Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Dean's Venice Restaurant List
Dean Gold (Dean)
* means that if you are there, it is a place to go
Why are there no zero * places? Because life it too short to drink mediocre wine and to eat at mediocre places.
We arrived at Campiello Madonna with no problem except for one Alla Frasca was nowhere to be found. So instead of asking, I looked at the streets coming off the square and decided we had traveled up one of them 4 years previously. As we wound our way, I spotted things I remembered: an apartment with a grapevine growing out of the roof, a small campiello with a nice well cover, etc. As we went on, I was more and more sure of our being on the right track and I predict to Kay it was just one more campiello. As we entered the next campiello, I was a little deflated by the lack of Alla Frasca and in fact, I was unsure of weather we had even been to this campo before. I did not know which direction to proceed. But there was a tiny vegetable stand/shop that was starting to close up for lunch. We went up the the proprietors.
"Conosci Alla Frasca?"
"Si Si" said the man lifting a box of produce as he walked to point to a small alleyway. "Semper diretta. Prosimo campiello".
After thanking him, we headed off. I thought he seemed pleased at our asking about Alla Frasca, just as he had been surprised at two obvious non locals to show up at his stand. I think anyone from more than 3 or 4 campielli would have been non locals to him. In any case, in less than 30 seconds we were there! We saw the familiar canvas and plastic tenting over the patio and entered. I however did not see the sign about no service al banco Had something changed?
We entered to a slightly disheveled room with 4 tables. To our left were 2 small tables for 3 or 4 people and to our right were 2 very long tables capable of holding 10 or 12 each. All the spots were taken or had already been used so I was half expecting to be told "Completo" but we were just told to wait so they could reset. A very young fellow ran out the door and across the campiello to grab a paper table cloth. Then he armed himself with clean glasses and silver and tried to wedge his way in between the two long tables to reset our position. The men seated at our table at the other end finally had to stand to allow him, and then us, access to our seats. As this took place, I noticed the food, delicious looking but far more than one pasta and one risotto were being offered. Again, I was worried that the place had changed hands. But as I saw how the folk sitting at the tables were on a first name basis with the waiter I grew more sure that this was the same family. My confidence was shaken a little at the menu when it arrived. First off, it was an actual menu. I just expected to be told what the pasta and risotto of the day were. It was laminated and several pages long, with a meat section and a fish section. But on reading it, I was sure this would be fantastic. The young fellow, who we later found out to be cousin Ben, asked us for our drink order. We started with a spritz Aperol and a spritz Campari. Upon arrival, the taste of the cheap wine used in the drink was unmistakable. I am of the belief that the worse the wine, the better the spritz and these were spritz to end all spritz.
As we were enjoying our spritz, who should enter but the couple from the vegetable stand. They did not say a word, but just walked to an unset place. Ben rushed over to reset it, again having made the trip across the campiello for a clean piece of paper for the setting. As soon as the paper was down, and before glasses or silver was put down, the couple sat. They recognized us as they did and, in my broken Italian, we joked about how this must be a good restaurant if they were here. They assured us it was the best! Again, there was quite a look of pride on their faces as had obviously picked "their" restaurant for our lunch. Ben returned not only with their clean glasses and silver, but with a pitcher of house white for them. In a matter of seconds, he returned with two steaming plates heaped with risotto. Not a word had been spoken and they were chowing down! Clearly, their lunch was a set experience.
