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Dean's Venice Restaurant List

Dean Gold (Dean)

Star Ratings

* means that if you are there, it is a place to go
** means that if you are nearby, go out of your way to try it
*** means plan your day or your trip so you can go there

Why are there no zero * places? Because life it too short to drink mediocre wine and to eat at mediocre places.

Venice Restaurants

***Alla Frasca
Corte della Carrita, Cannareggio 5176, tel:041 5285433
We have dines here twice and it has undergone quite a change in that interval. On a previous trip, we had walked into Alla Frasca at lunch ignoring a sign only in Italian stating no service at the bar "allora di pasta". We managed to talk our way into being served "al banco" instead of sitting as the owner wanted, and we had had a spritz and some cicchetti. But clearly we had rubbed the owner the wrong way. As we were enjoying our snack that we saw plate after plate of wonderful looking pasta going out (Only one type of pasta and one type of Risotto). By the time we realized we had made a mistake not sitting, we were feeling too uncomfortable to ask for a seat and we moved on. It was only on exiting and seeing the sigh, and figuring out what it meant that we realized we had been inadvertent Ugly Americans. So this time, we had vowed to go back and enjoy lora di pasta. Unfortunately, I did not bring the address, but Campiello Madonna came to mind and I found that on our map. So off we went.

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
tel:041 5285140
We dined here twice this trip. It had been recommended to us by Andrei Codrescu of NPR fame. Its his favorite restaurant in Italy. As befits a place with Vini in its name, Vini Da Gigio has a wonderful wine list. The red list is amazingly brad and interesting and the array of whites is more than enough to chose from. It is well priced with a nice selection of harder to find wines mixed in with an outstanding choice at more reasonable prices. While not quite as comprehensive as that of Fiaschetteria Toscana, it is nonetheless a playground for wine lovers. It is also significantly cheaper than FTs. The first night, We chose "Above the Clouds" from Elena Walch, my favorite producer in the Alto Adige. This is a blend of grapes with a bit of riesling in it, quite aromatic on the nose yet round and full like chardonnay. There is chardonnay and sauvignon in the blend undoubtedly, but as our waiter (who I suspect was either Gigio or the guy who makes the wine list) said, "Elena is not talking!" He was duly impressed with our selection. It was 50. In the states it would run you the best part of $100.

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.

***Fiaschetteria Toscana
It used to be our favorite restaurant in all of Italy. It has since been pushed down the list by Vini di gigio, Conte Matto and Bosco della Spina, the latter two in Toscana. While we missed it out last trip, we will be back, just not as often. Certainly the one we have eaten at the most. Its expensive (from $200 to $300 a couple) but well worth it. One of the best wine lists I have ever seen is put together by Somelier/Waiter/Cheeesemonger and general character Roberto. Eating his cheese course is an education second only to spending time at Volpetti. I have been in the cheese, wine and food business over 25 years and Roberto always amazes me with his suggestions. My recommendation is to let the staff guide you: you will be richly rewarded. They are very particular about how their food is eaten, but with good reason. They are on a mission to educate their customers about the best way to eat their food. So if they tell you not to use lemon on the crab, just do it their way.

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)
Campiello della Beccarie
Going back to Da Pinto was high on our list of priorities. It is a favorite on previous visits and a great bargain. We got to Da Pinto and went inside. We entered to a waiter on his hands and knees laughing his head off having dropped a glass and hurt his knee trying to retrieve it. Da Pinto was a tiny place and it looked full as we entered. But the waiter, after he regained some of his composure, led us into another room. The place had more than doubled in size. It is nice to see hard working nice folk make good. The new space had fairly dramatic lighting and a wonderful brick niche filled with bottles of wine. Pinto was just strapping on his apron over his very wrinkled and non tucked in shirt. It could have been the same shirt as last time we saw him. He took one look at us and practically ran over with a wine list and menus. Restaurant owners and art gallery owners just seem to have a special form of radar when Kay and I enter. "Ahhhh, now we can pay for our vacation this year: Kay and Dean are here!"

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

***Da Rioba
Fondamenta della Miseriacordia, tel:041 5244379
Da Rioba is a sparse, plain small restaurant two blocks from our apartment in Canareggio. It was a Slow Food Osteria dItalia 2004. We walked in and were immediately told "Completo" but I told them we had reservations. "Ahh! Signor Gold" and we were seated. Small place with an interesting menu and about 40 seats. Each section of the menu had only about 5 choices. We ordered a bottle of Specogna 2001 Tocai Friulano. This was a perfumed, aromatic wine with an almost muscat or litchi like aroma. It was huge with a rich mouth feel. This is one of the greatest Tocai I have ever tasted! What a bottle! And only 20.

