My first trips
to Venice were almost entirely focused upon music and art. It may have been
tickets to the world-renowned opera house, Teatro La Fenice or possibly enjoying
a selection of world-famous arias presented at Musica a la Palazzo in their
sumptuous mansion overlooking the Grand Canal or maybe even a simple and moving
church concert such as at the Chiesa of San Vidal performed by extraordinarily
talented musicians. The museums to explore are endless and then there’s Venice
herself. It’s always a glorious experience to simply wander through her streets
and crisscross over the canals, bridge after bridge, stopping periodically to take
in her stunning beauty.
But a few years back a huge shift occurred. In my book, Venice suddenly became a culinary destination. There’s no denying that Venetians were always growing splendid local produce or catching the freshest seafood in her waters but it seems as though a new wave of culinary artists appeared while simultaneously, small trattorias and tavernas were upping their game.
PANE VINO E SAN DANIELE SAN BARNABA (Calle Lunga San Barnaba, 2861. +39 041 241 0873 https://pane-vino-e-san-daniele-san-barnaba.business.site/
On past trips to Venice I had marked on my culinary to-do list a visit to Pane
Vino but for whatever reasons it didn’t happen. (So many restaurants, so little
time.) But on my most recent trip, by chance, my travel partner Bud and I rented
an apartment directly across the street from the restaurant. This was also the
week of the 2nd highest Acqua Alta in 50 years! Our first night and
while dealing with the rising waters, we passed the Osteria as a waiter stood
in the doorway. I expected him to wrangle us in, but no, he just pleasantly
smiled. We walked on a bit and I turned around and he waved to me. I stopped
Bud and said, “Let’s go back.”
His name was Massimo and although he would disagree with me,
he spoke wonderful English. Being on the early side (jet lag was setting in)
there were just a few patrons scattered throughout the charming and rustically
decorated restaurant. After introductions were made and menus offered, two refreshing
glasses of crisp and dry prosecco appeared, compliments of the house.
For appetizers Bud ordered a plate of their grilled veggies: eggplant, zucchini, and peppers. All local and fresh and the char on them was lovely. I ordered the sarde in saor, sweet and sour sardines.
I surprised myself because I’m not a fan of sardines but this is such a huge staple of Venetian’s diet that I thought I must give it a chance. The serving size was enormous with the sardines smothered in caramelized onions and toasted pine nuts and raisins. I took a bite and my eyes widened. Massimo must have been watching because before I knew it he was standing next to me. Still savoring the perfect bite and not speaking I pointed to the dish and looked up at him. He smiled and nodded, knowingly. It was magnificent. The bones in sardines are edible and a great source of calcium but you always feel them crunching away. These sardines melted in your mouth and the dish had a right balance between sweet and sour. The onions and raisins were the perfect counterbalance to the sardines and the vinegar while the nuts offered the crunch factor and earthiness. These sarde in saor made the back of my palette sing!
Next up, Bud ordered the black tagliolini with shrimp and porcini mushrooms. Another fantastic dish. The black squid ink in the pasta was subtle but very distinct. It truly tasted like you were eating a mouthful of the Adriatic Sea. Coupled with the porcinis and the shrimp, this was heaven and sea mixed into one.
The chef treated the dish with a flame broil. It was so simple yet amazing that I did something I’ve never done before. I signaled Massimo while I was still chewing and he walked over and smiled. I pointed to the dish and managed to express my joy by blurting out, “I’ll have another, please?” He laughed as I confessed to him that this was the very first time I had ever ordered a dish twice in one restaurant setting. And an entrée. And a dessert. And each night we dined at Pane Vino, Massimo offered us complimentary ice cold limoncellos.
It was the combination of the food, the coziness of the tavern during a week of natural disasters and Massimo’s charm and skill that created an exceptional dining experience in the Dorsoduro neighborhood of Venice. I can’t wait to return.
LA CARAVELLA Via XXII Marzo 2399. +39 041 520 8901 https://www.restaurantlacaravella.com
Located within the stunning Hotel Saturnia and on one of the more fashionable promenades in Venice, Via XXII Marzo, La Caravella is an excellent choice for fine dining.
Entering the restaurant is like stepping into a vintage sailing
The wood paneling and lighting is warm and inviting but there’s also a gorgeous outdoor garden in the back when the weather is nice.
For starters I highly recommend their burrata. Here’s an example of a very simple dish but what bumps it up to a 5-star level is the use of the freshest local ingredients served in a stunning way. Burrata has an outer shell of mozzarella but inside is your reward, stracciatella and cream, which creates a luxurious texture. Surrounded by fresh crunchy carrots and zucchini resting in a cold tomato soup and topped with daterini (tomato) confit and basil, this dish is a standout.
Another starter I recommend is their sea selection Caravella style which is comprised of sea-bass, scampi in saor, stuffed squid, scallop, octopus, broccoli, pesto, salmon caviar and soft pumpkin cream with ginger. It’s a true feast for your eyes and then your taste buds.
We’ve also enjoyed their spider crab with a lemon infused emulsion and parsley mousse and the pumpkin and goat cheese pie on a Parmigiano Reggiano cream with black truffle flakes.
And for mains try their braised port cheeks which are fork tender and their savory and sweet lacquered duck breast with orange caramel. Both entrees are deliciously decadent.
