Photos by Asia Morris.
Berlin Bistro has welcomed a big-time chef to its tiny kitchen and casual dining destination, who will build upon the East Village Arts District restaurant’s desire to maintain, as well as push, a more sustainable presence in the Long Beach community.
A California-native born in Bishop, Chef Tim Balen brings a wealth of culinary experience to the table from some of the city’s most favored restaurants, including Chianina Steakhouse and Working Class Kitchen. He solidified his commitment to goading out the good in food at The Black Cypress in Pullman, Washington under the tutelage of revered Chef Nick Pitsilionis. He and Berlin’s owner, Kerstin Kansteiner, share a passion for honest, simple and delicious fare.
“I think you threw out the one word that’s important to us, and that’s passion,” said Kansteiner. “It’s passion for food [and] passion for providing a sustainable menu that is based on local ingredients.”
While Berlin already had a relationship with local urban farm Farmlot 59, Kansteiner lamented that perhaps Berlin wasn’t utilizing that connection to its fullest potential. So with the addition of Balen to the team, a chef willing to go the extra mile to adapt his dishes to what’s available locally, the bistro has the foundation to move forward as one of Long Beach’s most eco-friendly spots to grab a delicious bite to eat.
“It takes somebody that really needs to think on their toes and just roll with the punches and say, ‘Alright, we don’t have any sunchokes this week, but we have this, this week,’” she said. “So it’s not being stuck to a thought. It’s also a challenge for our guests. They can have something one week that may not be there next week. I think Long Beach is ready for that.”
A few of the new items on the menu, created under Balen's guidance, include the Avocado Toast with shallots, roasted tomatoes, arugula and olive oil on grilled whole grain bread, the Brussels Sprouts & Bacon Flatbread with shaved brussels sprouts, bacon crumble and goat cheese and the Market Greens Salad using Farmlot 59 greens and farmers market vegetables with a blood orange vinaigrette. It may be a good idea to try out the fresh grub now, as many of the dishes may be altered slightly or unavailable in a couple weeks.
“We’re going to focus on the best and freshest products we can get from local purveyors,” Balen told the Post. “We have a lot of different tastes coming in here, vegans and gluten-free [restaurant goers]. We want to fulfill all those needs but still have a menu that’s focused so people can come in and depend on something really wonderful, for lunch for example that will complement the wonderful coffees that are made.”
Kansteiner buys from Farmlot 59 and also from a couple farms who sell their produce at the Santa Monica farmer's market, in an effort to use items that are not only in season, but do not require the energy consumption of flying, trucking or driving products from far away places. In other words, if kiwi is not in season and if they don’t grow here in California, kiwi will certainly not be on Berlin’s menu.
Kansteiner and Balen are a part of a growing movement in Long Beach where restaurants are finding new ways to be sustainable every day. Oftentimes it’s unfeasible to have every part of the business’s operation working on a sustainable level, but to Kansteiner it’s all about doing what’s possible now, and contemplating the big picture later. It’s all about the little steps, like sourcing locally and growing your own vegetables, that will make a difference in the city’s sustainable culture in the long run.
"That’s why I love living [in Long Beach]," said Kansteiner. "We’re just coming back to basics and what is important and local and that’s on so many levels, whether it’s food or cycling or being sustainable."
Beginning February 1, Berlin will keep their doors open for dinner until 9:00PM, a decision made to accommodate those moving to downtown, the Long Beachers looking to spend more time in the East Village Arts District and of course, Fingerprints frequenters.
Berlin Bistro is located at 420 East Fourth Street.