Just arrived back from 5 days in Venice. Here is where we ate and our thoughts.
First day: lunch at Da Rioba in Cannaregio--dried cod con polenta; stewed octopus with tomatoes and olives; pumpkin tart with ricotto and radicchio, homemade pappardelle with beef ragu; and then a cheese plate with chestnut jam. Fairly decent wine list by the glass compared to some of the other restaurants. Nice setting right along the canal in a very residential non-touristy section of Venice. The cod con polenta was delicious; the octopus was perfectly cooked and well complemented by the tomatoes and olives. The tart was delicious with the subtle sweetness of the pumpkin countered by the bitterness of the radicchio. The pasta with the ragu was fairly light tasting--not at all robust. 75 euro total (including cover and service) for the 2 of us for all of this + 3 glasses of wine and water. If you plan on eating there for dinner I strongly suggest making reservations as it seemed packed each evening that we walked past. They open at 12:30 for lunch (maybe earlier during high season--not sure about that).
Dinner at La Zucca in San Paolo--Very cute setting outside as you approach the restaurant. Very small so reservations a must; also suggest you call and confirm your reservation. We had made a reservation but somehow the person who took it didn't write it in the book. The restaurant went out of its way to accomodate us but their explanation for this was that the person who answered the phone may have been in the kitchen and forgot to write it down. If they are solidly booked they may not be able to accomodate a reservation for which they have no record. Had the pumpkin flan with smoked ricotta, which was just a relevation and makes me want to recreate it at home. Then had tagliatelle with gorgonzola and pistachio--very, very rich. If you choose this, I recommend sharing it as it is an ample portion. Also had lasagne with zucchini--this was also well done but a tad bland and also very rich so it would have been best if we had just one order of either pasta and shared. Then shared the osso bucca con riso--this was very, very good. The pistachio semifreddo for dessert was addictive--perfectly chilled, very, very creamy--excellent mouthfeel-but nice balance with the crunch of the pistachios. All of this plus a so-so chocolate mousse and bottle of wine was 110 euro with tip.
Second day: Lunch at Banco Giro (Bancogiro) at Rialto. Beautiful 2nd floor room, but no more than 10 or 12 tables so reservations recommended for a weekend lunch and certainly for dinner. Had squid with artichokes and pumpkin sauce; olive tagliatelle with wild duck ragu; squid ink hollow spaghetti with razor clams in spicy tomato sauce, and then shared the restaurant's version of a tiramisu. The squid was a nice, light dish. I love pumpkin and the way the restaurants usesd it in Venice was a revelation to me so if I saw a version with pumpkin on a menu I tended to order it. The olive tagliatelle was perfectly cooked and the wild duck had a nice gaminess to it. However, the must have dish here is the hollow spaghetti with razor clams in spicy tomato sauce--the spaghetti was perfectly toothsome and stunning with the contrast between the black pasta and red sauce. And the sauce was perfectly spiced--had such a nice bite which was such a nice difference from the other dishes we had throughout our stay, as good as they were. The tiramisu was too sweet for my taste. At lunch, be warned that the music the restaurant plays may not appeal to everyone--definitely has club appeal and while not loud is not played quietly either.
Dinner: Veico Fritolin. Least favorite of where we ate but may appeal to some. We had sheep's ewe ricotta with chicory heart salad and anchovies--served ever so lightly warm. The ricotta was delicious but the dish was a tad bland. Then we had the risotto scallops and artichokes and shared the Fritto Misto, which the restaurant is supposed to be known for. Having not had other versions of fritto misto in Venice, this version seemed fine to us--very lightly fried, not at all greasy, and good variety of fish and vegetables in the mix. Then had a lemon sorbet with vodka--highly recommend that this be tried somewhere while in Venice, and a pear with mint and chili chocolate sauce. This dessert was basically a flourescent died poached pear along with a chocolate sauce that didn't seem to have any chil. They should just make a regular poached pear drizzled with chocolate sauce.
3rd day: Lunch at Al Bottegon (Cantina di Vini Gia Schiavi) in Dorsoduro.
This was just some cichetti and wine. Good wine list but no high-end wines on offer and excellent cichetti. This is family owned and operated and you will be helped by a son and the mom cooks. We snacked on shrimp in saur, tuna with balsamic vinegar, egg and mozzarella, salami piccante and pistachio cream--all of the this is slices of bread. Really, very, very yummy and the place was packed. Located in a very picturesque setting so if it's nice out you can enjoy your wine and/or snacks sitting outside admiring the view. Can also buy wines here if you like.
Chichetti snack at Do Mori--a must do for the atmosphere alone. The place has been selling wine since 1472 or something like that. They had a nice selection of inexpensive wines by the glass for 2.50 to 3 euro and then a selection of 5 or 6 higher end wines for 10 euro, including a Barolo and a Chianti Riserva. We had polpettes (the Venetian meatballs)--very, very flavorful but also light--probably not ground beef. Also had a pickeled onion, anchovy, and hot pepper cichetti and some other things that I didn't write down and I can't remember. This is convenient to San Marco.
