Venice

Top 10 Things We Ate in Venice

Tiramisu at L'Osteria di Santa Marina

Razor Clams at Osteria alle Testiere

If I knew I will not see them again in the next 7 days, I would have ordered 5 more of these if they let me.  Simple yet so addictive in one of the premier seafood destinations in Venice.  And I could have easily subbed this mention with the phenomenal Gnocchetti with shrimp

Osteria alle Testiere - Razor Clams

 

Octopus at Osteria Alla Frasca

Its a lesson in texture, and complimentary liquid.  Its served with two purees – potato, and cherry tomato for you to play with.  The outrageous Pasta Alla Frasca should be mentioned as well, in a place that not only redefines “Hidden gem”, but feels like Uncle Leo’s house

Osteria Alla Frasca - Octopus

Bosega at Osteria Enoteca Ai Artisti

Its always fun bumping into fish I never heard of.  This Adriatic beauty is firm, delicate, and as expected here perfectly cooked.  Served with Jerusalem artichokes chips, and an oniony vinaigrette that even onion haters can enjoy.  Ai Artisti is one of our favorite new discoveries on this trip.

Bosega at Osteria Enoteca Ai Artisti

Seafood Carpaccio at Antiche Carampane

A standout among standouts in a seafood mecca.  There was buttery tuna, seabass, Sicilian red shrimp, Adriatic Langoustine and more local canal residents.  The seafood pastas here delivered big again too.  Repeat #1 for us on this trip.

Seafood carpaccio at Antiche Carampane

Octopus and Potato Salad at Trattoria Alla Fontana

When you stay for more than 96 hours this time, you discover Venetian specialties you didnt know exist.  Like the Octopus and Potato salad which quickly won us over (until we had a stinky one).  At this quiet, canal side Cannaregio joint, this was the freshest and most balanced of them all.  And a not too shabby risotto.

Octopus and potato salad at Trattoria Alla Fontana

Spaghetti with shrimp and Wild Mushrooms at Trattoria Da Jonny

Ok, I admit, I’m fishing here a little.  But this was a very solid pasta, at least on par with many such pastas throughout this trip, with the delicate mushrooms setting it apart.  But the goal is to mention the one place where we were the only tourists.  Try the Tiramisu too

Spaghetti with shrimp and wild mushrooms at Trattoria Da Jonny

Mixed Seafood at Trattoria alla Maddalena in Mazzorbo (Burano)

This brilliant combination of flavors and textures probably led the trip in Wows.  Various kinds of large shrimp, small shrimp with grilled white polenta.  There was an amazing Bacalau-like spread made from a local fish called Dentice.  A fresher than fresh octopus salad.  And something they made from eggs of Sepia that tasted like crab that I couldnt get enough of.  Fantastic value to boot, and another big reason to visit Burano.

Trattoria alla Maddalena - mixed seafood

Baked Scallops with breading and carrots at Salvmeria

Notice a trend here?  This post is not for the seafood haters, many of whom probably stopped reading by now after seeing all this raw footage.  “Best meat dishes in Venice”, is a blog post I may have to reserve for another life.  Salvmeria (yes with a V) is a newish bar attracting mostly locals due to the location.  A location (Via Garibaldi) worth checking out.

Baked scallops with breading and carrots at Salvmeria

 

Meatballs at Vedova

Ok, I’ll throw a bone for the meat lovers still reading.  Although just about everyone, including accountants may find these delightful.  Its a dense filling of mostly bread, but so satisfyingly salty.  This is what this widow (Vedova) is known for.

Meatballs at Vedova

Tiramisu at L’Osteria di Santa Marina (top). 

The older I get, the more I appreciate a proper Tiramisu at the end of the meal.  I have never had so many great looking and tasting Tiramisus in one week, but this last one topped them all.  Here its deconstructed with waffles and slightly frozen cream resulting in different mesmerizing morsels.  A surprising hit out of many from this old timer.

Bonus: daPrette in Padua. 

