This is in thanks for the help I received here prior to our trip.
We like to eat. We really, really like to eat. Food is always a major part of our travel adventures.
Now, as we all know, Venice has a bad rep when it comes to food.
It’s not deserved. With some caveats.
Some research prior to arrival is essential. Like New York you can eat badly for a lot of money or you can eat well for a more moderate amount. (I guess I’m preaching to the converted here.)
So, before we left I consulted you kind folks here at Chowhound and all the other usual places for the food-obsessed. We arrived with a list of possible restaurants but no advance reservations. We were very interested in local specialties and weren’t really aiming at the dining stars. (Alle Testiere wasn’t on our list.)
As it turned out, we ended up having a lot more hits than misses.
Our batting average was substantially improved by the coaching of Nicola, who is on the staff of the Ca’ Pozzo Inn, the hotel we stayed at in Cannaregio.. Each morning while we were there I’d come down to breakfast with a restaurant name and telephone number written on a slip of paper. After discussing our choice and some possible alternatives we were able to leave him with the task of making a reservation for us. That, and his specialized local knowledge, was helpful beyond anything I could have expected. Who else but a Venetian would know that the Mom of a Mom & Pop trattoria is not well, causing the food to be having a temporary downhill slide?
In no particular order, here are restaurants that we liked, along with a few of the memorable dishes we ate there:
1/ L’ANICE STELLATO (Cannaregio) - impeccably prepared traditional dishes and an excellent wine selection in a warm, relaxed atmosphere. The very knowledgable front of house staff were all female. The sommelier deserves special mention. Deservedly popular with Venetians and tourists alike, this was the only restaurant that we had to reserve a few days out. We liked it so much that we ate there twice.
sarde in saor, bigoli, a hearty traditional whole grain pasta with a sauce of onions and anchovies, squid ink pasta, seafood risotto, semi-freddo zabaglione (twice)
2/ BOCCADORO (Cannaregio) - sophisticated, beautifully presented Venetian food with a more modern take. A little bit of New York in Venice.
crudo of baby sea bream with diced strawberries and pomegranate seeds, lighter potato gnocchi than seems possible, outstanding fritto misto, the best tiramisu of the trip
3/ OSTERIA ALBA NOVA (Santa Croce) - warm, rustic atmosphere with a chef who is interested in traditional and historic Venetian dishes. It’s the kind of little place that every traveller hopes to discover.
fegato (liver) prepared in the Venetian style, with onions, raisins and pine nuts, a savory strawberry sauced pasta that dates from pre-tomato Italy
4/ BUSA ALLA TORRE DA LELE (Murano, lunch only) - it appears to be the worst kind of tourist trap but the food is very good and the passing crowd entertaining. Look for the blue glass star.
a luscious house-made tagliatelle with guanciale and gorgonzola
5/ Del GATTO NERO (Burano) - we went in the evening when Burano eerily quiet and left to the locals and the cats
the Risotto alla Buranella is as good as it is reputed to be, as is the fritto misto
6/ PONTINI (Cannaregio) - an unpretentious, family operated, canal side bar/restaurant that seems to host a perpetual neighborhood party. Anything from sandwiches to multi-course meals to just a drink are available. Being situated right at the entry to the Sotoportego Pozzo, it became our local.
In retrospect, one of the smarter things we did was to book a cicchettit tour (http://www.urbanadventures.com/destin...). After taking a traghetto ride across the Grand Canal to the Rialto Market (I still can’t believe I did that) we had a crash course in how to eat and drink like a Venetian. We visited four bacari, all of them excellent, most of them well concealed, off the beaten path. At each we were served a different wine of the Veneto and chose from a plate of mixed cicchetti. I was very impressed with the food. All fresh from the market that morning. Inventive as well as traditional. As beautiful to look at as it was delicious. We truly enjoyed this aspect of Venetian culture. There’s nothing we’ve missed more since our return to Canada.
The bacari we enjoyed:
ALLA CIURMA (San Polo) - we loved this place. Be aware that it’s very well camouflaged. We couldn’t locate it the day after the cicchetti tour took us there though we must have walked by it several times. Once we did refind it we mysteriously found ourselves in its vicinity at lunchtime almost every day. We became addicted to their special house Raboso. I won’t make any specific food recommendations because the selection varies daily, even through the day, depending upon what’s available at the market. Just know, they’re famous for their polpette. The tuna version was just as delicious as the pork.
ALL’ ARCO (San Polo) - just as friendly as the above, with food and drink of the same high calibre. It’s marginally easier to find than alla Ciurma.
SACRO e PROFANO (San Polo) - this one is as much a simple restaurant as a bar. It’s a great place if you want a bit more substantial lunch (a plate of pasta). I had a tagliatelle with fresh porcini mushrooms and sausage that said autumn was here.
CANTINA DO MORI (San Polo) - again, good ciccheti (especially their baccala mantecato) and a vast selection of wines. It would be worth visiting if only to soak up the historical atmosphere. No tables here.
These bacari are situated so close to one another that a “progressive” meal is easily accomplished. (and recommended)
We were fortunate to find good artisanal gelato in Rio Terra San Leonardo, nearby our hotel. We sampled many flavours, researching which one was best ;-) Sitting at one of the small tables and watching the crowd flow by was a great afternoon break. I was wondering, though, if it would be acceptable to have an affogato (a shot of caffe over vanilla gelato) for breakfast? Later in the day banished any possibility of a night’s sleep.
Torrefazione Marchi was right across the street from the gelateria. They’re the only place in Venice roasting their own beans. Their coffee was outstanding. Had our hotel not supplied us generously with morning cappucini we would have been there every day without fail. As it was, we brought home a kilo of beans.
Disappointments? Well, a mediocre pizza on San Leonardo at a time when nothing else was still open. I can’t really qualify that as a disappointment as much as a fulfilled expectation.
Our worst dining experience was finding multiple, really gritty clams in an otherwise tasty clam pasta served at Riva Rosa, a high end restaurant on Burano. Inexcusable.
The slow food movement is alive and well in Venice. Using fresh local ingredients is emphasized. It’s a point of honour, actually. It’s not difficult to find the food and wines unique to the region. Just try to remember that you’re not in Italy, you’re in Venice.
To summarize, you can eat really well in Venice if:
you do your research
you’re willing to get out of the heavily touristed area around San Marco
you have the good fortune to meet a Venetian foodie
you’re not expecting transcendent red sauce Italian
you’re not squeamish about trying unknown, scary-looking marine invertebrates
Alla Salute! Kathy