Restaurants & Bars 8

The Big Feast - Veneia and Firenze

scfinson | Mar 31, 201202:37 PM

First installment Venezia!

On this trip to Italy we focused on just 2 cities. Venezia and Firenze. We have traveled to Italy many times but have not been to back to these “must visit” cities in over 15 years. We concentrated on food first, sights and touring second. If there was a sight or museum to see near the place we were eating we would check it out if time permitted.

I want to give thanks to all the Chowhound contributors for all their advice and tips and Especially Elizabeth Minchilli and Michela Scibilia for creating the APPs we used as our guides. These were invaluable.

Venice was up first. I felt this was the more difficult place to find the good stuff, but we found plenty of great food. Most are on the greatest hit lists here. Only one total bust. I will try to keep this brief, just the highlights, Ha!

Al Marca. Lunch spot. This place is essentailly a closet with a bar across the entrance, and a few shelves attached to surrounding walls to set your glass on. It is in the square next to Rialto Market. They serve about 25 wines by the glass and tiny sandwiches on little ciabatta style buns, Bacala montecato, prosciutto with truffled cheese etc. About 10 different types. They were all great and all the wines are local from NE Italy. Several prosecco’s to choose from. Everyone just eats standing up and it is a very local working person scene. We went back several more times even when we had lunch plans. Try it!

Boccodoro. Dinner. Our first seafood session. Really small nice place with very fresh simply prepared seafood. Nice modern decor. Very interesting modern art on the walls not your typical pictures of Venice in it’s glory days. Not on the tourist trail. Chef and wife team wait on you. It was obviously scampi season as we saw them on a lot of menus cooked and raw. They are so sweet in the raw form. Also artichoke season especially the little baby ones we ate a lot of carcioffi! We ate them both as often as possible. Also good pastas and simple grilled fish.

Alle Testiare. Dinner. Lives up to the hype. A step up from Boccodoro in creativity. Small cramped room no attempt at ambience but the seafood was stellar. More Scampi this time cooked in an agro dolce sauce and a huge portion. Turbot with star anise flavored sauce. Great chocolate dessert. Service very nice.

Ristorante Quadri. Dinner. I will try to give my honest thoughts about this place. The food was very good, a couple of dishes were exquisite. The quality of the seafood the best. My seafood ravioli was especially memorable. Prices crazy! I know location, location, location! The view was not what we remembered or expected as it was winter and the cafes were closed at night. No dueling orchestras for better or worse. All we could see was scaffolding and the touts shooting their glow toys into the sky. If you did not request a window table you would have no view. The other thing that really ticked me off was the chairs were so uncomfortable. They may have been authentic to the 1800”s but they were awful, everyone in the room was squirming around after an hour. 60€ appetizers should pay for comfortable chairs. If you are on an expense account, money is no concern or someone else is buying go for it. Not good value. Bring a pillow for your back!

Il Ridotto. Dinner. How cool is this place!! Food as good or better than Quadri at 1/3 the price . Modern sleek furniture with exposed brick walls very comfortable chairs, nice subtle lighting not always a given even in Italian places. It seats about 12-15 customers max. 2 seatings per night. Owner/Chef waits on the tables with a couple of others helping out. Standouts were more raw scampi, the calamari antipasti best fried calamari I have ever had, a very modern approach to it. All the dishes firmly rooted in Venetian tradition but elevated by a contemporary cooking and plating approach. Small tubetti pasta with go fish broth the essence of the sea! The other great discovery here was Pinot Nero’s from the Alto Adige region. These are some of the best pinot noirs I have had in a while at a great price point. I live in Pinot Noir country in CA and have drank more than my share of Burgundies and these stand up quite well. Now I am on a mission to find them in USA.

Venissa. Lunch. Ok, Venice seems crowded and claustrophobic after a week. Especially on Sundays when all the main landers come to visit family, shop and eat at the few places open on Sunday. So where to go for Lunch? Mazzorbo of course! Huh? It is the island next to Burrano which is a madhouse on Sundays. Mazzorbo had all of 15 visitors on it, all eating at Venissa! Mazzorbo is still essentially a vegetable farm with vegetable plots and a vineyard which now produces wine again. Venissa is a small hotel/restaurant that has taken old run down buildings and turned them into a chic little inn. The ristorante is set in the vineyard both outdoor and indoor seating. Too cold for outside that day. The kitchen is behind glass doors and is sleek and modern with stainless steel everything, immaculate, such a contrast to the ancient surroundings. The chef is Paola Budel and she is a true rising star and should get a Michelin star soon IMHO. This is what I found so intriguing, My 1st course was raw scampi onto which they poured a subtle porcini broth that just poached the scampi just enough to change the texture. The sweet scampi with the earthy porcini one of the best seafood dishes I have had in a long time. So refined so subtle but so packed with pure flavor. Ok so what’s next? I ordered the turbot. So here is the thing that wowed me. I thought I would get a small filet of turbot with some delicate sauce. WRONG! What came to the table was a huge turbot steak on the bone grilled with rosemary, olive oil and garlic, a totally rustic gutsy dish. Essentially turbot bistecca! Perfectly done, the kind of dish you want to pick every piece of fish off the bone. So the contrast of the two dishes was the key for me just a great overall experience. More Alto Adige Pinot Nero. The kitchen also seems to be a training ground for very young chefs as well. They will learn a lot from Paola!

Firenze report later this week. Cippola Rosa, Osteria Personale, Ora d'Aria Dario Cecchini and a few more.

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