CANTINONE STORICO Fondamenta Bragadin, 661. +39 041 523 9577 http://cantinonestorico.it/?lang=en
I first stumbled upon Cantinone Storico on a trip to Venice with Bud to experience Carnival. The rental apartment was on the second floor of a building overlooking Peggy Guggenheim’s beautiful museum garden. One night while meandering back towards the apartment after soaking in all the sumptuous Carnival costumes people were donning throughout the city, we came upon Cantinone Storico.
Located on a side canal off of the Grand, it was peak dining hour so we peered into the restaurant through their ancient wavy glass windows and a waiter from inside encouraged us to come in. We entered into a glass vestibule and I could see that the restaurant was full except for one table for two. Tentatively I opened the inner door so as not to disturb the diners and suddenly there was a very loud and startling crash. I had made my inconspicuous entrance. The head waiter rushed to my side and assured me all was fine. A stack of heavy leather-bound menus had been placed on a table next to the door haphazardly and I clearly knocked them over by opening the door. The restaurant, once realizing what had happened cheered. That’s one way of breaking the ice.
So we were greeted
with open arms, sat down and immediately were offered an amuse bouche of a deep
fried tangy olive served on a stick. We ordered the house white wine, which was
crisp and refreshing and then decided to share an order of the appetizer of
mixed grilled vegetables. And what appeared was a gorgeous platter of the
freshest local ingredients. It was a feast unto itself!
I had lobster with spaghetti and red sauce. The pasta
was al dente so it had just enough bite while the lobster was cooked to
perfection and had such a sweet, buttery quality.
And to top off the meal, the restaurant offered us glasses of limoncello on the house. The food was delightful, the owners and waiters were warm and friendly; it felt like we were welcomed into a friend’s home.
Bar Ristorante Da Gino Dorsoduro 853/a. +39 041 528 5276 https://www.facebook.com/daGinoVenezia
On a more casual note I wanted to include Bar Ristorante Da Gino. When museum hopping between the Peggy Guggenheim and the Accademia, be sure to stop by Bar Ristorante Da Gino. Equidistant to both museums as well as the Santa Maria Della Salute Church, it’s a fantastic bar and restaurant to rest your tired feet and regain your sightseeing stamina.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, they are
self-proclaimed “Champions of Bruschetta” and trust me...they are. Light and scrumptious
with an endless combination of options...
... my favorite is the fresh local artichokes and asiago cheese.
Artichoke and Asiago Cheese Bruschetta
But don’t let the bruschetta overshadow their pasta dishes
and sandwiches. And if you allow yourself to start the day off with a sweet
beginning you must try their buttery croissants, overflowing with custard
filling or just plain. For an afternoon delight try any of the many different
flavored macarons, muffins, cannoli or their tortino ai mirtilli (blueberry
pie). One of my favorites is their sweet palmiers (elephant ears).
With a cup of espresso or an Aperol spritz, Da Gino is a great culinary retreat between museums or even as a destination restaurant.
T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi
Like Da Gino, T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi is a perfect spot to rest
your tired bones and sip a delicious glass of wine while devouring a
surprisingly scrumptious grilled cheese sandwich. Venice's famous department store is conveniently located
next to the Rialto Bridge.
T Fondaco dei Tedeschi
Grilled Cheese with a glass of Pinot Grigio
It's also a gorgeous store.
T Fondaco dei Tedeschi
CAFFE CENTRALE Piscina de Frezzaria 1659/B +39 041 887 6642 https://caffecentralevenezia.com/
Caffè Centrale is located in the Palazzo
Cocco Molin. It was once a palace owned by the Cocco family built in the early
1500s. Prior to being the restaurant, the space was one of seven old-time
cinemas. Nicolò Santuri is the owner and manager of Caffè Centrale and has done
a magnificent job of renovating the historic space creating a hip and modern
atmosphere while still acknowledging the space’s revered history.
There’s a very comfortable lounge area next to the main dining room and through a passageway there are more tables and also access to their private dock if you happen to arrive by gondola or a water taxi. Located in the San Marco district, the restaurant is just steps away from Teatro La Fenice as well as Piazza San Marco.
Here you can see that the restaurant opens up to the canal. Arriving by gondola, how romantic is that?
The menu is artisanal featuring both meat and fish dishes, raw and cooked. In fact, they have their own production of ice creams and fruit juices. A major plus in a city that surprisingly closes up rather early, is that they are open late - Saturdays till 1:00am.
A fabulous starter is their appetizer of cold vacuum-sealed roasted pork, seasoned with orange,
Marsala sauce and walnuts. So light and classy. A great tease for what
was to come.
A delicious and decadent dish is their foie gras with pan brioche and pear in porto wine sauce. Sometimes foie gras can just be too...much...but not this recipe. I don’t think I’ve ever referenced a recipe as sexy before but this was amazing - delicate, smooth and silky.
The crispy egg with delice de bourgogne cheese, porcini mushrooms and black truffle was a work of art both visually and gastronomically.
And one of my favorite pasta dishes is their linguine di gragnano
with yellow cherry tomatoes, stracciatella cheese and basil. An absolute
tribute to the Veneto’s freshest of seasonal offerings. On other visits I’ve had
the beef tenderloin in Amarone wine sauce with potato pie and spinach. It was
seriously melt in your mouth gourmet comfort food.
You can understand now why I make at least one trip to Caffè Central every time I visit Venice.
“In the kitchen there is a very young team of chefs, but very prepared and with a great desire to create new dishes.” - Nicolò Santuri, owner