New and improved. I can't imagine those two words ever being more appropriate -- in a restaurant context, certainly -- than when applied to Cafe Berlin in its new home downtown. Cafe Berlin's original location on 17th Avenue, although quaintly charming and homey in a care-worn way, was definitely showing its age when I reviewed the place two years ago. The kitchen cooked classics of the Old World, served to a steady stream of regulars -- the staff knew most customers by name -- off a menu that never changed. The accents on the floor were all German, and the popular dishes (kartoffelpuffer, wurstteller, schweine-kotelett and zigeunerschnitzel) Teutonically impossible to pronounce for anyone not already well lubricated by the tap beers and schnapps.
None of that has changed at Cafe Berlin's new home, except that now everything is a little brighter and a lot less ponderous. The space is divided into three dining rooms with a bar in the middle, all flooded with sunshine every afternoon, and with German music (mostly crooning, jazz-age stuff) any hour the place is open. The tables -- which were always set with white cloths and linen napkins -- now seem to be in a spot made for such finery. And the food has, if anything, gotten even better.
The waitresses still gently scold diners who don't clean their plates, and -- with characteristic European aplomb -- insist that those who do must still be hungry, so offer desserts, glasses of schnapps, perhaps a little strudel for the road. But I don't think anyone has ever left Cafe Berlin hungry, because every meal here is a feast. Smoked pork chops topped with tender, paper-thin slices of sautéed apple, cabbage rolls drowning in beef gravy, seven different kinds of schnitzel, excellent spaetzle, wonderfully weighty potato pancakes -- just walking by the windows could make you put on a few pounds.
If you were a fan of the old Cafe Berlin but haven't tried this location yet -- or if you've never eaten at either -- hurry over to 14th Street. Cafe Berlin may have learned some new tricks, but it hasn't forgotten a thing about the charms of real, Old World comfort. $$