My fiancé and I had the opportunity to dine at Il Ridotto a couple of weeks ago. We were on a two-week holiday visiting Venice, Florence, and Rome. We chose Il Ridotto to be our centerpiece dinner of Venice based mostly on the rave reviews that the restaurant has received here on Chowhound. The reason I’m posting this is because there is a lot of hype about this restaurant on this board and I thought it might be valuable to bring a little different viewpoint. Therefore, I’ll just bullet point what I thought about the evening:
-First of all, this isn’t a French Laundry, Alinea, Per Se, or Le Bernardin experience (I’m from the USA so I’m using those restaurants as a reference). For those of you expecting food that will absolutely blow your mind and be worthy of the highest praise like those restaurants receive, you will be disappointed. It just isn’t in that league of restaurants. It is a good restaurant that has its hits and misses. I have a feeling that if it was reviewed for the NY Times, it would receive 1 star, maybe 2 at the most. I know that some of the more frequent posters on this site have endorsed this place as being the best in Venice. I just don’t believe that to be the case. I am having a hard time fingering why because several of the other suggestions in Florence/Rome were spot-on, but this one was off. I’m wondering if the uniqueness of the room (only 5 tables) and having Gianni serve the food causes them to overlook some of the flaws? It’s just a theory.
-As others have noted, it pays to take some time in the afternoon to head over and find the restaurant. It isn’t hard to find, but Venice can be a confusing maze especially to the first-time visitor. We were able to find it rather easily and planned our Gondola ride out so that we’d be done in time to go have a drink and then dinner.
-This place is no longer unknown by Americans. If you’re looking to eat with the locals or residents, you should go to Aciugheta Pizzeria and Wine Bar next door. Don’t worry, your food is still being made in the Il Ridotto kitchen and brought across the street. We visited Il Ridotto on a Thursday and everyone dining was an American and 4 out the 5 had chosen the restaurant based off Chowhound. It’s not a secret anymore.
-You will definitely get more out of this if you can speak and understand Italian. Gianni can speak a little English, but the rest of his staff really struggled to bridge the gap. It took almost five minutes with our server to explain we wanted the tasting menu. I totally realize that I’m a visitor in their country and I’m more responsible for learning the language than they are mine. Still, I’m enough of a realist to also realize that a great majority of American visitors won’t speak a great deal of Italian and of all the restaurants we visited over the two weeks, this was by far the most difficult experience we had with the language barrier. Call me the ugly American if you want, but we tried our best in Italian (very limited to basic words/phrases), Spanish (the fiancé is a Spanish teacher and very fluent), and English.
-Gianni is the star of the restaurant and a true character. While most of our conversation was limited to smiles and handshakes, you could tell he has a passion for what he does. And being as visible as he is, you don’t always have to speak the language to ready body languages, faces, and gestures. Plus, he whipped out an epic Mama Mia when some lost tourist walked in looking for directions to a hotel on the other side of San Marco. The highest of unintentional comedy.
-In regards to the food, it was hit and miss. I had the five-course fish menu and to be honest with you, there isn’t a single thing I had that truly sticks out in my memory that I ate that night that made me smile and say Wow. I remember each of the dishes being competent, good, but nothing worthy of the praise I’d read about. There was a fish ravioli, but I couldn’t tell you what the fish was or the sauce. I just remember it being heavy. The only thing that I really remember from my meal was a fillet of Branzino with individual braised vegetables being laid out around the outside of the plate. It was good, but nothing better than the one I’d had the day before for 7E. That’s ultimately my recall of my meal, good and competent food but nothing that stood out or was memorable. For a restaurant so heavily touted, I would have expected more. My fiancé had a couple of more memorable dishes. She had a parmesan flan that had a light, yet meaty tomato sauce. It was the perfect mix of flavors. She also had beef cheeks with a warm cheese polenta that both of us agreed was the best dish of the evening. However, she also had a course of egg noodles with a meat sauce. Where we come from, this is something that is served at Graduation/Birthday parties that take place in somebody’s garage. I get the take and the creativity of it, but it needed something more than nutmeg to elevate it from Garage Hot Dish. Again, none of the food was bad and I don’t want anyone to think that anything was totally gross or inedible. But, best in Venice? I just can’t say I agree.
-It is a great value. We received five courses plus an amuse and a shot of Grappa for 50E a piece. I know that may seem high, but Venice is an expensive city. You will not leave hungry either. The portions in the tasting menu aren’t much different than what you would get had you ordered a la carte. There were times I felt like Adam Richman on Man vs. Food trying to finish a dish and not leave any leftovers.
-The wine list is deep. There are many choices for each variety and they range in price from the affordable to the extravagant. Since the gal sacrificed and ate the meat course (she wanted fish, but wanted variety more), we went for a Barolo which was priced very affordably around 60E. I will say this was one of the better wine lists we saw in our entire trip.
-We both agreed that if we went back to Il Ridotto, we would pick a course from the primi and secondi menus and skip the tasting menu. You may want to do the same to have some more control over your meal and what you are eating. Gianni still serves you your food and explains what you are eating and most of the dishes that are on that menu are similar to the ones in the tasting menu.
-A warning about Grappa. It has a strong flavor that some may not enjoy, especially those who aren’t into shots. They served us a shot after our meal. It was a fine bottle, but just wanted to mention it for those who may not be into such flavors.
In the end, I want to again emphasize that I don’t feel Il Ridotto is a bad restaurant. It’s not. But at the same time, I think people need to be realize that this isn’t going to be a life-changing dining experience either. I don’t really think Gianni wants it to be that way anyway. He’s looking to serve good food in a creative way (for Venice where a premium seems to be paid to tradition) at an affordable price. That’s an admirable goal and one I think he is succeeding in for the most part. But he’s not aiming for the Michelin stars with this restaurant, at least IMHO. I think people would have a more enjoyable experience if that is what they know going in which is why I wrote this review. It's a good restaurant, but not yet a great one.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll write up some of the other places we tried. We ate very well in Italy and I have to thank people like Joe H, Jen Kalb, PBSF, and all the others who take the time to post their thoughts and experiences.