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Report 1936: Our Month in Italy - Spring 2011
By Boleskine from NJ, Spring 2011
Page 20 of 30: Domenica 15 Maggio 2011 - Una Fregatura at an Old Favorite
The Bells of San Toma
We awaken to our first rainy day in Venice. At 9:00 I don't even bother getting up. We went to bed late, and Ciak's doesn't open until 10:00 anyway so I just curl up under the blanket for the first time in several days. When I went to sleep our room was 77.5 degrees, a bit warm for sleeping, at least for me, and now it is 68 - lovely and cool - too bad it comes with rain.
Everyone else seems to share my sleeping in sentiments so it is after 10:30 when we slosh down to Ciak's. They have only one kiefer left which Martin and I share along with a croissant filled with marmalata. I have a second espresso; Brian has a second caffe Americano; Sarah indulges in a croissant too. Brian just has his coffee.
I buy some postcards from the kiosk in Campo San Toma. They are not very exciting, but if I am ever going to write postcards, this is the day to do it. I manage five before losing interest in the project, but at least I have some in the house now, and I should be able to produce one or two a day. I used to send an incredible number of postcards, but now the physical act of writing as opposed to hitting a key board or key pad seems like too much work.
Sarah and Brian watch a tennis match and then disappear into their room to read or maybe go back to sleep. The vaporettos continue to plough back and forth along the canal, and some water taxis cruise by, but all the passengers are inside so there are no interesting or funny sights to entertain us. It is a pretty quiet day. I always feel sorry for people, who come here on tours and get only one day in Venice when they have this sort of gray, damp chilly weather and often rainy weather.
I am hoping it won't actually be raining when we go to dinner at Taverna La Fenice; it is one of the longer walks to a restaurant from either the Giglio or San Marco vaporetto stops, and many calles are narrow making passing with open umbrellas an intricate dance, which can be entertaining though challenging. You must find the right rhythm of raising and lowering your umbrella as you pass others. Some calles are too narrow for a large umbrella to be opened at all. Other calles and campos are low and flood easily and quickly requiring a rapid revision of direction.
Around 3:00 I cook some pasta and make a small salad, but only Martin and I eat. Later Sarah and Brian go out for pizza. They are out and back in minutes. Brian says it is still awful out - very wet and damp and raw. We can't complain. We've been here 18 days, and this is our first really rainy day. Sarah and Brian only been here four and are just barely on Venetian time.
At 6:00 it looks like late evening, but all day long it has looked and felt like late afternoon in December or January not like May at all. It is such a dreary day that even I took a short nap.
It is raining when we leave, so we slosh our way down to the vaporetto stop. We can take a #1 to Giglio or a #2 to San Marco. A two arrives first so we take that. I meet a friendly Indian woman from Philadelphia, who wants to know if she and her family can take the same #2 back to Rialto without having to get off. She is traveling with her mother who apparently is elderly and not terribly mobile. I talk to the conductor for her. He speaks such excellent English I am really not needed, but she seems very appreciative of my help.
It is a quick trip since not many people are getting on or off, but we had not realized they had built a huge new platform for the linea due. It no longer stops at Valleresso. We have the advantage of a covered walkway to the exit, but then we have an extra bridge to walk to and over. In the end, despite the fun of passing all the designer stores, which we could not really appreciate tonight because of the heavy rain, I think Giglio is significantly closer to the Taverna. If it were a pretty evening, the new stop would give me some great photo ops and would be worth the extra steps, but we will definitely go home via Giglio.
We pass the Bauer Hotel, and the huge white church of San Moise with its fabulous carved and decorated facade. We cross the bridge over the Rio San Moise; it is wet and slippery, but fortunately there is a good strong hand railing.
After the bridge we are on the Calle Larga XXII Maggio another of the designer shopping streets, but in the rain, we keep moving sneaking glances at the windows are we slosh by. Just before the Ristorante Caravella, we hang a right, and cross another small bridge that does not provide good hand rails so Martin offers me his hand. We keep going past Vino Vino and Antico Martini, and barely take time to admire Il Teatro La Fenice before skirting it and entering the campo that houses La Taverna La Fenice, a restaurant that been around for about 70 years and somehow weathered the dreadful fire of 29 January 1996 that virtually destroyed the opera house.
It is a miracle that the opera house was finally rebuilt and restored to its pristine jewel box state, and that we have attended performances in it. We have also taken the guided tour but nothing tops sitting in that glorious small theater with absolutely perfect acoustics for an opera or concert.
We are seated against the windows of the Taverna where Martin and I have a Felliniesque view through the mist and fog of endlessly bobbing umbrellas. We are brought a Pinziomancio - an arrangement of raw vegetables in an ice filled vase. The selection includes asparagus, fennel, peppers, radicchio, and celery. We also get a very nice selection of bread and rolls and small pots of oil and balsamico in which to dip the raw veggies.
