The Culinary Council on Caru’ cu Bere

by Council Nedd II

In the heart of Old Town Bucharest, between two restaurants once considered quite trendy, and on the same cobblestone street as one of the oldest churches in the city sits a restaurant that has been in continuous service since the late 1870’s.

Caru’ cu Bere provides a glimpse into old Europe at its finest and is a true gem of the still evolving, post Ceaușescu modern Bucharest.

I was told there are two restaurants that I must visit, Caru’ cu Bere was one.  I was not disappointed. In fact, the food and atmosphere were so good the first time, I made a point of going again a second time, two days later.

When we arrived at the restaurant it was an absolutely beautiful day. It was about 75 degrees, sunny with no humidity.  This is where I almost made a big mistake.  I wanted to sit in the restaurants vast outside seating area which easily seats no less than 100.  Knowing me, my friend said that I really want to sit on the inside.  I looked at her like she was crazy, because there could not have been a more ideal day for al fresco dining.

After a persistent meager protest, my friend convinced me to eat inside. Soon as I walked through the oak, revolving door with leaded glass and cast a gaze on the great room, I realized what I was intended to experience.

I was awe struck as the music of a string quartet of four beautiful blondes in royal blue dresses dominated the room.

Except for a modern desert display case, I was in the Bucharest of Queen Marie of Romania. By the way, the best deserts were not anywhere near that case — they’ve never come anywhere near that case of beautiful pastries, but more on that later.

papanasiAs we didn’t bother with reservations, we were escorted to a table on the main floor on the right as you walk through the door.

I was admittedly overwhelmed, anxious and feeling self-conscious.  I was humbled by the sights, smells and sounds of this beautiful room.  While this was not the first Romanian meal I had after my arrival in Bucharest, I was not feeling particularly daring.  Fortunately one the national dishes came to the rescue.

Mici, a flavorful skinless sausage is one of the more popular national dishes.  I ordered mici (you have to tell them how many you want) and french fries.  The fries come sprinkled with a cow cheese they call simply, telemea de vaca (cow cheese).  Romanians put this creamy cheese on a wide variety of things.  I also order a Greek salad which was prepared differently than most that I’ve eaten, but it was still delicious, if you merely accept it for what it is. It was also strongly suggested that I try the local Ursus beer.  I am not much of a drinker and I am really not much of a beer drinker, but it was one of the coldest beers I’ve ever had and quite good.

While I was eating my salad I noticed the waiter brining something incredibly savory to one of the nearby tables.  My friend saw the expression on my face before the words actually escaped my lips. Pointing to what I saw the waiter carrying, I asked my friend “what is that?”.

This dessert which is called “papanasi”, in my humble opinion, was the star of the show. They call it a cottage cheese dumpling, which may be accurate, but it is so much more than that.  Picture an old fashioned cake donut, with a sweetened cottage cheese sauce and a bitter cherry sauce and then topped with a light dusting of very fine granulated sugar.  This dessert changed my life.  If I can find a place here in the United States that makes papanasi, visiting that restaurant may be my next road trip.

Lastly, but definitely noteworthy, a popular non alcoholic drink in Romania is freshly squeezed lemonade which is served with or without mint. At many places you can get it by the pitcher.  What makes the lemonade unique is that it is made with honey and not sugar.  Also, it’s not overly sweetened.

There are many reasons to visit, Bucharest… Caru’ cu Bere is towards the top of the list.