Love. Sin. Sky. Rose. Berry. Blood. Eye. Heart. Brick. Sand. Sauce.
And so in the city of Berlin, steaming with redness in the unlikeliest of places, I had a realization at a very a non-peculiar place.
Pizza started off as a healthy meal. [It’s like saying the dinosaurs are still alive].
And then came the age of inflation, explosion and expansion. As pockets got fuller, bellies got bigger, and plate sizes got larger, the thin crust rose like yeast, the sauces got pulped up with butters and sugars and salts, and toppings became a mandatory asset, ranging from fried vegetables to meats to thicker meats. And instead of a protein rich snack, the fat inducing cheeses began to get laced with grease. With the increasing ease of churning pizzas out at faster rates than the speed of sound, and the ability to mass produce them yet adding enough variety for appeal to a variety of palettes, the pizza became an international staple, owing itself to an increase in waist sizes worldwide (and consequently, higher funeral costs).
And this is when I stopped consuming them. The handful of restaurants that served authenticity and charm got glossed over the mass producing monsters and infectiously increasing chains.
And life went on. Until something happened.
When is the last time a pizza chain was so appealing that it actually demanded an action replay, or a return?
One such chain exists in Western Europe, and has begun infiltrating cosmopolitans of the Americas too. It gives me hope that pizza will return with aplomb and have a healthy, grease cutting, fat fighting comeback.
Vapiano is surprisingly a German origin pizza chain! Globalization at its peak with the best Italian being churned out in Deutscheland, Vapiano’s cultural origins are easily deciphered from the interior décor. Being a lover of Berlin thanks to a soulmate’s relocation to the underrated city saturated in historical and party-lit splendor, I have always been entranced by its play with red in the club and bar scenes.
And this is where I first stepped foot into Vapiano, whose footsteps followed me back to the overlooked city of Rotterdam in everyone’s favorite Hollandia.
The concept is interesting, and it becomes difficult to classify a semi-self serve pizza and pasta chain with a dessert bar, an array of edible plants in a library like setting, and a glossy red bar serving more than just red, with classic restaurant seating sprinkled with lounge-like couches. Everything is soaked in my favorite hue, red.
I cannot chat, write, speak or persuade enough about the ambiance. Using ample space in every location Vapiano acquires, one does not feel cramped or crowded or noisy, an aspect often associated with fast food chains. Using theme colors red and white to light up the place, Vapiano has red couches and chairs, sometimes heartily placed in corners for romantic fare. The tables are topped with marble islands containing the staple olive oils, but also plants and herbs with edible fresh leaves that yearn to be plucked as a condiment. The minimalistic design does not scream of cuteness, but is exceptionally charming. The colors match with the red and white alternating walls, and every restaurant that Vapiano has strategically propped up in happening cities has a wall lined up with identical red liquid bottles that retract and reflect light to give eaters and admirers a snappy glam feel. Often adjacent to this is a mosaic of black and white pictures on a red wall, an antithesis of an artist’s vision. And to compliment the red are more edible herbs and plants craftily placed on beams above seaters, or on walls akin to a green catalog collection.
I am most passionate about the seemingly ordinary but remarkably fresh pizzas. Dough that is not dry nor grainy, but perfectly crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, giving it an almost gold sheen. The sauces seem healthy and not overdone and preservative saturated with too much salt, something that is reminiscent of the west-of-the-Atlantic chains. The classic cheese and tomato pizza is my favorite, owing to a hint of mint intertwined in the sauce. But a mushroom glazed topping kicks in the necessary flavor without introducing an unfamiliar bitterness. And with a fine selection of grated cheeses and the abundance of basil, mint and parsley leaves to choose from, not forgetting the freshly grown cherry tomatoes, the pizza transforms from a quick bit to a decadent treat. The latter activity always generates tremendous interest, owing to the fact that one can pluck leaves off of the plant library to suit one’s tastes. When is the last time a chain ever gave you the sense of belonging?
The doughs are blended in a routine dancing fashion by enthusiastic bakers, all working behind huge glass panels for easy visibility and for appetite inducing line waits. Above the kitchen areas sits a blackboard with kid-like drawings and witty lines to charm waiters and convey the casualness in service. The juxtaposition with the gleaming floors and red vials is intentional, and works.
Fellow eaters compliment the decadent pastas and noodles to the red skies. With whole wheat options, these are topped with finely grated cheese, and thankfully lack the unhealthy sheen that pasta possesses. It is gratifying to see sashays of fresh herbs and leaves stretched lazily over the meals. Finally, green that works.
What does drop the bar slightly is the dessert selection. With my lust for all things smothered with chocolate, it is only natural that I crave for a provocatively titled Death by Chocolate. What sounds heavenly is in fact a very dense chocolate cake with a layer of chocolate icing. Perhaps too thick and gooey, clashing with the dryness that results from pre-cut slices, or perhaps the comparatively miniscule portion size relative to my American dessert fads, the dessert definitely plummets the expectations slightly. Not to mention the dessert in question induces a tempting milk craving in a land where beer is cheaper than water! The other desserts are more creamy and fruity than I usually prefer, but are packaged remarkably in airtight containers, or with bouncy whips of cream and slices of figs placed on ornate constructs of sugar and batter. Definitive eye candy.
The bar is a refresher, serving a plethora of red wines and cocktails specializing in all things red, more noticeable by my own choice of being infatuated by the color. It is not the twilight obsessed strawberry poisoned drinks from crystal vials; in fact, nothing seems unordinary in the modestly made up swooning liquids zone. But its placement next to the desserts makes for an interesting character play. Reds complimenting reds, and for once, drinks making up for a (relatively) smaller dessert selection. Oh, modern world, I love thy ways.
The creative, if not somewhat alarming aspect of Vapiano, is its means of payment: every entrant gets a card that can be loaded with anything that is purchased. Upon leaving, the card is swiped and the total amount is owed. Whether the ultimate bill comes as a surprise or a shock is up to one’s own perception. It is however an operationally efficient concept, yet beware that it does come with a 50 Euro penalty for losing this ordinary chunk of plastic.
Having never been awestruck by chains, it is gratifying to know that after relishing the desserts at Chili’s, a very classic American Mex chain, I have found a pizza chain that is growing selectively and globally to spread healthy food and a lounge-like ambiance. This was my realization on a red morning, inside a very red restaurant, where I took a bite of a very red pizza, and a sip of a non-vampirical blood red drink.
Spread the Red.