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Shannon's Venice Restaurant List
Shannon Essa (Shannon) and Ruth L. Edenbaum
Venetians, in many ways, eat like most Italians do, but they have some customs, drinks and dishes that are totally their own. Here is how to make the most of a trip to Venice, eating and drinking-wise.
Prima colazione (breakfast) in most of Italy is a quick espresso or cappuccino taken with a croissant or pastry, consumed standing up at a bar. Order a caffe latte if you want coffee mixed with steamed milk; requesting a latte in Italy will get you a glass of steamed milk. Hot tea, hot chocolate and sometimes fruit juices are also available.
Croissants con marmellata contain apricot jam; con crema means they have a custard filling. An assortment of other rolls or pastries are usually available too. Standing up at the bar is always the least expensive way to have breakfast. Extra charges, often double or more, are usually added if you sit at a table and/or are served by a waiter at the bar.
One of the best things about eating in Venice is Cichetti (pronounced chee-KEHT-tee). These bites of food, ranging from a simple chunk of salami to fried rice balls stuffed with seafood, are served up in osterie and bars. Cichetti are popular both at lunch and before dinner. To eat Cichetti, walk into a place full of people standing and eating; point at the items you want, order a glass of wine, and when you are done, pay and go to the next stop. Read more about cichetti.
One of the most popular lunch items are tramezzini, triangle-shaped sandwiches with all kinds of fillings, such as prosciutto, tuna, or shrimp. Panini are rolls stuffed with variations of meats, cheese and vegetables. These are often piled on trays in the window or at the counter. Pizza and calzone are also popular choices for lunch. Some bars offer a small spread of Cichetti, pizza, pasta, and salads. If you want a hot meal for lunch, go to a trattoria or ristorante and sit down at a table.
The Cocktail Hour
In the early evening in Venice, you will see the locals drinking a pinkish-red beverage - these are Spritz. Spritz are made with white wine, a splash of soda, and a shot of either Campari which is quite bitter or Aperol, which is slightly sweeter. A Venetian institution, you should try one at least once. Wine and beer are also consumed during the cocktail hour, along with lots of Cichetti.
Pizza is very popular and there are quite a few great pizzerias in Venice. Seafood and risotto are specialties of the Veneto and are on almost every restaurant menu. After dinner you might enjoy a sgroppino, a delicious after-dinner drink made from vodka, Prosecco, and lemon sorbet, or you can stop for a gelato on the way home.
Here are some items you can expect to see on a typical Venetian menu:
Prosciutto e melone (ham and melon) is a safe and familiar appetizer, and it is as readily available in Venice as it is all over Italy. Among the most popular appetizers are granseola (spider crab), sarde in saor (fresh sardines in a sweet and sour marinade), molecche (soft crabs), bacala manteca (salted cod whipped with garlic flavored oil and parsley until it is light and creamy), schie (tiny brown shrimp), carpaccio of meat or fish, or an assortment of smoked fish or meats. If you are eating at an osteria that serves Cichetti, you can ask for a mixed plate of vegetable or seafood Cichetti to start your meal.
Primo Piatto (first course)
Primi piatti include soups, pastas and risottos. Pasta e fagioli, one of the true Venetian dishes, is a thick and hearty soup combining beans and pasta in a broth, which can be fish or meat based. It will turn up on almost every menu from the humblest trattoria to the more elegant ristorante, and it will never be exactly the same.
Just about every menu will also offer a thick and hearty vegetable soup, especially in winter. Risotto is an elegant and traditional primo. Risi e Bisi - rice and peas cooked in a mixture somewhere between a soup and a risotto is another Venetian classic. Bigoli in salsa - a thick whole-wheat pasta in a sauce of onions and anchovies is a very traditional dish as is spaghetti con seppie in nero - spaghetti made black with cuttlefish ink. Almost any pasta con frutta del mare (with mixed seafood) will be outstanding in Venice. Diners who don't eat fish can usually find a Bolognese sauce or a simple sugo di pomidoro (tomato sauce) to sauce their pasta.
Secondo Piatto (second course)
Since Venice is an island city, seafood is prevalent. While a bollito misto in Milan or Bologna will mean a plate of assorted boiled meats, in Venice it is an assortment of steamed or boiled fish and shellfish. Even better than bollito misto is fritto misto - all sorts of sea creatures and vegetables batter-dipped and fried and piled to an alarming height on your plate.
If you are not up for a stack of sea critters, try a grilled fish. Orata (gilthead) is a popular small Adriatic fish. An orata is often served whole on your plate for you to bone yourself. Branzino and rombo will be presented to you whole and then whisked back to the kitchen or a side table where your waiter will bone it for you. A mixed seafood grill will include several of the above, a piece of sole or salmon and some scampi charred from the grill and bursting with smoky goodness.
One of the most famous non-fish dishes is Fegato alla Veneziana - liver and onions over a bed of polenta. You might find roast chicken or grilled meats on menus as well.
Contorni (side dishes)
These are what you can expect to find in the rest of Italy. Salads, potatoes, sauteed vegetables. The Veneto is especially known for it's artichokes, radicchio, and asparagus and these are all good sides to order when in season.
A lovely dessert to try in Venice is a plate of local cookies with a glass of Vin Santo (dessert wine.) Tiramisu is popular as well. Many restaurants purchase desserts from a factory, and if this is the case (you will know by the color menu or in-view freezer) stop for gelato after. You could also try a sgroppino - the wonderful Venetian blended concoction of Prosecco, lemon sorbet, and vodka.
This is a short list of some of my favorite restaurants in Venice. For the complete list, see, Chow Venice: Savoring the Food and Wine of La Serenissima, by Ruth Edenbaum, Shannon Essa, Wine Appreciation Guild, July 2003
Trattoria Antiche Carampane
Antica Trattoria Poste Vecie
Slow Travel Italy - Travel Notes - Venice Cicheti: A Different Type of Meal - Cichetti in Venice, Shannon Essa
.Slow Travel Italy - Travel Notes - Venice Sestieri: Venice Sestieri - the neighborhoods and where to stay, Shannon Essa
Slow Travel Italy - Restaurants: Using restaurants in Italy
Slow Travel Italy - Caffes: Caffes and gelateria in Italy
Slow Travel Italy - Language Lessons: Language lessons for ordering in caffes and restaurants
Slow Travel Italy - Restaurant Reviews: Restaurant reviews for Italy, from Slow Travelers
© Shannon Essa and Ruth L. Edenbaum, 2004
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