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!

Campo San Giacometto, S. Polo 122, tel:041 5232061
We had tried to go several times during Carnevale either to find it closed or so jam packed with people we could not get within five feet of the door. Unlike our encounter with Paradiso Perduto, another spot too crowded on several occasions that we were finally able to enter, we had a lovely meal at Bancogiro. We were seated upstairs in a barrel vaulted room that was bathed in light from windows overlooking the Canale Grande. The tables were large and not too crowded, the brick work reflecting a wonderfully warm orange red brown glow throughout. We just wanted to stay put and enjoy ourselves, and we did. The wine list was superb until we were repeatedly disappointed in trying to order some of the more interesting wines. There was no Dal Forno Romano Valpolicella, none of the first three Friuli and Slovenian whites I ordered. We wound up with a Subida di Monte Tocai, but it was not all that great. Subida has never been a favorite winery so it would up to be a disappointment. But the food was superb! I wonder if the situation would be better not in the deep of winter.

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
It is on a side street just outside the Ghetto. We entered to a fairly empty spot, there was a single table of two eating. The whole restaurant consists of three rooms, the first with a bar and a small display case of cicchetti and two rooms for seating. Behind the bar is another room with the kitchen. There is a woman there who seems to be doing everything herself. We sit and read the handwritten menu. It changes daily to reflect what is fresh. There are about 5 choices in each category if that. Everything sounds wonderful. The wine list is small and filled with good if not very well known stuff. We settle on a bottle of Malavasia Caccese 2002 from Friuli. Malavasia to most implies a sweet wine. But in Friuli, there is a tradition of dry table wines from this grape. It has the aromatic perfume somewhere between Tocai Friulano and Gewurztraminer yet the palate is dry and crisp, with an oily and spicy mix that makes them very attractive with fish and olive oil. We always make sure we drink Malavasia when we are in Venezia, it just seems right.

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.

**Antiche Carampane
San Polo 1911, tel:041-5240165
We arrived at Antiche Carampane after 11pm after a long, ordeal-filled 24 hours of travel. The restaurant is small, consisting of 2 rooms. From the outside it has a warm and friendly glow which follows thru inside. One of the owners came over and we ordered fairly quickly. I think it was the first time Kay and I have ever ordered the same meal in a restaurant! We started out with the Venica and Venica Ronco del Cima 2002 Tocai Friulano, which had been recommended by Craig Camp. It was good but a little on the bitter side, very typical of the 2002 vintage.

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.

**Alle Testiere
Its a tiny restaurant, so definitely reserve. It is run by a trio of partners. The menu is read to you, and changes according to what is fresh. The place has about 9 tables seating maybe a maximum of 30. It is a fairly modern interpretation of Venetian cooking with a strong emphasis on seafood. This is really good inventive food served by very passionate people. They also have a great wine list. We had a very nice lunch there. Baby octopus with old balsamico served with white polenta, spider crab salad with porcini, figs, herbs, rucola and walnuts, tagliatelle with canoccie and tomato sauce, baby monkfish in an artichoke sauce. All of the sauces were full flavored and did not overpower the food. We will be back! We ate there in 1999 and have not been back since but still hear great things about it.

*Ca Doro alla Vedova
We stopped in for a quick light lunch. We had horrible Tocai on tap (at least it supposedly was Tocai. It could have been nail polish remover. We tried some sottolio- grilled and marinated vegetables- artichokes and eggplant. Next was yummy grilled sieppi (cuttlefish) and alici. Alici are white anchovies but they are not salty at all. They are marinated in vinegar to "cook" them and then in some olive oil. These were great! Last was a plate of fried fish that was heavenly. Crisp and not greasy at all, it consisted of shrimp of various sized from small to smaller to krill, calamaretti and calamarone, and tiny fish you ate whole from head to tail. Cheap for Venezia and good.

*Vecchie Poste
An old restaurant near the Pescheria Rialto. We had a meal there that in my mind seems not to be a favorite but when I looked back at our notes, we enjoyed. This was our first meal in Venezia. We started with Sarde al Saor, sardines fried with onions, raisins and spices. Our primi was a risotto di pesce with fish, mantis prawns, veraci clams and mussels. The rice was pretty crunchy but the fish was superb. Our entrees were Coda di Rospo alla griglia - grilled monkfish, nicely charred if a little rubbery and served with white polenta and carpaccio di pesce, which was probably dogfish, nicely pink but a touch too cold for full flavor. We enjoyed a Tocai from Le Vigne de Zamo.

