Eating in Venice

Charles Shere

other recommended eating

We ate at twenty-one restaurants in Venice during the month of June, 2001.

Nearly all of them were osterie: informal places, often more for locals than for tourists, serving traditional food from the Venetian repertory — which goes back hundreds of years and which tends, naturally, to sea food. It is traditionally said that one doesn’t go to Venice for the restaurants, and the first times we went we believed this. We went to the usual places: Al Ponte del Diavolo, Harry’s Bar, Montin, da Ivo, Trattoria alla Madonna.

Only once in those several visits to Venice over the years — three or four visits, I’d guess — did we eat memorably, and that was when I once simply asked a gondolier where he ate, and he took us there. I now know that he took us to an osteria. There was no menu; the waitress simply told us what was available, and we asked her to bring what she wanted. The food was delicious. There wasn’t a word of English, French, or German to be heard.

We went back a few years later, but it had changed hands; the barman snarled at his daughter; the food was slipshod. We haven’t been back, and to tell the truth I doubt I’d be able to find it again.

We didn’t know how to find such places afterward, and settled for places like those mentioned above, and wrote Venice off as a bad food town. But on reŖection how could that be possible? After all, many of the residents are Italian; the area has a splendid traditional cuisine; there’s God’s plenty of fruit, fish, and produce. It was only a question of finding the right places, and finally Slow Food came to the rescue.

The following list is in no particular order. I set against most restaurants a symbol or two, as follows:
@’ - featured in the Slow Food guide, Osterie d’Italia 2001
T - well known to tourists (not necessarily either a good or a bad thing)
L - frequented by locals (ditto)
M - listed in Michelin (ditto)

@’ all’aciugheta @’ ca’ d’oro detta alla vedova L dalla marisa da alberto
L la cea da paolo L al’altanella L la colonna
@’ alla patatine @’ anice stellato al falco d’oro @’ alla fontana
T al ponte del diavolo @’ al bacareto al giardinetta di Livio Silvano
pinizolo antico dolo L 40 ladri @’ bancogiro
MT harry’s dolci M alla testiere

And I list below the meals that were worth recording and recalling. It goes without saying these are the restaurants I would recommend. I’m sorry: they’re still in alphabetical order. You make the calls.

al’Altanella , c. dell’Erbe, Giudecca. A very old quiet place around the corner from Harry’s Dolci. Gnocchi neri, sarde grigliate, vino bianco; a quiet canal alongside the terrace. Photos of the place when it belonged to the present owner’s grandfather: it hasn’t changed much. Very good food.

@’ Anice Stellato , Fondamenta de la Sensa, Cannaregio (closed Monday): an osteria-trattoria seating maybe forty diners in two or three little rooms, quite off the beaten track, in the Cannaregio, not that far from the Ghetto. Lunch: I had risotto nero, rice cooked with cuttlefish ink, and little pieces of cuttlefish, and the rice itself was absolutely wonderful. We had a little conversation with the host, a young man who was concerned about quality, and he told me without my having brought up the subject that the rice was organic, and we talked about that, and then I asked him to recommend some other places to eat, and he gave us five.

@’ Al Bacareto , calle delle Botteghe, San Marco. Lunch there after a couple of hours on our feet among the Etruscans at the nearby Grassi Palace. Here I had simply a bowl of pasta e fagiole, pastafazool, beans and little tiny pasta pieces, in a rich brown meat sauce, and afterward the Venetian specialty sarde in saor, sardines marinated in oil and vinegar with a little sweetening in it, enough to remind you that Venice is in fact partly an Arabic city, and with it a bottle of house white, no label, any more than there was one at Anice Stellato, just good clean fruity crisp white wine that goes down like water.

@’ Bancogiro , in the “bancogiro,” the street-level shops that surround the first market square at the west end of the Rialto bridge. A quick little sandwich or two and a glass of splendid wine make a good marketing snack. We went back for dinner later: very romantic room overlooking the Canale Grande. Ombrina (a local fish, one of the best) with cherry tomatoes & basil; zucchini al limone; pan cotto; Prosecco. Memorable.

@’ Ca’ d’Oro detta Alla Vedova , on the main street from the railroad station to the Rialto, straight ahead from you when you get off the vaporetto at the Ca’ d’Oro. Jammed with locals, a happening place. Polpetti (meatballs), vegetables, tagliarini with duck. Good food; great fun.

@’ alla Fontana , canale di Cannaregio: Here I had cozze, mussels from the Venice lagoon, that were so sweet, pungent, savory, rich, subtle, delicate, deep, that I couldn’t help exclaiming when the first one entered my mouth; I almost had tears in my eyes with pleasure. This was truly one of the most memorable things I’ve ever tasted. And afterward, coda di rospo, another fish found only here in the Lagoon, and simply cooked, poached or more likely just steamed, the fish having found its own Ŗavor. This cuisine is extraordinarily delicate: perhaps this has contributed to the myth of the lack of good food in Venice. You don’t get hit on the tongue with beef, garlic, pepper, sharp olive oil. The food runs more to long-sweated onions, rice, white fish. It’s food for chessplayers, not footballers, I’m tempted to say; and the more you’ve read or thought about the near East, carpets, complexity, slowness — even if you’ve never been to any of that — the more likely you are to like it, and the more you’ll find.

@’ dalla Marisa , canale di Cannaregio, near the three-arch bridge. This was recommended by Edward Behr, in his quarterly The Art of Eating; and he warned that it would be impossible to get into. It wasn’t, not at lunch anyway. It was one of the two or three absolutely best places, probably the first we’ll head back to. We ate canalside, five of us. Polenta, polpetti, stuffed mussels, baccalà mantecata, lasagna di pesce, soglioglia, frittura squid, pesce, shrimp; mascarpone. Marisa cooks, finally walking among all the diners, most of them locals, to enjoy their enjoyment. A young girl serves; I think I recall someone bussing tables. Very informal, very traditional. No menu.

Okay. Six memorable meals out of twenty-one; not bad odds. Another six or eight, I’d say, were perfectly good; I’d go back to them — except that I’d go to these six first. And remember: this is just one person’s experience, and opinion. There were six of us eating, and others had perfectly good reasons to have other preferences. I suppose.     rev.: May 2003            copyright © 2003, Charles Shere       other recommended eating