Next up was a long discussion of our order. We let the waiter, Medi, guide us into our order. Kay had an antipasti of sauteed clams and mussels in marinara. I was expecting a thick sauce. It was, instead, a thin wine and herb broth with a few chopped tomatoes added in to the natural juices of the shell fish. We used the provided soup spoon to slurp up every garlicky and herby bit of juice. I opted for that antipasti di pesce della casa. This was an assortment of 4 items, and each served in abundance: scampi in saor- fried scampi marinated with a sweet and sour sauce with lightly sauteed onions. Bacala was in a rough, stronger-tasting style than usual. The bits of fish were left a little larger give the whole a chewier texture than normal. Absolutely wonderful. Insalata di polipo- octopus salad with celery in a nice oil and lemon dressing. Finally schie, tiny brown and purple shrimp on a puddle of thin white polenta. We split an order of homemade linguini al pescatore. This was a lightly thickened tomato sauce with octopus, clams, mussels and schie. It was spicy, a little oily (in a good sense) and altogether wonderful. For our secondi, we each had a whole fish. Kay had a sole in lemon sauce. The fish was so fresh and subtle flavored as to almost have no distinct flavor of its own except for a fresh sea character. It was sweet and the perfect foil for the lemon sauce. Medi boned it in wonderful detail tableside, depositing all the meat, as nearly bone free as possible, in 4 pieces on the plate leaving all the dark flesh behind. Then he spooned the lemon pan sauce over it. My fish was an orata which had been baked with potatoes, olives, and white wine. Again, Medi boned the fish with care. The potatoes were crispy on the bottom, a little salty and richly infused with the flavor of the fish juices and white wine. We had some grilled zucchini with our fish. We had been worried about having fish on a Monday but Medi assured us that these were bought straight from the fisherman that morning. We had nothing to worry about, it was the best fresh fish we have ever had!
After our meal, Medi poured us homemade arancello, the same as limoncello but made from wonderful oranges instead of lemons. We chatted with Medi and found out that his father had slowly been adding more food service over the past few years. Two and a half years ago they made the plunge and turned it into a full on restaurant. Medi waits the tables, Ben, his cousin is the helper. Brother Agostino is in the kitchen and Dad oversees things. Dad, AKA Il Bafetto (The moustache), was taking a few weeks off. After the spritz, we drank a mezzo of the god awful Tocai house wine from the tap, but as the buzz grew it tasted better and better. Our meal, one of the great ones we have ever had in Venezia or anywhere, was 91. All during the meal, it would start and stop raining. We could see the neighborhood cat running across the canvas ceiling of the tent. After our fish was served, Medi took a plate with the heads and bones out to the cat for his lunch. After he was finished dining, the seagulls got into the act. TO us, this is the quintessential restaurant experience in Venezia.
***Vini da Gigio
Kay started with a mixed smoked fish plate. It offers you your choice of house smoked fish- eel, sword or tuna, all served on piles of baby arugula. We said go for it all! While the tuna was very good, if a little dry, the swordfish was excellent with a slight chewyness. But the star was the eel. Wondrous! It was moist and oily, with a stronger smoke flavor than the other two. We were given a bottle of olive oil from Tenuta San Guido olive oil (from the producers of Sassacaia) to drizzle over all. This was seriously good food. I had an antipasto misto di pesce which consisted of fried bacala fritters, baby scallops broiled and served on the half shell, schie on white polenta and two larger sea scallops broiled and served in a light sauce of lemon and browned butter. The real winner there was the schie, thouge broiled scallops with brown butter are a serious competitor. I had a pasta course of tagliolini with grancio or local crab. Simple, rich and good, Kay helped me but we did not finish this course. Kays secondo was stuffed rabbit. It was filled with a well spiced force meat and vegetables. In many a seafood restaurant, the meat cooking doesnt measure up yet here, the rabbit was every bit as good as anything else we had. Quite delicious. My secondo was a simple grilled eel. It was the tail of an eel, split open and grilled till both the skin ad flesh side were crispy yet the flesh was still quite rich and juicy. Simple and tasty. Kay had a gelato di Mela with calvados, the liquor fiery as only Calvados can be. Normands, from whence Calvados hails, speak of the "Trou Normande" or the Normand hole. It is the effect of downing a shot of Calvados halfway thru a big rich meal: the Calvados burns a hole in your full stomach allowing you to cram down still more food. You could feel this power in the Calvados. Caffe followed. The meal, with an expensive bottle of wine was 134.
