December 27, 2010

Fighting Winter Depression Nr. 1: Italian Food and Niceness.

La Galleria Italiana, Mitte

Last month I started the search for the perfect local Italian. With Christmas and the end of the year looming, it started feeling like I needed to make minimal progress – and soon. Overwhelmed by Christmas markets, half-a-meter bratwursts and a foot of snow, I needed a sense of a mission. All the better if it were a mission carrying the scents of lemons and sun instead of darkness and glühwein. It bears all the marks of a large, fat winter depression.

The fact I was seeking solace from the wintery darkness at Italian restaurants was by itself a sign of dangerous Germanisation. Since the beginning of time, Germans have gone to the country south of the Alps in order to feel worldlier, more Mediterranean and more alive. Goethe eternalised his yearnings for Italy’s sun and natural vitamin D3 in “Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn?” and my old heroin-addict excuse for a flatmate Astrid used to sober up every time the word “Italy” was mentioned, because it made her feel young and carefree all over again.

With the winter wreaking havoc in my natural defences, I was even ready to shed my inbuilt Italophobia and try out a new Italian place. After a long group discussion, we agreed on going to a small and inconspicuous Italian restaurant on Torstraße in Mitte. Located at the less pretentious end of the street (closer to Oranienburger Tor than to Rosenthaler Platz), the small restaurant is strikingly simple, with ochre walls and IKEA-like furniture. A glass counter contained an array of Italian culinary paraphernalia of all shapes and colours, with the usual olives, cheese and sausages. Behind it stood a genuine Italian waiting to taken our orders.

We started with a few serves of the large antipasti misto (a plate with different starters, 13 €, also available in the smaller version for 7 €). It was a perfect serve: a combination of different ingredients from marinated mushrooms and carrots through salad, cheese and ham. They were all delicious and fresh, with a perfect balance between the various bits. The size was also very pleasing. One serving was more than enough for two persons. The joy was completed by a bottle of cheap, yet surprisingly nice montepulciano (for a mere price of 12€ - not a bad deal).

Spaghetti Marinara

The main courses arrived promptly thereafter. Four of us had pasta: Spaghetti marinara (seafood spaghetti in tomato sauce, 8 €), spaghetti salsiccia e pomodorinni (spaghetti with Italian sausage, cherry tomatos and balsamico based sauce, 7 €), tagliatelle cantarelli (tagliatelle with chanterelles, bacon and truffle oil, 8.50 €) and the daily tagliatelle with pork filet (8.50 € as well). The last one opted for the entrecôte al Barolo (entrecôte with balsamico sauce and potatoes, 14.50 €). The quality of the pasta varied from absolutely fantastic (the tagliatelle cantarelli: perfect balance between the different flavours, with mushrooms, bacon fat and truffle all getting their perfect fifteen seconds of glory) through very good (the salsiccia, which was a very good dish despite or maybe even because of its inherent simplicity) and to disappointing despite being nice (the pork filet, which was nice, but lacked the great quality of the others and the marinara, which had a very good tomato sauce, but had a meagre seafood presence with relatively dry calamari and a slight touch of shrimps). The pasta itself was fresh and homemade in all cases. The entrecôte was more of an escalope than a steak (it was very thin), but that is to be expected at an Italian restaurant. At the same time, please don’t take this as a complaint: it was a perfect escalope: good quality, tender meat in a savoury, brown sauce. There were no desserts on the menu, but the waitress did tell us there was panna cotta, which I then ordered (4.50 €) and was not disappointed. It was the best one I have had in a long time: good texture, not too sweet and with the perfect berry-sauce.

Panna Cotta

As we indented to pay, we realised, once again, what it meant to be dining at an “authentic” Italian restaurant. The waitress was not prepared for the German task of separating the bill. She tried to remain nice, as her basic skills of addition and subtraction were stretched to their limit. Her utter incompetence in the realm of maths would have been a true infliction at any Teutonic context, but she managed to pull it off with an endearing smile and offer everyone ramazotti on the house. True, ramazotti is not exactly my cup of tea, but when it’s on the house I manage to turn a blind eye to my other principles.

As La Galleria Italiana managed to please even hardcore Italophobes such as myself, I could only advise other people to go try it out. It’s good, affordable and pleasing. Good enough to earn four prints.

Overall mark: 

La Galleria Italiana
Torstraße 182, 10115 Berlin
Phone: +49 (0) 30 27 57 29 48

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