November 12, 2010

In Search of the Lost Local Italian

L'ulivo di elio - vineria

Before I start, I should probably say I will never understand the general notion that Italy is romantic in any possible way. I will never understand the idea of Italy as one of these places where people make “beautiful things”. Italian taste in fashion (or anything else for that matter) always strikes me as conservatively vulgar. I don’t think the noise and the vespas are endearing in any way. The fact that the country is overpopulated with nuns does not unleash any unconscious sexual fantasies, and don’t even get me started about the political mess which the country has become. Yet there are two things I cannot deny: yes, the country really is incredibly beautiful. And yes, the food is good.

When I say the food is good, I don’t mean I think it’s the BEST. I strongly disagree with those who consider Italy to be the cradle of the world’s finest cuisine, but it’s a matter of taste and you are all allowed to boo in the comments. What I like is the Italian capacity to combine simplicity with fantastic produce, creating something that has the potential of being satisfyingly joyful. The sort of Italian place I’d like to see would be a simple, local restaurant offering a small, yet excellent variety of simple dishes. I’d never say no to a gourmet Italian restaurant either, but I do think Italian food has the potential of being good and at the same time accessible to all – also price wise.

 Which is exactly what I found is lacking in Berlin. The city has a never-ending variety of Italian restaurants, often trapped in one of two extremes: they either go for the unpleasingly simple extreme with bad strip lights and grotesquely bought-it-for-50-cents-at-my-local-Lidl quality food, or they turn out to be too expensive. My mission (amongst others) will be to find the perfect local treat: not too expensive, good quality, good value and a pleasant atmosphere. A few weeks ago I was told there was just this sort of place on Nostitzstraße just off Bergmannstraße. I decided to check out the rumour and went out for an evening meal in L’ulivo di elio.

On first sight, it seemed to be the perfect choice, but it was also a matter of luck. The place is small and not very visible from the main streets. The restaurant is divided into two spaces: the front one around the bar overlooking the street is dark and romantic, with a beautiful bar, small wooden tables and perfect lightning. The menu is written on the wall, giving the place that “local”, accommodating touch. We moved there after getting a table in the other section. It lies in the back, which feels like the back room of something better. The walls are lighter and somewhat sterile, the lightning less flattering, and overall it is not as pleasing as the other end. It has one advantage though: real tables. Some of the tables on the romantic end are aesthetically pleasing in their miniscule roundness, but they make eating quite difficult.

After deciphering the menu we realised the place was not necessarily on the lower end of the price scale, but we decided to try out the things we could afford without blowing our budget and have the time of our lives nonetheless. The choice of dishes was fairly limited, but the wall was full of traces of chalk, meaning the menu changes often enough. We ordered two glasses of wine, even though it was quite difficult to get the waitress to tell us what it was or how much it would cost. I am sure she thought her mysterious smile was endearing, I just wished I could read the wine list on a real menu. We then decided to share the large antipasto di salami e verdure (antipasti, available for 7 € in its small version and 12 € for the grande). Out came a plate bestowed with quite a few high quality sausages and very few other marinated vegetables. It was good, but not too pleasing. The sausages were high quality, but neither exciting nor abundant for the 12€. The bread served on the side was nice, but not pleasing enough to accompany an expensive starter.


We then decided to go over to the main courses, avoiding the secondi in an attempt to keep the meal on the affordable edge of the menu. We opted for the agnolotti alla Selvaggina (a type of raviolis filled with game in tomato sauce, 7.50 €) and the fonduta di Fromaggio al Tartufo (truffled cheese fondue, 9 €). The agnolotti were fine, but not half as exciting as the expectations. The game filling was unspectacular, even though the pasta itself was just right. The fondue, however, was a different story altogether. It was not the Swiss fondue served in a pan, but rather a mass of melted truffled cheese served on a plate. It was thoroughly satiating (with bread, of course), and as I have already written: you have to be really stupid to get truffle wrong. The dish was downright fantastic. We decided to end the evening with a desert, and the only available one was a chocolate cake (for the amiable price of 3 €), which we shared and did not want to finish. It was embarrassingly horrid. Another unpleasant surprise was the not-all-too-affordable pricing on wine (6 € for a glass of nice, yet unspectacular Cabernet. There were prices listed on the wall in the opposite dark corner, but they were undecipherable and only applied to the 0.1L glasses as it were).

After having that splendid fondue I really wanted to give the place a high mark. The atmosphere is awfully nice and overall, it’s a good address for a nice evening. I was trying to scratch additional points for service. The waitress was nice in a distant, psychedelically loony way, but it meant she was neither accommodating nor communicative. At the end of the day the problem was that the food just was not always convincing. I will have to leave the place with the doubt that the secondi might have been better and actually changed my mind, but for the time being it will have to be satisfied with three prints, knowing it has the potential to achieve greater things.

Overall mark: 

L'ulivo di elio - vineria
Nostitzstr. 49, 10961 Berlin (Kreuzberg)

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1 comment:

  1. I have recently discovered an Italian restaurant which seems to fit the bill prefectly in terms of combining reasonable price and outstanding and truly traditional Italian food. The name I will for now withold, since firstly we can check it out together sometime and secondly it can then be featured here with mnore oomph in case you are convinced. Suffice to say its in Mitte and has the size of a large shoe box. More clues in person, great blog, made Susa read it out loud. PS: Enjoy Charlottenburg, Colin