It was so good the first time the we decided to forgo Fiaschetteria Toscana for our last dinner in Venezia this trip. Roberto, our regular waiter at FT, would just have to do withou us. We settled on a bottle of 2001 Gewurztraminer Lunaie from Cantina Terlano. Its a hugely spicy and aromatic white. We love it and its almost impossible to find in the US. I started with a misto di crudo. It is a plate covered with loads of slices of raw fish and a single scampi. It took a few times of asking which fish was which to find out what we were eating. Actually each time we asked. We got a different answer! I think this was it- San Pietro (John Dory) a firm fleshed, slightly chewy fish with a really rich oily character; Pescaspada with a nicely chewy and meaty texture; tonno, very soft and rich on a bed of baby arugula and either Bronzino or dogfish- a pink fleshed, very meaty and slightly earthy fish, rich and buttery. It was all perfect! Kay had sarde in saor, fried butterflied boned sardines marinated in fried onions and vinegar. For secondo, Kay had moeche which are soft shell lagoon crabs. They look creepy, like tarantulas, but taste sweet and are bursting with juice. The legs are crispy like chips and the hearts full of roe and juice. I had a daily special of grilled sieppi with white polenta. The sieppi were grilled till crispy brown and full of juice. Sieppi are cuttlefish, similar to but meatier and more earth than calamari. The polenta was a great foil. We finished with a semifreddo with white and dark chocolate sauces and caffe. This meal was under 100 but I somehow forgot the exact figure. Maybe it was the grappa. The perfect end to a wonderful week.
Like many a great restaurant in Italy, there are a lot of foreigners in it. This is special occasion dining and a local would probably not come every night. Yet when I am in Venezia I always try to get there. If I lived in Venezia I could not afford to do that. I would probably just go once or twice a year. Hence the lower proportion of locals is to be expected. But this is true of great restaurants in all great destination cities.
There are two floors: the more formal and plainer upstairs, and the crowded and kitschy downstairs. I prefer the downstairs but will sit where ever necessary to have Roberto as our waiter.
The antipasti are mostly small plates of shellfish and fin fish simply prepared. We love the razor clams but beware, they can be sandy. But they are sooooo goooood! The house specialty is a scallop in a creamy almond sauce, a little over the top but wonderful. Spider crab is picked out of the shell and served in a little pile in the over turned shell of the crab. Other antipasti include fired brown shrimp eaten shell and all), Venus clams on the half shell (I think they were called Tartuffo di Mare for their looks, they tasted like the best giant clam you ever had at a sushi bar but better), scoglio alla saor.
Pastas were not the highlight of any of the meals, but they really are quite good. There is an excellent seafood risotto for 2and wonderful homemade pasta with white truffles is available in season. Tagliolini are tossed with shrimp and baked in a cream sauce, Burano style. Bigoli with salsa and anchovy with an unusual onion flavored sorbet. There have been lobster and broccoli ravioli that were very good.
Unlike a lot of restaurants, where the starters are the highlight, this is a place to enjoy your secondo. Our best entrees have included anguilla alle ora- iron pan roasted eel with tomatoes and salt (heavenly!); perfectly deep fried moleche (soft shell crabs looking like spiders more than crabs) and baby monk fish tails; fried shrimp and calamari with zucchini (the Buon Ricordo plate); John Dory filet with artichoke; shi (Drum Fish); roasted branzino filet. Another memorable fish dish was the Rombo with cardoon and a john dory with a clam sauce with artichokes.
Veggies include roasted porcini in season and local Treviso radicchio on the grill.
The cheese course is simply amazing with 15 to 20 selections, all wonderful. Many come with mostarda or some other sweet and spiced fruit based accompaniment homemade by Roberto. I have had 10 year old bitto, pecorino di fossa, pecorino aged in old wine barrels (the best being that aged in Torcolato barrels served with a splash of Torcolato poured over), castelmagno, blues cheese ranging from young and tangy to brown and old and funky enough to take the skin off the roof of your mouth (and then made smooth by a fruit chutney-like mostarda made personally by Roberto). Mom makes the desserts but we rarely have room.
This is the place to go wild on wine. Let Roberto guide you and dont go for the typical famous stuff. We have been turned onto Maso Furli Traminer, Dal Forno Romano Valpolicella and many other wines here. In fact, the wine list is what first drew us to the restaurant. We had reservations at Carampane but we passed FT and saw the list. I decided on the spot to go and we were quite happy.
