April 16, 2011

The Last Supper

L’Assaggino - Kreuzberg

My visit to Milan a couple of weeks ago was culinarily pleasing, but left me at a touristy loss. After the obligatory five minutes at the Duomo followed by a stroll through the Vittorio-Emmanuelle Gallery and a futile attempt to get into La Scala for less than 200€, I realised there were very few attractions left to be seen. Not that it bothered me too much, there was enough to keep me busy: from sampling pleasant cafés and restaurants through discovering lively areas to spotting fashion victims on the street, it was all there.

The one thing I managed to miss was the Last Supper. Exactly, Leo’s Last Supper, for a glimpse of which you have to register about three months in advance, or so it appears. As that weekend was supposed to be spontaneous, planning ahead was not a part of the shopping list. We followed a stream of busses loaded with Japanese tourists to the Corso Magenta to try the “We’ve come such a long way, you wouldn’t happen to be able to let us in? There must be a couple of cancellations” approach. Unfortunately, those Italians were already one step ahead of us, with a “TODAY NO CANCELLATIONS” sign looming just across the entrance. And sod off to you too, thank you very much. I left Santa Maria delle Grazie baffled: since when is not cutting corners an option in Italy?

With the bitter recollection of failure still etched into my membranes, I could not help drawing the parallels when I came to plan my very own Last Supper. It was a day before a tonsillectomy, which I knew would mean no real food for the foreseeable future, so it needed to be good. On the other hand, as I could not be bothered travelling far out of my comfort zone, it needed to be close. As I was already into digging up old Milan analogies for this supper, I thought L’assaggino just across the street would be a good way to get some Italian closure before entering a period of painful culinary deprivation.

L’assagino on Gneisenaustraße is one of these fairly new pastel venues on the Südstern end that were all opened around the same time. As pastel should be left in Prenzlauer Berg where it belongs, I have never experienced the urge to try out any of them. In addition, L’assaggino looked like one of these places that are not able to decide whether they were a shop or a restaurant: It had this strange balance between shelves and tables, which I just did not find to be too convincing from the outside (combined with the fact it always seems to be empty). The epiphany came when I read its opening hours and realised that a place that started doing business at 5 PM was rarely there to get you to buy produce that you’d still need to cook later.

As we had taken our seat and began scrutinising at the menu, I slowly started thinking this place might just be the perfect Italian: it was small, cosily inviting and exuded the family business vibe you expect small Italian restaurants to have. L’assaggino’s menu changes daily. It is fairly limited, with pricey antipasti, medium-priced primi and two desserts (yes, I know I was supposed to write “dolci” in there). As I was getting ready for surgery, I had to pass on the wine despite the wine menu’s promising contents. We started by sharing the Antipasto “fantasia” (for two, 15.50 €), which came promptly. It was fine, really. The dish was composed of a nice variety of sausages, cheese and the usual fried vegetables, all very fresh and nicely done. The portion was not huge, but the quality was good. I found that pricing it on 15.50 € was stretching it a bit, but that is just my notion. It was good, just not exhilaratingly so. The only thing about it which really was fantastic was the bread that came along with it.


We continued with the two most expensive dishes on the menu, the tagliatelle neri “satore di mare” (black tagliatelle with mussels, shrimps and calamari, 12.50 €) and polenta gnocchi with beef ragout (polenta gnocchi being fairly large and dumpling-like beings, 12.50 € as well). My first reaction to seeing the dishes was a sneer of disappointment, as again, the portions were not very large. Living in Berlin you forget people elsewhere appreciate smaller, yet refined dishes. That notion faded into this air once I had taken my first bite. Both were nothing less than fantastic. The tagliatelle were the perfect pasta dish: the pasta (clearly homemade) was savoury, the spicy touch of the sauce was inspiring and the seafood was done just right. It was overwhelmingly tasty. The gnocchi were not any less impressive. Their form reminded me more of some strange cross breed between Italian gnocchi and Germn Klöße and they tasted accordingly: they were large and doughy and still astonishingly pleasing. The sauce was just perfect. It reminded me of a bourguignon rather than of a pasta sauce, but it was brilliant nonetheless, so who am I to pass judgement.

Crème brulée

Even though we hadn’t planned on doing so, we ended up ordering both desserts on the menu: white chocolate mousse with red berry sauce (for the mere price of 5.00 €) and a crème brulée (served with caramelised figs for 4.50 €). What can I say? Pure joy served on a plate. The crème brulée had a citrusy taste to it, a perfect texture and the best caramelised figs one could ask for. The mousse was great as well, it had the perfect balance between lightness (texture + not too sweet) and taste. The sauce was… well… you can’t get berries wrong.

Not much to add as far as the bottom line goes. L’assaggino is quite a gem. It is not necessarily the place to go to with friends in order to bond over pint-induced burps and with the size of the portions, I needed a whole menu to leave feeling satiated, but don’t miss it if you are planning on spending a quiet evening with marvellous food and good company.

Overall Mark:


L'assaggino - Italienische Küche, Enoteca & Café
Gneisenaustraße 61, 10961 Berlin

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