***Bar La Marca
Bar La Marca is in the fruit and vegetable market in the Rialto. This was our favorite bar from our second trip to Venezia when it was a tiny place with an even tinier bar the ran from front to back, and a rather disreputable look. They have remodeled. Now the marble bar runs across the opening the full width of the place. There was a nice awning you could stand under and a sense of style had been added. The place was filled with bottles of good wine, especially Jermann. But what was best was they their case was filled with really great panini, and they served up Illy caffe. I must take a side step here to explain Illy caffe. There are other very fine caffe brands in Italy. In fact, we wound up liking a local brand very much indeed. But Illy caffe is something unto itself. It is not so much a brand as a religion of espresso. You dont just walk in and order a caffe at an Illy bar, you partake of the espresso ritual. The food at an Illy bar is always a cut above and the wine and spirits are too. We had three small panini, bresaola and zucchini; prosciutto and Treviso; and bacala, plus 4 cappuccini for 11. A filling repast and excellent caffe.

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
Perhaps my favorite bacaro in all of Venezia (or certainly tied with the Anchovy). Dark, crowded, very traditional looking and frequented by many a fish seller from the nearby market. There are several large galvanized steel tubs on the counter filled with assorted bottles of local wines. There is a super selection, even at the low end of the price spectrum. The reds offer a huge array of unusual varietals and producers. There are lots of wines listed on the chalk boards and some just open on the counter and not listed. There is usually a selection of 5 very high end wines like Gaja Barbaresco, Antinori Tignanello, Allegrini Amarone etc. I will try these out of curiositys sake, but usually stick to the cheaper local stuff. To end our stays, we always have a little fragolino bianco from unlabeled bottles. This is a sweet fruity wine said to have the flavor of strawberry. Its low in alcohol and always get you moving after the heavy food and the other wines.

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)
One of our favorite wine bars. Given its name, its no surprise that the walls are covered with art dedicated to the eponymous fish- the anchovy. They have a restaurant but we have never sat down for a meal. Go to the tiny bar and chose from the myriad platters of seafood such as alici, grilled sardines and anchovies, grilled sieppi and calamari, scallops, sieppi and calamari eggs (wonderful, thick rich flavored treats that look like scallops) and sarde in saor (sardines in a rich topping of onions, raisins and spices). They have some strongly flavored treats like anchovy stuffed peppers or oil cured anchovies (that can be had stuffed in a roll) and pickled tongue. Over the course of the evening, platters of Pizzette will be put out- wait for the anchovy topped ones!. Grilled vegetables are available and superb cheeses are also offered. We had a wonderful blue cheese marinated in Chianti. The wines are very well chosen with an emphasis on wines not from the Veneto. They have many a wine from Toscana. There is also a panini and wine shop next door with an incredible selection. Kay swears by the caffe coretto grappa there: they steam the grappa before adding the caffe. It really is the best example of the drink we have had. Its a good thing we only had to walk back to our apartment: I am not sure a traghetto ride would be safe after one of those!

*** Vitus Venezia
Dosoduro 3961, tel:041 715004
Slick and modern yet homey. There was a nice spread of little open faced sandwiches on the blond wood and stainless bar. We stood at the bar and had a couple of Sicilian wines, both from Mandra Rossa. Kay loved the Nero dAvola and I loved the syrah. Both are big extracted wines with a lot of ripe and rich fruit. The Nero dAvola has a more funky earthy flavor while the Syrah was pretty tannic and feisty. Our first three sandwiches were a chunky tomato sauce with fresh mozzarella di bufala, mortadella with pickled zucchini and a slab of gorgonzola with anchovy. Gorgonzola and anchovy are favorites of mine, but I had never imagined them together. This combination was fabulous and brought out the fruit in the syrah! The bread was fabulous, crusty and crunchy on the outside with a chewy, sour crumb. Round two was a crostini with guanciale, another mortadella this time with pickled eggplant and another of the gorgonzola and anchovy extravaganzas. We drank a Vecchio Grione from San Ambrogio in the Valpolicella, by Vinacola Balan, 1999. This is a cabernet and merlot blend with a rich perfume, a cedar nose structured like Santa Cruz cabernet merlot. It spent 18 months in barrique before the varietals were blended. This is a rich and profound wine in a supple and elegant style. I wanted to buy a bottle not knowing if it would be 230 or way more. I was stunned when I found out it was 17! We also had a Priante di Puglia from a winery named Castel di Salve from Salice. It was a Sangiovese and Negra Amaro blend and quite yummy and big. It was superb with the gorgonzola anchovy bomb. Our wonderful wine seller is named Max and we found out that the bar had been open for about 18 months. His love of wine was infectious. When I started to buy some wine, he tried to get me to buy his favorite from Castel di Salve, Volo dAllesandro which is 100% Sangiovese. I loved the Priante so much I just took both. Then we started talking about wines like this, good wines at good prices versus the more famous and expensive wines out there. He pointed to a bottle of Banfi Brunello that he was selling for 70 and then picked up a bottle of Prunaio 99 for 38. When I heard the price, I just had to have the Prunaio, one of my favorite super Tuscans. This is the best spot for wine drinking in Venezia but the food is not as wide ranging as at Do Mori, Aciugette or Al Prosecco.

