Just as Waltraut Zille’s blue gummy bear earrings were a sign of a good journey to come, the bread at Trattoria a’ Muntagnola, the restaurant the cabbie recommended during our ride from Warschauer Strasse to Alexanderplatz, made my co-adventurer and me believe that we were at the beginning of a very good meal.
The crust was gorgeously irregular, chewy, salty. The inside? Soft, dense and substantial enough to stand up to the formidably pure single-origin olive oil we dipped it in.
Bread and olive oil, a gorgeous patio and wacky wine descriptions made us grateful to Ms. Zille for suggesting Muntagnola, which has been cooking up specialties from the southern Italian region of Basilicata since 1991. We hadn’t even settled on which handmade pastas we were going to order. And we chose to ignore the restaurant’s obvious tourist orientation.
We flipped through page after laminated page of the trilingual menu, listening as French, Spanish, English and German conversations unfolded around us.
Obviously, Muntagnola was more upmarket than most of the cabbie-recommended restaurants I’ve been to, but if the olive oil was a fair indicator of the flavor to come, I didn’t care.
The romantic in both of us was drawn to a Sicilian white wine from Cantina Centopassi (7 Euros) made with grapes from “land [that] had been confiscated after the arrest of [mafia bosses] Toto Riina or Giovanni Brusca.”
On its own, the Catarratto/Grillo/Chardonnay blend was refreshing but a little bodiless. It didn’t fare much better with the fennel salad with caper and sardine puree (6.50 Euros) I chose (which we liked just fine but would have liked better with a little citrus).
Our indifference to our mafia-flavored wine morphed into appreciation once we started sipping it with our pastas, which, as Ms. Zille promised, were handmade, and which, we discovered after reading the lengthy menu descriptions, showcased a Basilicatan allegiance to simplicity and fresh herbs.
“Traditional Basilicatan cuisine,” Muntagnola’s menu claims, “knows no elaborate, sophisticated combinations. Its secrets are intuition, experience and a love of cooking.”
Even though my egg-based tagliatelle (13.50 Euros) looked less like the flat ribbons I was expecting and more like vermicelli, they’d been cooked to an Italian al dente, sauced with olive oil, chicken broth and flat leaf parsley, and surrounded by sautéed zucchini flowers whose flavor held the force of a dozen squash.
My co-adventurer’s sage and butter-covered strangolapreti (12.50 Euros) were even better. Made with potatoes, spinach and ricotta and sprinkled with pecorino cheese, they could have doubled as gnocchi, but they were stuffed with raisins and pine nuts and so went beyond the deliciousness of gnocchi.
My co-adventurer liked the dumplings so much she declared she wanted to bring her family to Muntagnola to try them.
“Just the other day my step-dad was asking me about a good Italian restaurant,” she said, “Now I know one.”
Schoenberg, 10777 Berlin
Tel. 030 2116-642