The only thing we ate in Padua was a targeted snack.  Small Calzone or Panzerotto, which is dough stuffed with different combinations like ham cheese, tomato.  Talking about a fresh, super satisfying snack.  It’s not stuffed like a NY calzone but the dough is so delicious.  Great stop for a quick bite.

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This is Burano

And a little glimpse of Murano and Torcello

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Osteria alle Testiere {Venice} – 7 Years!

Osteria alle Testiere - ScallopsIt was a timely cue to a timely nap.  Mrs Z could not contain her excitement and ordered her favorite drink (Spritz) the first chance she got.  Then she quickly rediscovered the old formula.  Long flight + drugs incurred during long flight + Spritz = Fall asleep during lunch at Al Portego, almost on top of the couple sitting next to us, sporting a strange looking smirk.  I dont think I’ve seen this expression before in the 20 plus years or so.  Like Robert de Niro smelling Durian.  But the good news was that we were 5 minutes away from our comfortable new bed at the exceptional Ca’ Amadi.  And I needed both of us well rested for the first highly anticipated meal of the trip.  Even though I havent had a successful nap since I was 0.

You need to understand the complexity of making reservations for this 8 table room in order to see the humor in this scenario.  A group of 4 walked in, noticed an empty table to the right, and decided to grab it, only to be asked politely to leave.  Helga, we are not in Nuremberg any more.  I had to grab the 9 pm slot (7 or 9) weeks in advance, and call from the airport in Frankfurt to confirm.  One of the more difficult tables to get, though nothing compared to the big tables of the big apple.  Reason being:  Ask any Joe and Schmo that knows anything about the Venice Seafood dining scene and Osteria alle Testiere will be mentioned in every conversation.Osteria alle Testiere

They are running out of room to display accolades on their door front.  Real accolades, not “Rated on Trip Advisor”.  Why would anyone put this on their window at this day and age is a mystery to me.  It’s essentially the equivalent of “We exist”.  Osteria alle Testiere also understandably running out of room between tables.  So before you get to to your seat, you need to quickly determine whether its more polite to showcase the couple next to you your front or behind, while they are chewing on their razor clams.

We started with one of the many seemingly timeless specialties. Scallops with orange and leeks in a light tasty broth that made the table bread to great use.  Grilled razor clams were simple yet so addictive.  I watched the owner carrying them to every table with envy, even though we just had them.  The only place we’ve seen them in Venice.  Unlike the outstanding Spaghetti with clams which we’ve seen everywhere.  Another popular dish here.Osteria alle Testiere - Gnochetti

But surprisingly, the little Gnochetti may have stolen the show.  Tiny firm, succulent potato pillows beautifully absorbing the delicate white wine sauce with fresher than fresh shrimp.  Tuna steak with a sweet aged balsamic was good but forgettable compared to the rest of the delicacies.  Semifredo-like Zabaione with just enough hazelnut liquor to give Mrs Z that look again, was a solid finisher to another outstanding meal at Osteria alle Testiere.  Washed it all down with a young but potent Soave.

“Dont wait another 7 years, I’m getting old”  The owner told us as we were leaving with a very satisfied looking smug.  I dont believe him.  Nothing has changed.  Things change in a much slower pace in Italy.  I will see you in 7 my friend!

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10 Tips for Venice

italy 2010 1308Warning:  Some of these are tips you will see just about everywhere else.  I figured if I issue the warning I can easily get away with it.  But at the same time let some of this serve as a strong emphasis.

Stay for a while

I’ll start with the obvious, but perhaps the most important tip.  There are many tourist cities that merit staying longer, but this place demands it even more.  Venice is mostly enjoyed by day trippers and cruisers who spend the entire time in San Marco area, and then complain that Venice is way too crowded.  And while they marvel at the San Marco area sights, they often miss Venice’s most important attraction, Venice.  Venice’s main appeal is being one of the most unique places on earth.  Being there in the morning, and at night helps, but staying at least 4 days with a day trips to Murano/Burano and perhaps Padua is key to give this place any justice.