Martin begins with pasta e fagiole, a favorite of his although he finds their version a bit too refined. He says it tastes good, but he does not approve of the long thin noodles used as the pasta; he prefers short pasta in his soup. It is also rather outrageously priced at €19, which makes it nearly $30.00, a stiff tariff for peasant food.
Sarah starts with ravioli filled with branzino and garnished with the tiny baby artichokes, castraure, only available in spring. They are the artichokes picked to thin out the crop so the remaining ones can get more nourishment and grown big and fat. Brian has a sort of parfait - mushrooms topped with whipped potatoes. I have filetti di triglie- red mullet, which is served croccante; in this case that means it has been lightly breaded almost tempura style; it is served with a lovely assortment of vegetables.
The white wine we finally receive after multiple tries is a Roncalto Collio 2010 Ribolla Giallo. It is good enough that Sarah photographs the front and back labels.
Brian and Sarah both have the confit of duck; the English menu says it is a breast, but the Italian menu says it is a leg and thigh, which is normal for a confit and that's what they are served. They are both very happy with it; however, it is a little startling to find such a translating mistake on the menu of such an established and upscale place.
Martin has Pesce San Pietro also with the seasonal treat: baby artichokes. He finds the fish to be excellent - top quality but that is to be expected here. I have a favorite of mine that I rarely see on menus: guanciale di manzo - beef cheeks. The menus says it comes with potato salad, but what I receive seems more like mashed potatoes. I swap some of my potatoes, which I don't love, (in general I am not a mashed potato fan.) for some of Martin's artichokes which I really like a lot. The beef cheeks are succulent and tender and go magnificently with the wine we eventually get. For once I am thankful for the cool rainy weather because it would be too hearty an entree for a hot night.
The wine is a different issue. Brian orders three different bottles of red, all of which are on the wine list but not in stock. By the time we find a wine they actually have our food has arrived; by the time it is served, we are almost completely done with our dinner. Smartly - and generously - they knock several euro off the cost of the wine which is a 2004 Brunello Montalcino from Capanna, but it is still inexcusable to bring our food and then not bring the wine quickly enough to drink it with our meal. We are surprised they are out of so many listed reds, but the waiter explains it is a Sunday night, and new wines will come in tomorrow. Taverna La Fenice is an old and established and it is by no means a small place. I find it hard to believe that they are out of so many wines and that they will all be on hand tomorrow - when they are closed. Maybe they will restock, and maybe someone will buy that bridge in Brooklyn I keep trying to sell.
Martin passes on dessert. Brian has tiramisu and a glass of lovely dessert wine. Sarah and I share the cheese platter. It barely qualifies as nice, especially after the absolutely spectacular cheese platter I remember from about five years ago. That one offered an assortment of sheep and goat cheeses, dried fruits, jams, marmalades and all sorts of other goodies. It was magnificent, and thus it is a bit of a letdown.
Our Veronese dessert wine is lovely, but there are only three cheeses on the cheese platter: a smoked Gouda, a Parmigiano and an aged Pecorino - the only one I can eat. I had explained I could only eat cheese from a goat or sheep, and I had been led to expect I'd be offered more than just one cheese. Sarah says the smoked Gouda is good but not great, and the Parmigiano while exceptional is not one she would consider a "dessert" cheese. There are one or two tiny dishes of condiments and some small toasts.
We pay what is by far the heftiest tab of the trip; it is nearly €200 over any other meal and it was far from perfect. We head for the vaporetto stop at Giglio. We want to make sure to catch a vaporetto while they are stilling running every twenty minutes and not every forty. The walk is much shorter although there is one really steep bridge, and one long dank damp calle. At least it is no longer raining.
The ramp to the pontile is at an incredibly steep angle; it is almost funny to try to climb it, but when the vaporetto pulls in, it is level with the platform. The ride back to San Toma is pleasant. The rain has left the air fresh and cool, and the traces of mist hovering over the surface of the canal give a lovely mysterious aura to familiar sights. On the walk home, we send two lost Italians on the right path to the ferrovia.
Back in our apartment, Martin studies the bill more carefully and finds we were charged for an extra bottle of wine. There is also a 10% service charge - not mentioned on the menu - in addition to the €5 per person coperto all of which have really pumped up the bill.
Brian offers to go back and talk to them about the extra bottle of wine; Martin tells him not to bother since the restaurant is surely closed now and will be closed tomorrow, but I think if Brian is willing to go Tuesday he should. That is either an extremely careless mistake or downright dishonest. Of course we should have checked more closely ourselves, but we were rushing to make a vaporetto, and had never encountered a problem of this sort in any of the many meals we had had at Taverna La Fenice.
In Martin's mind it moves Taverna La Fenice from a classic restaurant of old Venice into the tourist trap category, but I am slightly more forgiving since we neither checked the bill while we were there nor returned to challenge it. Still the many slip ups and the extraordinary high tab make me hesitant to recommend it any more.
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