Monday, July 12, 2010

Kohvik Komeet

Cheesecake. It’s been on my mind for quite a while, and I’m not quite sure why. For the longest time, I thought I’d forgotten about it. Maybe that was because Estonia had no cheesecake to offer—at least not what I considered cheesecake. Most of the cakes I’d eaten here were various types of flavored foams topped with gelatin, and the occasional layer of floury cake on the bottom. The kind that requires baking. These cakes were good, and very easy for me to grow to adore, but then several restaurants and cafés suddenly started offering American-style cheesecakes. No more foam for me, thank you.

I grew up with cheesecake, but I never really liked it until I had some in a restaurant called the Cheesecake Factory in Atlanta during the Olympic Games. Our waitress that night—Crystal, if memory serves correctly—told us a funny story as she delivered a gargantuan slice of cheesecake almost ten centimeters tall, topped with a thick coat of blueberry sauce. A celebrity had been in the restaurant an hour earlier, and he’d dropped his wallet. A little boy found it, and used the picture on the driver’s license to locate the owner, not recognizing the man’s name or face. The celebrity thanked him with a one-dollar tip straight from his wallet. Cheesecake has forever since made me think of Donald Trump.

So far this year, I have made cheesecake three times, each time improving on my own recipe. I think cheesecake should have a sourish flavor. Lemon zest is the best way to go about this. Unfortunately, only one restaurant has realized this. Vapiano, in Tallinn. Hands-down the best cheesecake I’ve had in Estonia. But still not that sour. The runner-up would be Kohvik Komeet (Comet Café) on the top two floors of the Solaris mall in Tallinn.

The café itself—the part with the roof—is tastefully and simply decorated with marble tabletops and no dangling tapestries. It’s the outdoor section—the part on the roof—that beckons to me every time I find myself in Tallinn. It provides a magnificent view of the Old Town from just a couple streets away, and the kids love it too because of the pond and flowery labyrinth. I paid more attention to what they grew there on my last visit. One section has herbs and berries. I assume they serve these to customers, so you could say it’s a partly organic café.

My very first time there, however, was, um, a bit strange? We sat down around a round table on the terrace, blinded by the sun. Magnificent. Our waitress—Krista—arrived only eight minutes later and gave us menus. She nodded only after I said hello first. We each ordered a dish, and she returned in only eight minutes with my salad and my kids’ meals. We refrained from eating, however, because Mrs. Mingus hadn’t been served yet. Also because we had no forks or knives. Assuming Krista would be right back, we patiently waited another eight minutes for her to reappear somewhere. And when she did, I asked about Mrs. Mingus’s food, and the silverware. “Right away,” she assured us. She then delivered food and silverware to the neighboring table.

Eight minutes later, I approached the bartender—Kristjan—to ask for silverware. He was not happy. He led me to the wait staff station out on the terrace and gave me a fork. “Sorry, there are four of us,” I timidly said. He grunted, went back to the station and returned with three knives. “Sorry, um, could I have four forks and four knives?” —Make up your mind, he responded while shaking his head.

Back at the table, Littlest Mingus had lost her patience and had started eating her creamy pasta with her fingers. At that moment, Krista walked by. “Excuse me, could we please have some napkins? And my wife’s food? Thanks!” Eight minutes later, I got up again to go ask Kristjan for a few napkins. Luckily he had some behind the bar. He gave me one. I thanked him.

My feta salad was good. Definitely not amazing for the price, but it was large and filling, and the chef certainly hadn’t skimped on cheese. The kids devoured their pasta, which they usually don’t do. Eating out with them is a waste of money and it makes me fat. Mrs. Mingus thoroughly enjoyed the homemade black bread with my leftover feta.

When we were finished, I went to look for Krista and asked for the bill, also cancelling Mrs. Mingus’s unarrived dish. Eight minutes later, she arrived and apologized, giving us a ten-percent discount. Or maybe it was five. We paid up and went downstairs, where I knew the waitress. She was an old friend, Kristiina, back from Brussels for the summer. I recounted our tale from the roof and she assured us we’d be taken care of. And we were, very well. Thank you, Kristiina!

Mrs. Mingus ordered the tomato soup, and it was truly exquisite. I ate cheesecake. The strawberry topping might have come from the roof garden. Kristiina even comped the soup when we paid, because we had to pay a lot for parking due to the long wait up top. This is why I’ve been back there so many times since. Good customer service. It brings people back. Instead of asking, “Where should we eat?” a satisfied customer will state, “I want to go back there.” Hint, hint, oh so many eateries in Tartu! Noir’s got it right, though.

But the roof terrace is so nice. Why don’t we have something like this in Tartu? I remember when the new Kaubamaja mall was finished, there was talk of a rooftop café. Never happened. There is a similar terrace in the Tasku mall, but it’s fairly plain and apparently reserved for conference attendees. The ones who go to mall conferences.

Every couple of months, the cheesecake improves on average, everywhere. It shouldn’t be long until, if I find myself in America eating cheesecake, I’ll say, “I wish I had some good Estonian cheesecake!” Oddly enough, I’ve only had strawberry toppings here. I pointed that out to Mrs. Mingus, who reminded me that it was currently strawberry season. I countered that January was not, however, strawberry season. The best toppings according to my taste are blueberries, and sour cherries. Both grow well in Estonia. This autumn, I look forward to potentially trying apple cheesecake. I think sea-buckthorn cheesecake might actually be something amazing, as it’s very sour. What a great idea! Next time I make a cheesecake. Komeet had something with sea-buckthorn, but not cheesecake.


On a side note, while there is a lot of talk about how the Tallinn–Tartu highway is the deadliest highway in the European Union, it is also one of the most entertaining. This photo is taken from the parking lot of a roadside café somewhere near the halfway point. The proprietors are very particular about where you park.

And I always love how the roadside produce vendors advertize their goods in the singular. A sign that reads kartul (potato), or hernes (pea). Once they’ve sold their one potato, they’re going home. But on rare occasions, the vendor gets a little mixed up. This is from a village called Adavere. The owner didn’t want to proofread his sign.

Further south, the honor system gets used. “Just take a bag of potatoes and stick the money in the box. And don’t take the cash that’s already there. I’ll come pick it up tonight.” It’s charming and refreshing, actually. Reminds me of when I was a kid, we never locked our doors. In Tallinn, I hear about people’s car tires being stolen. But not by the Latvian border. They trust us with their tubers.

Then again, there’s a bar in Tallinn—I think the name was Shot Bar or something—that serves interesting, well, shots, some of the names of which are in the last photo. That says a lot about how open-minded people are there.

1 comment:

Nico and Bianca said...

Nice post. Here try my cheese cake recipe very easy to do.