*** Al Prosecco
Campo San Giacomo de lOrio, S Croce 1503, tel:041 524 0222
Paola and Marco, our three time landlords in Venezia, recommended it to us but we did not realize we had even found it! They also have some food but we just stood at the bar in front. We will be back!

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
Cannareggio 5749, tel:041 528 5273
A superb place ofor a spritz late in the afternoon. If you are coming over the Rialto Bridge towards San Marco, take the first left main street and its on the right. Not far from Bacaro Jazz. Well dressed Venetians having very good drinks. Great looking pastries but we have never had anything but spritz and potato chips.

*Paradiso Perduto (* for food, *** for the scene)
Fondamenta Miseriacordia
We got the last 2 seats at a long communal table near the door. It was a great spot as we could keep our eye on the crowd as it entered and exited and we were close enough to the stage to hear the band. And what a band it was. There were 5 players, who we never in fact got a glimpse of except for the back of their heads. The tenor sax player was superb, the clarinet and piano player were good. The bass and piano player were really great accompanists but their solos were a little weak. The quintet played wonderful standards: East of the Sun and West of the Moon, A Night in Tunisia, Caravan etc. The tenor player wove effortless, long sinuous lines in a lazy, loping style with a few speedy riffs thrown in for good measure. The Clarinet player had a very sweet and clear tone and was dexterous, but his playing was more like accompaniment than solo. The crowd was fun, a lot of guys in drag, costumed ladies, guys hitting on girls, girls hitting on girls, a cat standing guard at the door etc. We ordered a mixed antipasto which was loaded with food of good to questionable quality. It all looked good but it did not follow thru evenly with flavor or quality, but for a jazz club it was pretty darned good. The octopus and sieppi were actually quite good, grilled anchovies and fried sardines ok. Beans, scampi and bacala fell to not bad. After than we ordered two plates of pasta, either of which would be enough for 2. Kay had a lasagna with radicchio that was mostly balsemella and cheese. I dont think we even ate a quarter of the whole. I had bigoli pasta with nero di sieppi which was almost as rich as Kays cheese fest! We ate what we wanted and sent the rest back with the waitress who laughed and said that we really could have split a single pasta. To accompany this, we had ordered a mezzo of house white. Rough guide says that Paradiso Perduto has pretty good wine for a real cheap price. Our mezzo was probably 5 or 6, so the cheap part was right on. But I would have qualms with the pretty good part of the description. To call this the worst wine I have ever tasted just doesnt even begin to capture it. First off, it just did not look like wine. It was bright yellow, cloudy, foamy and fizzy. We saw our table mated with it but I figures it was something like a beer and lemonade when I saw it. Wine just shouldnt have a head!. We took 2 sips and decided that we would drink our water instead. We thought that if one poured it in the canal just outside the door, it would bring on an ecological disaster of biblical proportions. As a wine professional, I feel it my duty to try to describe it in wine terms. Here goes: it tasted as if someone had taken lemon kool aid and left it in the sun to ferment and, while waiting for the fermentation to complete, several dogs had come by and made their contributions to the brew. Only it tasted worse! We finished with bad caffe in plastic cups and very raw grappa. In all it was 61 which, considering the quality of the jazz and the amount of food was not bad. Next time I would order one portion of antipasto (or just get a little bit of grilled fish as all the fried stuff was heavy going) and one portion of pasta for 2 people. I would drink nothing but bottled beer or grappa and be quite happy for about 30 a couple. We walked the 2 blocks home in the rain.

* Alla Patatine
We stopped in for a bite. We had an ok olive Ascolani and a skewer of roasted or fried patatine, but the food was microwaved and tasted tired. Kay had a San Anselmi Malbek made in a delightful, slightly sweet style. I had Refosco which was rough and good. The place was filled with noisy and boisterous locals eating big plates of food from the microwave. At least it's cheap.

Dean Gold lives in Maryland, when he is not in Italy, and owns the Washington DC restaurant Dino, www.dino-dc.com. See Dean's Slow Travel Member page.

© Dean Gold, 2004

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