A love of eating is what drove Mario Cassina to head behind the stove and open up his new eatery, Gnam Pasta Factory, on Kottbusser Damm in Kreuzberg (Berlin, Germany). It was the first day, the lights were finally on, and Mario and his partner, Ivona Kirar, were on hand to greet customers and to create their freshly made pasta dishes. They are the first inhabitants of this white-tiled and warmly-wooded space on this trendy section of Kottbusser Damm. Kreuzberg is a neighborhood in flux and change. In a sea of döner and kebab shops, this little Italian establishment is bringing a newness that is sure to please.
It was cold, dark and rainy, and a hot pasta dish felt like comfort food to me. Best of all, I did not have to make it myself (it is nice to have a kitchen break now and again). Mario greeted me with his Italian coming through the German words. We started in German, but like most things here in Berlin, lapsed into English. He asked me which pasta I would like to have and with which sauce, explaining that he had made all fresh that day. No dried pasta here. I chose the fusilli with a sauce of gorgonzola, fresh mushrooms and sage.
Fresh and plentiful pasta
I watched with eager anticipation as Ivona dropped the handfuls of soft pasta into the water. While it boiled, she heated the sauce in a large saucepan. As the pasta reached its pre-al dente phase, she removed it from the water and finished it off in the pan, thus infusing the pasta with flavor and thickening the sauce. Hot, steamy, piled high. I carried the plate to the counter as if I were holding a Fabergé Egg. A moment after settling in, Ivona came over with a thick slab of freshly sliced bread. There was no room for that by the time I had eaten most of what I was served.
Made by hand. Every day.
The Pasta Muse
Mario started his cooking career with a fondness for eating, as many of us in the food industry did. He catered for a while and when the desire to settle in one place hit, he came upon this space and the idea of a restaurant commenced. Hailing from Italy, a place where family and communal eating is a daily occurrence, the counters and tables are all set for eating with whomever may sit by your side. He still caters, but is happy to have a restaurant to call his own.
The daily menu is hand-written on a chalkboard, allowing Mario to change it as he is inspired to create new dishes. With enough items to feel there is a choice, the number is not so great that it will overwhelm. I played it safe with my choice, but Mario urged me to come back and try the squid ink pasta. I said I’d be in tomorrow.