** Da Pinto (*** for value)
In any case, we started talking and I congratulated him on his expansion. He was pleased that we were return visitors. The wine list was much larger but still quirky and wonderful. I impressed him by my choice of wine, Le Vigne di Zamo Tocai Friulano 2001 Cinquanta Anni. This is a super late harvest style of Tocai weighing in at 14.5% alcohol. It tastes of wood and fruit. It is an extreme wine and one that I love. Pinto convinced us to order way too much! Remember that in 3.5 hours we were having dinner at Vini da Gigio! So for our light snack we had carciofi marinati, antipasti di pesce da Pinto, fried gambretti and calamaretti and alici marinati. We had to fight not to get a double order of the fritti! But what food!
What I love about Da Pinto is that he plays both sides of the restaurant game so well. His menu has pages of touristico menus. He offers single plate combinations. And this is what most tourists have. Its a great place to bring kids as there is a lot of simple and recognizable stuff on the menu at value prices. But for locals, and for folk like Kay and I, he offers seriously good seafood.
The carciofi were two globes marinated in good oil and full of flavor. We sopped up the oil with good crusty whole wheat bread. The alici came in a huge pile, vinegary and sharp and plump, also covered in oil. The antipasti was crunchy and plump shrimp, bacala, octopus and creamy, and almost slimy, latte di sieppi which is the stuff inside the sieppi cooked to an eggwhite consistency with a faint yet wonderful flavor. The frito Misto was not as advertised, big shrimp and little calamari, but fat and plump scampi and large calamari cut into nice sized chunks. This was heaven! We munched our way thru this happily and finished our wine. Next, Pintos son offered us some homemade limoncello and who were we to say no? This feast was 61 and over 30 of that was the wine! Not only fun, and good but a real bargain! If you just drink house wine this is an easy place for 2 people to have dinner for 40 or less, all seafood!
On our last visit, we had a mixed grill of fish that included sardines, anchovies, sole, sieppi and scampi, served for 2. It was wonderful. That followed a plate of alici, a plate of house made salami and some bacala. That meal had run, with a good bottle of Doro Princic Malavasia Bianca, about 40 euro. We sat outside.
On anbother meal there, we enjoyed a Ribolla Gialla from Piuatti which was outstanding, around 25. Da Pintos sarde in saor is simpler than other preparations but the sardines are plump and well cooked. We had crostini with gamberi and with bacala, artichokes sottolio (grilled and marinated in oil), calamari e scampi fritti (the calamari are bigger chewy rings, not the little baby ones you often see) and another mixed grill with scampi, sieppi, 2 anchovies, coda di rospo (monk fish tail) that were all superb. We finished off with some lemon torte
Several of our choices were not available but they had specials to make up for it. Kay started with one of the specials: a tonno carpaccio on a pile of baby arugula. The tuna was in rough slabs, pretty thick for a carpaccio. Very simple and very wonderful. I had the moscardini on polenta which was a thinner sauce than other versions I have had, but spicier. The white polenta was soft, the sauce nicely spicy and the octopus properly tender and just a little gamy tasting. My pasta was a gnochetti in a walnut, cream and gorgonzola sauce. It had something in it, maybe shredded sardines, I could not tell. Kay had to help me finish it as it was just too rich for me. Kay had a secondo of Involtini di Coda di Rospo e Gamberoni, monkfish tails and shrimp twisted together and grilled. It was served with a tian of grilled vegetables including treviso, mushrooms and peppers. I had tuna in a mantle of guanciale with herbs. Bear with me as it was a complicated presentation. There were two slabs of tuna, each about 1-1/2 inch by of an inch and about 6 inches long. They were put together so you had a 1-1/2 square "log" of tuna with a line of herbs down the middle. Then this little bundle was wrapped with slices of guanciale. The whole was then pan fried to crisp up the guanciale leaving the tuna mostly raw. It was sliced into about 8 slices and put on top of a bed of fried rice and drizzled with reduced balsamico. The latter two garnishes were gilding the lily, but the dish was sublime. The caffe was super and the whole meal was only 98. Given the wine was so much better than at Antiche Carampane, the food so much more inventive and flavorful and the bill about 30% lower, we felt this was a bargain indeed! Slow Food strikes again! Possibly the best part of the meal was that it was 3 blocks from home!
