I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I don’t care how cliched it may be, or how overrun with tourists it can get, Venice is still (and probably always will be) one of my favourite cities in the world. Maybe it’s the lack of cars, the addictively delicious tramezzini that stare out at you from countless cafe windows, the couples smooching openly everywhere, the stunning Byzantine-influenced buildings and palazzos, the bellinis, or the simple silliness of walking around and getting lost in the city’s labyrinth-like streets… I don’t know. I love being in Venice. Love being there for the craziness of the Biennale, with the hot sun pounding down and the glitterati of the art world fussing over themselves at exhibitions during the day and madcap parties come dark. Love being there at winter when, for once, the locals outnumber the tourists and cold winds batter at you ceaselessly. It’s a city of romance and splendor, and if you look hard enough, gastronomy.
My vicacious wife S and I, and several friends, spent a good part of last week in La Serenissima. We were there to attend the wedding of some very close friends. Of course, I also made sure that we planned a long enough break so that we could visit some of my favourite eating haunts and shops. I had a good reason for this. While I’ve been to Venice probably a half dozen times in the last decade or so, S has only been once, way back in 2000. I had brought her there in December 2000 in order to propose to her. We arrived on 26 December, got engaged just outside of Saint Mark’s Square, and saw in the new year there. But we didn’t eat well. In fact, except for a meal at Harry’s Bar, all of our other meals were less than memorable. Back then, I didn’t know Venice well. And my previous trips to the city were as a backpacker, when eating at good restaurants wasn’t really a priority. Since then, despite my insistence that there is great food to be found in Venice, and my postings on this blog, S has always been a tad skeptical. With this recent trip, I was determined to convince her that Venice has great food.
This time, I planned a serious eating itinerary for us. Some of the restaurants were favourites I have been to in the past; a few were new places (at least to me) that I had read good things about. Here’s our final schedule (“final” because we did end up changing a few reservations once we arrived): Day 1: lunch at Osteria di Santa Marina (Campo Santa Marina 5911, Tel: +39 041 528 5239); dinner at Trattoria Antiche Carampane (San Polo, 1911-30125, Tel : +39 041 524 0165). Day 2: lunch at Marisa (Cannaregio 652b, Ponte dei Tre Archo, Tel: +39 041 720 211); dinner at Osteria Alle Testire (Calle del Mondo Nuovo, Castello, Tel: +39 041 522 7220). Day 3: Lunch at Osteria Enoteca San Marco (1610 Frezzeria, San Marco, Tel: +39 041 528 5242); dinner at Osteria Boccadoro (Cannareggio, 5405/a, Campo Widmann, Tel: +39 041 521 1021). Day 4: lunch at Corta Sconta (Calle del Pestrin, Castello 3886, Tel: +39 041 522 7024); dinner that night was a pre-wedding celebration hosted by the bride and groom. Day 5: Wedding lunch at the Terrazza Danieli, also hosted by the bride and groom; dinner at Vini Da Arturo (San Marco 3656, Calle degli Assassini, Tel: +39 041 528 6974). Day 6: lunch at Harry’s Bar (San Marco 1323, Tel: +39 041 528 5777); dinner at Muro Venezia (San Polo 2604 B/C, Tel: +39 041 524 5310). Day 7: Lunch back at Osteria Enoteca San Marco.
I can pretty happily report that thanks to the hard work and great food prepared by the chefs at the above establishments S has finally come around to my way of thinking. She finally agrees with me that Venice does indeed have some pretty damned fine food. Our best meals were at Osteria Boccadoro, Osteria Enoteca San Marco (so good we went back again before we flew off), and Harry’s Bar (so damned expensive but always a great and memorable experience). I think Osteria Enoteca San Marco really deserves any and every accolade it has earned. The staff and owners are super cool and very nice. I love the long list of really fabulous wines by the glass, plus the extensive list of local wines available by the bottle (we enjoyed an amazing and affordable Inama Bradissimo red from the Veneto region with one of our lunches). The food is excellent and slightly innovative, which is perfect. The fact that the restaurant is just a stone’s throw from Saint Mark’s Square yet offers such fabulous and non-touristy food is also pretty amazing.
We also had lovely meals at Marisa–the place to go if you want to eat a very affordable, no frills, but very good local meal–and Muro, where we had some pretty awesome pizzas (in a city where most pizzas are crappy offerings for tourists). We also had a nice, satisfying meal at Vini da Arturo where I had yummy veal medallions in a mustard and cream sauce and my favourite, super-rich but also super-light, tiramisu. Amusingly, the guys at Arturo showed us a photo album of themselves with a bevy of Hollywood stars. Seems that for the past few years, producer Joel Silver has been flying the restaurant’s team out to L.A. to cook for him and his friends. There were photos of the guys with Nicole Kidman, Tobey Maguire, Tom Cruise, and a whole bunch of other superstars.
I should also say that the team at the Danieli hotel whipped up a pretty amazing meal for our friends’ wedding lunch. Given that they were catering for close to 70, I didn’t have my hopes up. But the food was fantastic. Each dish was served hot and was expertly prepared. The rich neo-baroque interiors, designed by Jacques Garcia (who also designed the Hotel Costes), upped the glam factor splendidly, and the snow-covered terrace fueled several fun snowball fights, making this one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever attended.
In addition to eating our way around town, we also made sure to do a spot of shopping. While friends were taking advantage of the 50% discounts on offer at the X-Mas sales at Prada, we were filling our bags with food and stationary. As usual, I visited my favourite printer, Gianni Basso, and brought S to Mascari and Aliani. S loved Aliani especially, purchasing a few months worth of meats and cheese, and salt-packed anchovies, something she’d been searching for for the longest time (addresses to these stores are in my older downloadable Venice guide). We also took some time to visit Palazzo Grassi and the new Dogana extension, designed by Tadao Ando and housed in the old customs house. The Dogana was truly fabulous and the collection on display both stimulating and stunning.
Lastly, we have to give thanks to the team at Palazzo Barbarigo, a truly plush and super-comfy boutique hotel, and one of the best I’ve ever stayed in. It’s gorgeously located right on the Grand Canal, a short walk from Rialto bridge. The rooms are modern, chic and romantic. The breakfasts are bountiful and really yummy. The front desk staff are truly accomodating and the bartender, Marco, not only makes one of the best Rossinis in Venice, he’s also a great guy all around. We booked Barbarigo through boutique-hotel specialists Mr and Mrs Smith and we are so very happy to have found it. I’m definitely staying there with each return visit from now on.
And now that S agrees with me, that there’s great food to found in Venice, we’re bound to return. That, she’s promised me.