Cosimo Bianco and Lucio Massaro chose a very poetical name for their restaurant: located in Auguststraße 36, in the heart of Mitte, Al Contadino sotto le stelle is a must in the gastronomy in the German capital. Among its international clients there are German politicians and Hollywood stars (among the others Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Bruce Willis). “The name of the restaurant was created after a trip we had in our region, Basilicata, while looking for inspirations for the opening of our restaurant in Berlin. During the stay we ate at Fattoria sotto il cielo. It was this name to give us the final idea for our restaurant” says Cosimo. As well as in the name, the starry sky is physically present in the interior: the blue ceiling is full of painted stars, and the spaces are carefully decorated with furniture and objects that remind the rural tradition, although replicated in a refined way. The importance of origins is not only a matter of form for Cosimo and Lucio: “The fundamental elements of the local gastronomic philosophy are the seasonality of products and the quality of ingredients. From the beginning we tried to start with the basic products of our land – oil, tomato and cured meats – including gradually even those of other Italian regions, in order to propose a renewed cuisine, thus not strictly traditional”.
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The origins and the opening of the restaurant. Lucio says: “The passion for gastronomy is part of my cultural background: when I was still living in Italy, our family was used to buy only salt and sugar, whereas the rest was produced by us independently. My mom always made homemade pasta and cooked over an open fire. This meant I developed a taste and a sensitive palate since childhood. The food was for me a value above all, and then it became a job, which I am passionate thanks to my brother-in-law Cosimo”. Cosimo continues: “I have always worked in the field, because my family owned a pizzeria in Italy. Even then, however, I wanted to work in a larger reality and in 1995 I finally moved to Berlin. At the beginning Lucio and I opened a space in Schöneberg called La cantina della Muntagnola, and was located next to Trattoria a ‘Muntagnola run by my brother, Pino Bianco. After the first years of work we started to look around ourselves: we wanted to innovate our work, dedicating ourselves to a more refined cuisine. We had a unique opportunity: the building that now hosts our Mozzarella Bar was released, thus in 1997 Al Contadino Sotto le Stelle has born in that space. Back then Mitte was a bit like the Kreuzberg of today, an alternative and artists’ area. It was nice to have something to do with this type of clients, open to changes, and therefore able to appreciate our cuisine”.
Continuous researches and reinterpretation of traditional dishes. Coppa (air-cured pork meat) with red wine, creamy Gorgonzola cheese DOP, cheese refined in hops, with chestnuts and red wine, Pecorino cheese from Filiano, Canestrato of Moliterno, goose salami: these and many others are the specialties that can be tasted in the local of Cosimo and Lucio, who exclusively rely on the small Italian producers to maintain the high quality of the ingredients. “In Berlin we buy the minimum we need,” explains Cosimo, who is in charge of the selection of the products and of the menu offer: “We have a monthly card that allows us to follow the seasons, for us unavoidable. We use ten different types of oil, distinguishing between those for the table and for the kitchen, and excluding heavy oils that cover the taste. We carry out a continual product research to improve and innovate the dishes in our restaurant. While traveling and tasting I decide how to reexamine, edit, and transform the recipes I bump into. From this concept, the first dishes to be born are, for example, ravioli stuffed with zucchini and almond flour, served with butter and toasted almonds, also the tortelli stuffed with sea bass fillet served with saffron sauce, or the ricotta gnocchi with truffle and calamari; and other second dishes as well such as calamari stuffed with ricotta, mint and shrimps served on a puree of fresh broad beans, or the veal tenderloin in a beer sauce served with fried artichoke petals and peeled prawns served with Colonnata lard on a puree of chestnuts prepared with Strega liqueur. We work a lot with burrata: from the classic one with fresh tomato and basil to that one with Norwegian salmon and truffle honey, through the stracciatella cream served with grilled calamari. The reconsideration of the traditional cuisine is essential for us: homemade dishes such as ravioli with goat ricotta and cinnamon, following the Luke tradition accompanied with lamb ragù sauce, we want to serve them with sautéed tomato, cacioricotta and caramelized lemon peel; we even offer the Gnocco fritto revisited in our way, stuffed with stracciatella and served with a 24 months Modena DOP ham. Regarding the desserts, my wife is in charge of them, and she is famous for her revisited Sicilian cassata, made with buffalo ricotta, on a bed of sponge-cake dunked in the Strega liqueur, chocolate and almond dough”.
Great wines, small producers. Lucio takes care of the wines: “I specialized by attending courses for sommeliers in Barcelona. At the Contadino sotto le stelle we offer a wide selection of wines chosen with extreme care. We especially buy from small wineries, mostly family-owned. We are currently working with Alessandro di Camporeale in Sicily, Burlotto in Piedmont, Spacchetti in Umbria, terra dei Re and Elena Fucci in Basilicata. The are “big” wineries for the type of wine they produce, but extremely small for the production quantity. Behind this selection there is a very specific research: my purpose is to find emerging wineries that, nowadays, still make wine with passion. For this reason, we do not work anymore with the major fairs such as Vinitaly, but we prefer ViniVeri or VinNatur. If the project is worth it, we are willing to introduce international wines in our restaurant. Recently, we have included in the selection a Catalan wine, whose manufacturer has launched a unique and sustainable project to save the century-old grapevines in the north area of Tarragona”.
Mozzarella Bar & Bottega. “With the aim of expanding the Contadino sotto le Stelle project we opened nearby the Mozzarella Bar, a small place “on the way”, in which the customer can stop to taste and buy the products used at the restaurant. As the name of the local announce, the real star is the mozzarella – buffalo, burrata, smoked – which comes in a variety of ways. In addition to it, there are 35 different types of Italian cheese, from ricotta cheese to erborinato (Cheese that has streaks of green mold) to saffron, passing though the Taleggio cheese, everything accompanied by a fine selection of cold cuts and wines”, Lucio explains. “Our goal is to educate the public to a renewed cuisine that evaluates the richness of the Italian cuisine, far from simplifications and clichés. For us it is important to satisfy the costumer: that’s why we sometimes dare to give advice on good food and drinks combinations, even if it means going against the initial requests. But in the end customers thank us, leaving feedbacks and word of mouth. At the Contadino sotto le Stelle the customer is a participant of the project in any way”, concludes Cosimo.
Auguststraße 36, 10119 Berlin
Open from Moday to Saturday, from 6 pm – closed on Sunday
Telephone: +49 (0)30 281 90 23
Auguststraße 34, 10119 Berlin
Open from Moday to Saturday, from 11.30 am to 00.30 am – closed on Sunday
Telephone: +49 (0)30 978 941 40
Al Contadino Sotto Le Stelle e Mozzarella Bar & Bottega are part of the network True Italian.
During the Berlinitalienisches Tomatenfest (here all the details of the event – 21-27 november 2016) Mozzarella Bar & Bottega will offer orecchiette with tomato, Senise capsicums I.G.P. and Cacioricotta cheese at the special price of € 9. Those who order the dish will have a free Ferrera tomato source can.
Translation edited by: Alessandra Giacopini