Kay had a cernia with carcioffi. The cernia was served at room temperature, shredded into large bits and mixed with artichoke. I had shredded bronzino with orange, very similar to the dish Kay had at Bentigodi. But the star dish was endiva con pancetta. These were fat and plump wedges of Belgian endive wrapped in this slices of pancetta and grilled. As the fat melted, it basted the endive to a lovely richness without being over the top. There was a splash of nice balsamico to combat the richness. But the star of the meal was the dessert. We had seen other table order it and we were intrigued. It was a ricotta sprinkled with amaretti, figs and honey. The ricotta was creamy and firm and rich. The toppings just served to highlight the simplicity of the cheese. It was truly stunning and probably the best dessert of the trip. Our dining companions included a beautiful very young couple we named Romeo and Juliet who were having a romantic lunch, along with their well mannered dog who stayed under the table quietly. Our waitress was wrapped in a southeastern Asian cloth for a skirt with her midriff bare and was pierced in several spots (at least those were the ones we could see!) including her chin. There is a table that looks out over the canal which we would love to sit at some time. We will definitely be back again!
** Bentigodi, Osteria di Andrea
The dining rooms are stark white with stark modern art on the walls. Some of the art is food oriented and some fairly abstract. Each table has an industrial hanging lamp shining brightly over it. This is a place where the food is the star. I had an antipasto misto to start: earthy and pungent octopus in an anchovy and caper sauce with celery, latte di Sieppi (soft white stuff from inside the head of the Sieppi- I think its a case of do you really want to know? In any case its quite tasty if odd in texture- soft and a little like egg white) and scampi with zucchini. Everything is fresh and loaded with flavor. Kay helps happily with all but the Latte which she does try but is not a fan of. For our pastas, I have homemade Bigoi al Salsa. The salsa is the sauce from sarde al saor: fried onions that have come from a huge bowl of fried sardines. You get the sarde flavor on the pasta. Kay had penne with eggplant and smoked ricotta salata. The eggplant was soft and well cooked, exuding a little of the olive oil it was fried in. The smoked cheese is wonderful and there are capers also flavoring the eggplant. Both pastas are quite rich and very flavorful. We are glad of the bracing character of the wine which cleanses the palate. For Secondi, Kay has ventresca, belly tuna, steamed with saor. It is really wonderful, the tuna in big flaky pieces, rich and oily. The saor is again fried onions with maybe a touch of vinegar to balance. They are flavored with whole cardamom pods which makes for an interesting note of flavor. My secondo was a steamed bronzino with orange, the fish shredded and served on a bed of arugula with fennel seeds. Except for the fennel seeds being tough (toasting them would have made them crunchy instead) the dish was very subtle and well thought out. The orange was, of course given the season, blood orange cut into little bits skin and all. This food was very different and good. Lunch was about 73 with the wine accounting for 22.
Our antipasti was a misto della casa. It consisted of 4 items: schie on white polenta was good- schie are little brown shrimp from the lagoon, very tasty and a little crunchy. Next up was a monk fish cheek in a slightly spicy tomato sauce also an a puddle of white polenta. The cheeks are a little gamey with a plump and slightly rubbery texture, but rubbery in the sense of a scallop or lobster and not in the sense of an old tire. Tender plump small shrimp were mixed with Treviso (a variety of radicchio) in a lovely olio coating. Lastly we had a blob of bacala alla mantecato, a paste of salt cod beaten with olive oil and a bit of lemon juice to a mayonnaise like consistency. All were quite nice. For a pasta we ordered nero di sieppi. This was two plates of homemade pasta in the black inky sauce from cuttlefish. There was a bit of cuttlefish cut up in the tangle of noodles. It is amazing how this dish is so briny and earthy and rich all at once. We used a bit of bread to get up every last drop of the sauce. Our secondo was triglie sauteed with agrumi. Triglie are little plump red mullet, maybe 6 inch long fillets, sauteed and sauce with a lemon and orange reduction with sections of fruit and a scattering of shredded zest. Desserts were a sgropino for Kay and gelato with frutti del bosco for me. The Sgropino was tart, rich and creamy. Kay described it as the best milkshake around.
*Ca Doro alla Vedova
***Bar La Marca
We stopped again at La Marca a few days later for Illy caffe and a bit of breakfast. Kay had a quiche of leeks and anchovies. It was actually more like a strudel, with a dough wrapped around a filling reheated in the microwave. It looked better than it tasted. I had a panini al coppa which was as always great.
