Thursday, November 24, 2011

Eating in Venice

Oh man. Returning to the office after the most wonderful 4 day trip to Venice and seeing a shiny new stack of papers to be dealt with immediately is (much as I love my job) kind of rough. It made me want to back out, take the subway home and hide under my probably still lukewarm bed covers. This can't be real, right? Only yesterday I was strolling by the Canal Grande:

Luckily, there's a great remedy for a severe travel-hangover like mine: reveling in your fresh memories! And while I'm at it, I can just as well make myself useful and give you some tips on Venice. Not on shopping - Venice isn't really the city for that, unless you get a kick out of Murano glass - but on food.

You see, we had a mission on this trip of ours. After reading up on tripadvisor about the myriads of tourist trap restaurants in Venice (this one my boyfriend deemed especially hilarious - 22 reviews, 22 'terrible' ratings - faut le faire!), we decided to try and eat nothing but good food while we were there. This took a bit of research (google blogs and a boyfriend fluent in Italian was a great help!), but it was worth the while. We ate out 5 times and not once felt cheated.

We went to Taverna Ciardi in Cannaregio on our first night. It's pretty easy to find, just off the road from one of the main tourist paths. The food was quite simple but very tasty - all fresh products. There are daily specials on the menu, depending on what the owners find on the market. We both had shrimp with apple and balsamico as antipasto. The shrimp were hard to peel - usually a good indicator of freshness - but delicious. Our main courses consisted of fried seafood and squid spaghetti, including the ink. (Great taste, but beware of black stains!) The service was good too. Our waiter was actually one of the owners and he was exceptionally friendly. The English version of the website doesn't seem to work, but don't let that hold you back, the owner speaks English fluently. Prices are pretty low by Venetian standards, so if you're on a budget but still want to eat something good (and local!), I would definitely recommend this.

Goodies at the fish market by the Rialto bridge. Looks a little alien, doesn't it?

We were wandering around on Sunday morning and toyed with the idea of taking the boat to San Michele, the graveyard of Venice. We walked to Fondamenta Nuove, because our map told us this was the place to go. We couldn't really figure out the vaporetto system, though, so decided to turn around and find something to eat. We started following the tourist arrows back towards the center and looked around for a decent place. Somewhere along the road we saw a lantern down a side street and decided to take a look. We found Osteria La Bottega ai Promessi Sposi by pure coincidence and loved it. The service was really friendly - yet again! I asked for a glass of local white wine I had spotted on the menu, and the waiter told me it was dolce, so I decided on something else. He nevertheless opened the bottle and poured us both half a glass just to taste. Sweet, no? The food was good, too: I had an excellent spaghetti vongole, my boyfriend pasta with a ragu of goose. The platters of mixed seafood on the other tables looked great as well. We had some dessert (white chocolate and cofee mousse and Venetian cookies with a glass of dessert wine), which wasn't memorable, but certainly okay for the price.

In the evening we visited Pizzeria All'Anfora in Santa Croce. Take a map with you when you go, because there is no way you will find this on your own, unless you stumble on it. Again, no English website, but the menu comes in 4 languages, if I remember correct. We didn't hear anything but Italian while we were there and the place was really busy: we were the last ones to get in without a reservation. At least 5 other people came asking for a table and were turned away. Service was pretty bad. The busy hour was probably part of this, the staff looked a little overwhelmed. I also suspect our waitress suffered from a broken heart or a really bad hangover, because she seemed to be in a pretty bad mood. Anyway, she's forgiven, because the pizza was good and prices were a-okay. I had the pizza all’Anfora and could barely finish it. The only disappointment were the canned mushrooms. I'd rather eat them fresh or not eat them at all.

The day afterwards we wanted to eat in Cannaregio again, because we had found some great looking trattorias on the Fondamenta degli Ormesini. They were closed, sadly, so we turned to a back-up option: La Colombina, very close to Taverna Ciardi. It took us a while to find it because of our damned map (it proved to be unreliable a couple of times, and so did Google Maps), and when we finally did, they were busy cleaning the place. I'm always on the late side usually, but we somehow arrived first at restaurants almost every single day. Italians eat later than us, and though it's a little weird to have the whole place to yourselves, we were always sure to get a table - so not such a bad strategy, all in all. We returned 15 minutes later and were seated by the chef himself. He was funny, genuine, kind. We immediately felt at ease. After 15 more minutes the restaurant started filling up with locals, regulars, a French couple and a pianist who mostly played easy tunes, but some great jazz standards too. Coperto* was 3 euros, which seemed quite high, but before our meal we got a small appetizer with tuna and a glass of prosecco, so we didn't mind. I ordered the mediterranean fish and got a good portion of well prepared fish (I'm not sure what it was, though), baked potatoes with rosemary and spinach. We ended the meal with a panna cotta and sambucca. At 90 euros (for a shared antipasto, a bottle of wine, water, two main courses and desert) this was a bit more pricey, but the atmosphere was great, the wine list was good and the service was superfriendly.

Beautiful Cannaregio.

We kept best for last and made a reservation at Osteria Alle Testiere for lunch on tuesday. We had read several recommendations, most of which were very positive, so we came with high expectations. The restaurant was lively (after a while - we were once again the first to arrive) without feeling too busy. Some people on TripAdvisor complain that the public is all-American, but an old British couple aside, we saw nothing but Italians while we were there. The staff was very friendly and attentive too, contrary to some of the reviews. We asked for wine advice and based on our questions the waiter recommended a Soave - the cheapest of 3 on the list, where most restaurants will try to push more expensive choices on you. We had spaghetti vongole and fish soup as primi. (I'm going through a vongole phase. I always tend to order the same dish - boring, I know.) While I slightly preferred the way the vongole were prepared at Osteria La Bottega ai Promessi Sposi (a bit lighter, more parsley), the vongole themselves were of even much higher quality and tasted amazing. My boyfriend made the better choice, though, because his fish soup was absolutely exquisite. I'll be dreaming about that soup in the months to come. We shared a mixed platter as a main and were delighted by the quality of the food. We got three kinds of fish, a langoustine each, a prawn and some squid, each of which was mouthwatering delicious (especially the 'orata' - gilt-head bream in English, I believe). We ordered some vegetables to go with it and for 6 euros they were great quality. Not the withered leaves of lettuce other restaurants sometimes have the nerve to serve, but grilled zucchini, eggplant, radicchio and artichokes. They were tasty, fresh and went perfect with the fish. Afterwards, we ordered a tiramisu and a cinnamon grappa. I'm not one for tiramisu usually, but this one was great. The cookies weren't drowning in low quality alcohol and it had a very balanced taste. When we got the bill, we saw that they offered the grappa on the house. We had anticipated to pay around 150 euros, but the bill was 128. Needless to say we left a more than decent tip and I was so impressed with the cooking I bought their book (after checking if it contained the fish soup - which it did, hurray). Expensive, yes, but we felt the experience was worth the price.

So there you go, 4 days of Venice, 5 great meals. During all this we stayed at Ca' Pozzo Inn in Cannaregio and were very happy about it. Breakfast was good, the room was spacious and cosy (with a modern and simple interior), great location, friendly staff. Guess where I wish I was right now?

* Coperto is a fixed charge per person for sitting at a table. Always check the menu for this and service fee. We saw restaurants asking for 6 euros coperto and a 15% service fee - total rip off. Most decent restaurants will include the service fee in their prices.

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