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Sunday, 01 January 2012

Where to Eat in Venice

            

The first time I went to Venice, I had on a backpack, paced its streets, and nearly slept on the steps of a small, isolated footbridge until a Canadian backpacker rescued me.  He brought me back to a hotel room where three other students were crashing, and we all spent the next four days getting lost.

There was no money then for eating in restaurants and no kitchen to cook in.  We made due with yogurt, rolls, and slices of pizza.  I remember aromas of baking bread trapped in narrow alleys.

I have had the good fortune to return to Venice more than two dozen times for long stays since that first visit.  No city fills me up quite as much.  Mainly it is the architecture, everywhere I look it is beautiful, and true, too, is the wonder of being in a place that has its own sense of time.  On the train or bus ride out, on the long isthmus, I feel as if I am returning to reality rather than simply ending a stay.  As Proust wrote: “I discovered in Venice that my dream had become… quite simply, my address.”

Nowadays, I go nearly each year to an apartment in Dorsoduro owned by good friends who live in Udine.  Harley, who grew up in the house, and Claudia, who is from Udine, exchanged their place in Venice with us years ago to come to Boston.  Subsequently, their daughters Camilla and then Susanna lived with us for summers, and soon we all grew closer.

Untitled 2What I love about the house in Dorsoduro is its simplicity, the old fashioned 1950’s feel to the interior, and the quiet canal it abuts.  On the top floor is a kitchen next to a tiled patio, and on warm nights it is lovely to drink wine and eat fresh fish or pasta overlooking the school and garden below.

This year, however, the kitchen was undergoing a renovation that would take up most of the time during our eight day stay in November.  We could eat in the house, but there was no stove.  The news scared me: Where could we eat in Venice?  Like most destinations where tourism accounts for the biggest share of revenue, the city, in my experience, has a host of crazy expensive, high-end joints where you drop big bucks and leave feeling poorly. 



Untitled 1Rather than frequent these unaffordable restaurants, I would go to Rialto market each morning.  Next to the Rialto bridge, the market, where deals were cut for trades and expeditions back when Venice was an empire, is now home to fruit and vegetable stands, cheese and meat shops, and fishmongers.  The products here are often superlative, and it is by far one of my favorite places in the world to buy food.

Still, without a stove, it was necessary to explore bars, cafes, and restaurants.  I would break my longstanding habit and return to another time in Venice when I had no stove, as a teenager; only this time I could afford more than a slice of pizza.

The best bakery I found in the city?  Colussi.   Each morning I bought freshly baked pretzels and whole grain breads.  And when the stove was available?  Potato gnocchi that, after I tossed them with butter and parmigiano, were ethereal.

Speaking of parmigiano, one of the world’s great cheese (and meat) shops is Casa del Parmigiano.   Located next to the bustle of the Rialto Market, this small family run outfit has stunning gorgonzola, pecorino, burrata, parmigiano, hams, and other cured meats.  And when the stove was available?  Small, exquisite raviolis stuffed with smoked mozzarella or porcini mushrooms.

It took courage, but we made it to a small collection of first-rate restaurants where locals dominated.  These were often hard to find, out of the way, and priced to satisfy fussy Venetians.  The three best pizzerias in the city are: Il Refolo, La Perla, and Vecio Canton.  We’re talking thin crusted pies baked swiftly to perfection washed down with draft beer or local wines. 


Wine, on its own, has its merits in Venice.  There is no shortage of wine bars in the city, many are wonderful, and for two or three Euro, you can enjoy a great glass.  Next to Casa del Parmigiano is literally a hole in the wall.  You order, you stand, you drink, and later you pay.  The white from San Erasmo is a chipper number.  My favorite wine bar, near the house we stay, just outside of Campo San Barnaba, is Osteria al Pugni.  It is situated at the base of a small footbridge where, ages ago, fights were staged to entertain the crowds.  Two sets of golden footprints mark the stances still.

Cross that bridge and you wind up in Campo Santa Margherita.  This is one of my favorite campos in the city.  Filled with students from the local university, as well as faculty, the campo has an impressive array of wine bars and little restaurants.

Your best bet here, and elsewhere in the wine bars, is to indulge in pre-meal snacks of cicchetti.  Displayed in glass, on long shelves, these tidbits are typically fried vegetables, small pieces of sausage, or fish like baccala.  Simply delicious.

KP142894Two upscale restaurants I came to enjoy in Venice are Pane e Vino, which offers remarkably good Friulian cuisine in a tavern like setting, and alle testiere.  The former has truly the best San Daniele proscuitto I have ever eaten.  The latter is now among my five favorite restaurants on earth: A menu that changes often, making use of superb local fish and shellfish, and consistency of presentation.  Just stunning.

Although I was hesitant to leave Venice, our friends invited us to stay with them for a night in Udine.  Claudia’s kitchen turned out deeply flavorful risotto, pasta with fall vegetables, and grilled polenta with melted gorgonzola.  I salivate thinking of it. 

We also went to the Foundation de Claricini Dornpacher nearby to savor superb local wines: Friulano, Prosecco, Refsco, and a Rosso named Guido Tavagnacco.

The bad news?  Claudia does not have a restaurant where you can enjoy her food.

The good news? Beginning this February, her daughter Camilla is going to run the house in Venice as a B&B.  You can enter the fairy tale world of Venice, and now that you know where to eat and drink, you won’t need a kitchen. 

Testiere1



Details:
Each of the restaurants, bars, and shops noted are readily found with patience and a map.  You must reserve alle testiere at least two weeks prior.  To reach Camilla: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


© Scott Haas

      
    

Published in in good taste
Friday, 30 July 2010

Travel Photographs: Venice

Photos by Tommy Trenchard

Published in in focus
Friday, 29 December 2006

A Little Bite of Venice

I was twenty minutes late when I found my fellow bacari crawlers. Giordano, Clara, Michael and Katherine were talking amongst themselves when I approached them. “I can’t believe I found you,” I said. “I told you it would be easy,” Giordano replied. I looked at him incredulously. “It’s hard to get lost in Venice,”

Published in in good taste

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