***Cantina Do Mori
The food is spread out all over. There is a glass fronted case filled with francoboli ("postage stamps"), which are square. crustless sandwiches with assorted fillings like picanti (chopped hot pepper relish), tonno, speck, prosciutto cotto and crudo, and gorgonzola in various combinations. They will pack these to go which makes for a great picnic. There are usually two cases filled with assorted cooked foods. I love the meatballs, frittata, roasted vegetables, canocchie, and the musetto e fasioli (musetto is a sausage made of the pigs snout and fasioli is the local spelling of bean). The musetto is also available on a roll with strong mustard. They also have an assortment of wonderful salami and prosciutti. We have particularly enjoyed various baked vegetables like tomatoes, zucchini and onions, olive Ascolani, bacala alle erbe and porcini crostini.
One interesting thing to note is how the local business folk (especially the fish mongers from the nearby Pescheria Rialto) dont pay for their food. It is just noted down on a little pad to be settled up later with some bartered goods. I have been there in the afternoon seeing a fish monger hand over a bag of fresh fish and then one of the barkeeps tearing up a sheet of paper where the mongers debt had been noted.
The only time we did not have a great meal there was during the beginning of Carnevale. We entered the dark wood bar and had our third meal of the day so far: a platter of cicchetti to accompany our Amarone. The food was good but not as good as we remembered it from earlier trips. We were a little sad that it had gone downhill. We were to find out later, well after Carnivale had finished, that the food had been a little off only because of the hordes of Carnevale folk filling the place. In fact, while we were there, two tour groups came thru the place, not to stop, eat and drink, but just to take photos! Also entering were a couple of Germans in full costume. The were in matching bustieres, garters and hose. One was a big burley mustachioed 63" 280# guy and the other his good looking girlfriend. They had on fish nets and their faces were expertly painted. She had a lot of guts going out with him! He had better legs and bigger boobs! Our Saturday morning during Carnevale had been a little disappointing so we hadnt been back for the rest of the week. But finally we were hungry, the Anchovy closed and Do Mori open. Boy were we glad we went back. We ate a couple of meatballs and a panino al musetto (sausage made with piggy parts best left undeclared). Everything was a good as we remembered! We drank a wonderfully grapey Refosco, a Tocai Specgogna and a couple of martini glasses of fragolino. Still the champ!
***Aciugheta (The Anchovy)
*** Vitus Venezia
*** Al Prosecco
Kay had a cappuccino and I started with a San Michele Eppian Pinot Bianco. Next up came a couple of wines from Treviso, a traminer and a cabernet franc. Both were aromatic on the nose and full of character. Last was a pinto nero from San Michele Eppian. We enjoyed really well made pannini from exceptional ingredients. Kay had one called Osso with coppa and I had one with a spicy and sharp sopressata. We then had Davide make up a cheese plate with two pecorini and a blue with fig jam. The cheeses were wonderful and full of character, not factory made at all. It was as we were paying that we discovered that this was recommended by Paola. We tried to tell Davide the story in Italian. At first he did not understand but when I mentioned Marco did restoration all became instantly clear. It really made for a nice connection. We chatted for a bit. I am always amazed how, once one idea is exchanged the conversation starts to flow even though, between us, we still had the same rough common language skills as when we could not communicate. In all it was a lovely stop and we bought a bottle of Gewurztraminer from Cantina Terlan to take with us.
** Al Volto was an old fashioned bar with lots of wood and a couple of gruff old guys behind the bar. Because of its location it was a tourist filled place, but still not touristy. We had a couple of glasses of wine. Kay had a nice Valpolicella from Masi and I had a San Magdalener. This was the second Santa Magdalener which is a lightweight red, almost equally rose and red wine. It was quite nice. We nibbled on spleen in vinegar, mortadella and a toothpick full of olive Ascolane. The food was rough and ready and very good. The wine nice and the atmosphere perfect. We could have stayed a lot longer but we had fish waiting at home
**Bar Pasticceria Ballarin
*Paradiso Perduto (* for food, *** for the scene)
* Alla Patatine
Slow Travel Italy - Restaurants - Wine Notes: Dean's Wine Notes
© Dean Gold, 2004
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