate caveat that certainly not everybody can afford the luxury of dining out like this, but I think Potsdamer Straße is long past the point of critique; it's not exactly known for its vibrant community, and the galleries and shops have long gentrified the trade anyway.
- Funny enough, there was definitely some controversy about the food - not everybody loved the menu as much as I did, some people felt downright insulted - so as always consider how much you want to trust my opinion