Alle Testiere--Absolutely this rates with one of the best meals we have ever had (this includes places like Maestro in DC, Jean Georges in NYC, among others). We wanted something light to start so we shared the garden fresh salad with artichokes and baby shrimp and this was perfect for us. The salad had a light garnish of small diced pineapple and a hint of fresh mint--just so perfect in its simplicity. Then we had pumpkin and ricotta ravioli with scallops and spaghetti with telline clams. Ravioli was perfectly cooked and nicely balanced; the spaghetti very nice. Then we had shrimp with swet and sour sauce, again such a nice departure from the other stuff we were eating. The sauce was perfectly balanced. We also had probably one of the best dishes we have ever eaten anywhere--sea bass with aromatics. We were going to choose something else but our waiter recommended this dish. No words can do it justice--perfectly cooked very fresh bass with a wonderful fennel and citrus flavor and garnished with blueberries, pineapple and pink peppercorns. Then had a wonderful cheese plate with a glass of Amarone that complimented the cheese perfectly. The cheeses were a sheep's milk cheese matured in barola grape leaves; a Tallegia (spelling?) from Lombardy; a Pisario (?)--a blue cheese. The restaurant is tiny and was packed--reservations an absolute must.
4th Day--Bancogiro again because so good and convenient to that day's plans. Had gnocchi with broccoli and ricotta and cod ravioli with nut sauce--again another absolute superb pasta dish at this restaurant. The richness of the nuts was a nice foil to saltiness of the cod. Then shared a loin of lamb that had been wrapped around eggplant and potato cakes topped with roasted red peppers. Very nice presentatioin and well done. had a butter cake (more like a cake tart shell) filled with a lightly saffron flavored cream with diced pears on top and pear sauce--this was one of the most amazing desserts we had.
Dinner at Il Ridotto--very different atmosphere from all of the restaurants above. 5 tables, murano glass water tumblers, very light colors so very sleek and very modern. We started with the lobster salad with mesclun and strawberries; in summer this is made with peaches and berries instead. While this was good, both my husband and I preferred the salad at Alle Testiere. Then we had prawn ravioli with spinach and cauliflower--very good--and linguine with clam and clam sauce. Linguine with clam sauce is one of my husband's favorite dishes and he grew up eating it as he is Italian-Amercian. He said this was the best version of this he has had anywhere and the waiter said that the way in which the chef makes this dish is very, very special. The ravioli was squid ink ravioli stuffed with prawns--absolutey stunning on the plate and equally good in terms of taste. Then we had tuna with a flavorful, delightful fennel salad with oranges and olives. I try to make this and Il Ridotto's version is only what I can dream of making for some reason--no bitterness at all. Also had beef cheeks with cinnamon sauce and mashed potatoes. Very hearty and a nice change from pasta and seafood or fish. We then shared the chef's version of a tiramisu which was so creamy, rich, nicely balanced by the cocoa powder and not overally sweet at all. This was the only restaurant that offered an amuse buche of squid, perfectly cooked potatoes and red pepper--full of flavor. Also only restaurant to offer a dessert tray of cookies as well. Il Ridotto's cover was bit higher than we had seen--5 and overall a more expensive wine list than other restaurants, including FT and Alle Testiere. Service is great; chef is friendly. The served told us that the chef is very particular about what kind of olive oil he uses and he has 20 to 25 different kinds that he uses depending on the dish.
**Side note--this is across from Achiugeta (I think that is it)--we went in there to enjoy a spritz before dinner Il Ridotto as we were early. This is a very modern and sleek place to have a drink and/or cichetti--the cichetti looked wonderful. Very different atmosphere from Do Mori and Alle Botte.
Lunch at Alle Botte--Had a veggie antipasta platter, linguine with scampi and pumpkin, sardines in saur con polenta. Veggies were fine; the linguine was good--the mild sweetness of the pumpkin balancing the brinyness of the scampi but the linguine did not taste homemade.
Dinner at Fiaschetteria Toscana (FT)
Most room between tables we had of any of the above restaurants; white tablecloth but not as seemingly formal as Il Ridotto. We were upstairs and Claudio served us. Great selection of Venetian standards. We had the sole saur con polenta--lighter version in taste and texture than the version at Alle Botte but both equally good in our opinion. Then the appetizer of beef carpaccio. Went on to have radicchio tortellini with pine nut sauce and tagliatannie wiht spider crabl. The spider crabl adds a nice delicacy to the pasta and the tortellini's bitterniess was nicely balanced by the richness of the sauce. Then we shared a grilled turbot. Then tiramisu--equally as good as the one at Il Ridotto; also shared the carmalized apple tart--amazingly good.
That's it. I have to say, we researched Venice restaurants more than we might have otherwise because so many people said that Venice has overpriced food, most of which is bad. After visiting Venice, neither I nor my husband believe that to be true based on the above but you do have to know where to look. For people who have euros to spend, I strongly urge you to eat at Il Ridotto and Alle Testiere. For a more traditional menu but at an upscale restaurant, then FT is your place.