Molly Hannon tracks down divine Italian food in Wedding…
Eating Italian food in Berlin can be about as thrilling as devouring a Döner Kebab. The ubiquity of both national cuisines can discourage diners from seeking out the authentic flavors that define them, or even from being able to discover exactly what those are.
Da Baffi in Wedding is a shining exception. This unassuming newcomer, which opened in 2011, embodies all the right elements of traditional Italian cooking. Owned by two Italians, Federico and Francesco, and one German, Wibke, the restaurant emerged out of a sincere desire to feed friends. Literally, as with similar success stories such as Kreuzberg’s Little Otik, Da Baffi began life as a supper club.
Francesco, an old friend and former bandmate of Federico’s, had been kicking around Berlin restaurants for some time when he felt ready to try something new. Soon, the three decided to open their own place, transforming a former Turkish hairdresser’s shop on Leopoldplatz, Wedding’s most elegant square, into their charming trattoria.
Da Baffi evokes the culinary charms of the boot-legged peninsula the moment you walk in, as the scent of freshly-baked bread perfumes the air. Both Federico and Francesco are natives of Bologna, the bustling, vibrant metropolis located in the region of Emilia Romagna. Often referred to as Italy’s ‘fatty’ region, Emilia Romagna lies in central Italy, snugly between Piemonte and Tuscany.
It is responsible for some of the most well-known and beloved products out of Italy, hotshots like Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (known worldwide as parmesan) and Prosciutto di Parma. Italian pasta goliath Barilla hails from the region too, along with the oft-disparaged fizzy red table wine, Lambrusco.
Each characteristic delicacy adds to this region’s gastronomical charm and diversity – a charm Da Baffi eloquently captures. In spite of its obvious loyalties, however, the restaurant is not beholden to the Emilia region. A quick glance at the menu indicates that Francesco and Federico do honor their Italian roots; Federico even hails from a restaurant family.
Da Baffi’s menu follows the traditional Italian dining rhythm of antipasti, primi, secundi, and dolce courses. Its antipasti, such as the Piemontese classic Vitello di Tonnata – a beef carpaccio doused in a tuna mayonnaise – or fresh burrata di mozzarella from Puglia, are perfect starters when paired with an aperitivo such as a Spritz, a traditional Venetian drink composed of Prosecco and Aperol. Da Baffi’s own summer version of the Spritz is mixed with Rhubarb juice, paving the way for an evening composed of fresh and inviting authentic flavors.
As they are in Italy, Da Baffi’s primi courses are comprised of pastas, or grains. The chefs are fastidious in their approach to homemade pasta, which Francesco dutifully and beautifully crafts by hand each morning. His homemade ravioli with ricotta cheese doused in butter and sage is exceptional, and it’s hard to go wrong with fresh tagliatelle with shaved black truffles. Although fresh pasta is not necessarily cutting edge gastronomy, it does tend to prove what Italians have always known: simple food done well can easily suffice and satiate any diner. In fact, it can even be transcendent. Secundi courses at Da Baffi tend to be heavier and, well, meatier.
From fine slabs of veal to sesame crusted swordfish, they are well worth trying, especially if pasta is not your thing. But if it is and you still have room after a plate of pillowy malfatti (basically giant gnocchi dumplings) or risotto blackened with squid ink, no need to feel shy about rounding out the evening like the Italians by adding some protein to all that starch.
Da Baffi’s owners wouldn’t be true Italians if they didn’t offer an excellent wine list to shepherd you through your evening. As staunchly Italian as the restaurant itself, Da Baffi’s wine list features lesser known varietals, such as the Sicilian Vermentino, and Italian heavyweights, such as Brunello and Barolo. Thoughtfully curated to be both tasteful and affordable, it shows concern for both the customer’s palate and wallet, enabling patrons to sample broadly without feeling pinched.
It should serve as encouragement to other talented foreign chefs that it is possible to do more here than simply feed friends; you can also open a successful business while maintaining the soul of the food, all its original charms intact.
Of course it doesn’t hurt that the Da Baffi team is able to serve up their colorful culinary creations on a refreshingly clean and well-designed stage. Gone are the red-and-white checkered tablecloths and starched aprons of yesteryear.
Instead, unfinished wooden community tables are decorated with vases of seasonal flowers, and a cluster of framed paintings adorns one wall like a collage. It should come as no surprise that Federico and Wibke hail from backgrounds in design and photography: no matter the day of the week, Da Baffi always seems ready for its closeup.