How to eat like an Italian girl – get to know Gaia Bistrot
By Sarah Luisa Santos . April 28, 2015
I’ve always had mixed feelings about old school décor. Some places can definitely get it right, but others just make the people feel that they are walking into a moldy, rusty hole (some people even like it, but that is not my case!).
This all to say that what first impressed me at Gaia Bistrot is how Gaia Chiesa, one of the owners, could manage to put together some the old vintage furniture, newly made wooden tables, and even show her love for some taxidermy (you will understand scrolling down) in a very natural way – making us all feel quite comfortable at her small restaurant.
The place is located at Pannierstrasse, quite close to the canal… our first topic of our conversation.
“Now that I live in the area, I see that Neukölln is much more multicultural than any other part of Berlin. Most of the people I like, my friends, are here. I am really happy about the location of the restaurant.”
After bringing me a couple of freshly baked cookies and a glass of almond milk, Gaia continues to talk more about her small restaurant.
“Loads of people at first get confused when they come here, they think it is elegant or kind of fancy, but in reality the food that we make here is quite simple, homemade, not fancy at all, we don’t have a posh menu or anything like that. We just wanted to make a place that was the extension of our homes. Ricardo (the other founder of Gaia) and I love to entertain people in our homes, having people over, so let’s make Gaia into a place that we also would enjoy hanging out. And, it looks a little bit like our homes, literally!”
Indeed, Gaia has an interesting décor. We were sitting for the interview on the dark red velvet sofa in the back room, between a vintage lampshade and a stuffed pheasant, which remains unnamed and, according to Gaia, is the mascot of the bistro.
“The big wooden table in the front room was made by Ricardo himself, and these drawings I collected from my mother’s fashion shop in Milan. Ah, and these shelves we got from this old porcelain shop. They used to store their pieces within it, that’s why they have these long sticks, so the porcelain would not break. We thought this would make a good shelf.”
“The idea of the bistro was initially mine. And Ricardo, my partner, was a great help because he has been living here for almost 10 years, he speaks German, and he has been working in a restaurant that belongs to another friend, so he knows how to manage the business and all.”
I was curious, as always, to know how Gaia ended up coming to Berlin. And, like many of us here, she needed a drastic life change.
“I had been living in Milan for the last 10 years. I was a video producer, then my director. The guy I had been working with moved to London and I decided that it was also time to change my life. Then I met Ricardo a couple of years ago and a bunch of other friends here in Berlin. I’d been coming to Berlin pretty often and I knew already I wanted to open my own place here. In Milan, it’s definitely not a good time to do that. Berlin gave me much more possibilities, and I wanted to move, I wanted to get away from Italy.”
The change of life finally happened in March 2014, when Gaia Bistrot opened.
“At first we were opening only in the evenings, and actually we changed that last week! Now Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays we are also welcoming people in for lunch.”
With a big burn on her arm, I soon came to know that Gaia also cooks and prepares the menu herself, with one helper in the kitchen, completing the team of 4 in the small restaurant.
So, what about the menu?
“I am not a vegetarian, but since I have so many friends that are, this is actually the concept behind the menu: bringing together all kinds of people. I imagined, what if all of my friends came to dinner? What would I have to cook for each one of them?”
So we have a fixed menu, but of course, this is quite flexible. Sometimes I change some ingredients, sometimes the form of the pasta, or I even change the sauces, it depends on what I get in the market during that week. It can also happen that when I go to the market, I find something super fresh and super nice and then that day I would make a special just for the day.”
The tortellini, tagilatelli and all other pasta is homemade, as is the baking – like the delicious cookies with a scent of rosemary that she offered me a little bit earlier.
Gaia also told me that they have everyday a dish that is gluten free, and a vegan/vegetarian option next to the daily dishes. What about the most popular one?
“The most popular dish is anything with Gorgonzola! It can be pasta, we make a lot of them fresh here, and yes, if there is Gorgonzola on it people love it! You make everybody happy with it. Sometimes I am thinking how can I make a recipe more special, and then I add some Gorgonzola!”
We also have very good salads. I changed it now a little bit, before we had one for winter with pomegranate and goat cheese, and now I added some pears, but always keep the goat cheese. I also make it with different dressings and I try to make it seasonal, including fresh fruits. People like it a lot.”
Gaia also revealed that besides the fact that her homemade pasta attracts many of her customers, the familiarity and coziness of the place is what really makes the restaurant very successful.
“Loads of customers that are not our friends tell us that they really feel at home here, and this is very satisfying, especially when it is coming from a German – and in the end this is exactly what we are trying to do here so… I feel very happy about it!”
Gaia Bistrot is located at Pannierstrasse, 12, 12079 Berlin.
Images: Diana Müller ( 1st, 4rd), Sarah Luisa Santos (2nd) and Gaia Chiesa (team picture).