For the benefit of the Chowhound community, here's my report on the restaurants that my wife and I visited for dinner during our recent trip to Venice from 22 May to 24 May.
Four years ago we ate at Ostaria Al Garanghelo, and we enjoyed it enough that we decided to return our first night. Our choice was made that much easier by the fact that it was so close to our bed-and-breakfast. Most of the tables were empty when we arrived, and they stayed that way throughout our meal. We ordered a liter of the house red wine and a bottle of water and started with spaghetti all’amatriciana and sarde in saor. We thought amatriciana, typically roman, would be a mistake, but we couldn’t resist. We should have. Prosciutto cotto had been substituted for guanciale, and the sauce, normally rich and slightly spicy, was thin and bland. The sarde in soar was solid—slightly vinegary, sweet, and not at all fishy. Next, we split fegato alla veneziana and spaghetti with seppia. My wife thought the liver was too greasy; I thought it was overcooked and not especially great. The spaghetti with seppia was good, but less because the dish was exceptional and more because this pasta was better than the first. Overall, we were disappointed, and our experience didn’t match the one that we had four years ago. We learned the next day from our hostess that Al Garanghelo’s previous owner had sold it four weeks prior. She wasn’t sure that the food had suffered because of the sale, but she said that Venetians had ceased visiting. Unless we romanticized our experience from four years ago, I would say the food has definitely declined. But at least the meal was inexpensive. Dinner was 53€.
We went to Osteria La Zucca the next evening, and I was a little surprised by the menu. I had seen so much written on Chowhound that La Zucca was vegetarian friendly that I assumed there wouldn’t be much meat. This wasn’t true at all (although, indeed, there was no fish as reported elsewhere in this forum). La Zucca seems to be labeled “vegetarian friendly” due to the long list of contorni on the menu rather than anything else. I was also disappointed to see that many of the items on the menu weren’t especially Italian. To start, we ordered a carafe of house red wine, a bottle of water, tagliatelle with goat cheese and artichokes, and La Zucca’s pumpkin flan. The pumpkin flan, which we liked very much, was topped with Mizithra cheese, olive oil, and pumpkin seeds, and it reminded us of pumpkin ravioli filling. The tagliatelle, like the spaghetti with seppia from the night before, was fine, but not exactly memorable. After our primi, we had lamb with tzatziki sauce, veal, and stewed romano beans with tomatoes. The lamb was well cooked, well seasoned, and the better of the two secondi. Neither my wife nor I can remember anything about the veal, which may say more than anything I could have written about it. My wife liked the beans; I thought they were overcooked. At the end of dinner, my wife and I were split on La Zucca: she enjoyed it, and I thought it was mediocre. I’m not sure we’d go back. The total bill was 80€.
On our last night, we had a 730 reservation at Trattoria Antiche Carampane, which was earlier than we would have liked, but the sleepy dining room quickly sprang to life as more diners arrived. We were led to a table and given menus that had been translated into English and French. When we ask for Italian ones our server replied that none existed. We thought this was odd, but when a Venetian woman sat to my left, indeed, she never consulted one. While we made our selections, our server brought us simply fried tiny shrimp served in a paper cone. They weren’t extraordinary, but they were pleasantly addictive, and a great start. We ordered a bottle of Roero Arneis, a bottle of water, and pasta for our primi. My wife had linguine tossed in a baby octopus sugo, and I had spaghetti with a spicy shellfish sauce. Both were excellent and satisfied our notions of what pasta should be in Italy: simple and fresh. As secondi, we ordered sepe in tecia (cuttlefish) and moeche fritte (soft-shell crabs). According to my discerning wife, the cuttlefish, which was served with white polenta, was the best she’s had in Venice. I didn’t try her secondo as I was too preoccupied with mine. The crabs were lightly fried and mixed with greens and fried sage. (Quick aside: After reading about moeche upon returning home, I wonder if the moeche I ate were previously frozen or imported as their local season didn’t seem to correspond to our visit. Either way, they were delicious.) We usually pass on dessert in Italy, but we went against our instincts and asked for the tortino morbido di cioccolato. Richly decadent and chocolaty, it turned out to be one of the best desserts we’ve had in Italy. From start to finish, our high expectations were met in all areas. Not only did we enjoy our dishes very much, but we also appreciated our server's willingness to engage us, a gesture that made us feel most welcome. The total, including a glass of grappa, was 133€.
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