Location, Loca

No, its not a mistake.  I’m  listing half of the usual “Location, Location, Location” you see everywhere else because that is exactly what it deserves, half.  Venice is compact.  The only time we used the Vaporetto last time is when we had no choice but cross the canal to San Giorgio Maggiore, and to the islands.  Granted we stayed in a very central location this time, but it was more coincidental, and not that important to us.  You can walk from the train station to St Marks, which looks quite far on the map, in 30 minutes.  While location can be important, half of Venice as the title suggests can be considered in a good location, maybe more.  And going back to the previous point, you are walking in Venice after all, not Cleveland.  But you need to stay in Venice and not Mestre or Cleveland

Stay here

This one is very specific, but a tip nonetheless.  Ca’ Amadi is a gem.  Its the most central middle of nowhere place you will ever find.  Its tucked inside the kind of courtyard that as a stranger you want to immediately turn around when you reach it, but as a guest, its a very welcoming and convenient retreat.  Risking hypocrisy after the previous tip, this is really as central as it gets in Venice.  You are within 20 minutes from just about anywhere.  The rooms are roomy, modern, comfortable and mostly quiet (Yes, canal rooms are indeed romantic, but remember, their canals is the roads).  And its also believed that Marco Polo himself used to live there as his family owned a few homes in the area.  So dont be surprised if your food exploration sense gets a sudden shock, and you find yourself one day Cicchettiing like a maniacIMG_7143

Read this

There are countless of food blogs out there including I suppose the one you reading right now.  But there’s only one blogger as of this writing that actually lives in Venice and understands the Venice food scene and dynamics better than anyone.  And yes, some of the tips you’ll find in my blog came from the talented Nicoletta Fornaro of Naturally Epicurean.

https://www.naturallyepicurean.org/home

Visit Burano

This may be obvious to some but not all.  Some may even elect to take it slow and skip it or visit just one of the islands like Murano, since its usually mentioned in the same breath.  But the island of Burano is not only one of Venice’s best gems, its one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen.  There are very few places in Europe that I describe as “Movie Sets”.  Sintra, Dubrovnik, Cesky Krumlov are some.  A smack in the face as soon as you get off the boat, and you dont stop smacking until you get off the island or restrained.  Have lunch at Trattoria alla Maddalena in the serene island of Mazzorbo just over the bridge.  And then head to Torcello

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Dont Get Lost

Its understandable what everyone means by “Get Lost”, and so I’m not exactly opposing that.  Getting lost in the narrow callis of Venice can be fun and rewarding, but that magic can quickly disappear if you cant eventually find your way, risking that all too familiar look from the wife.  Venice can be tricky to navigate.  And if you havent made Google Maps your best travel companion by now, its not too late.  You can download the map of Venice back at home and use it off-line.  Its easy to use and it works.  And its also effective with your water transportation needs in Venice.  I could have made a beautiful collage of bridges with people standing on top struggling with their paper maps.

Explore Via Garibaldi

At some point these calles and bridges may start to all look familiar, until you get to eye popping Via Garibaldi.  There’s nothing like it in Venice.  A wide, very wide for Venice standards, street filled with local life and old charm.  Like you suddenly stepped inside another UNESCO heritage site.  This is that “Laundry Hanging” moment you’ve been looking for.  But dont stop there.  Go all the way and cross the bridge to the island of San Pietro where you may really be the only tourist there.

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Do the Cicchetti thing

No, its not a special dance, but more of a way of life.  Its the Venetian answer to the aperitivo, or Spanish tapas, but quite more than that.  Its an important part of Venice that you can easily miss when you give Venice one or two days.

Mastering Cicchetti in Venice

Do your food homework kids

Although plenty have done it successfully, this is not the place to explore and stumble on the first thing that looks good.  Its an incredibly touristy town with a bad food reputation, perhaps for good reason.  But the lagoon is rich with wonderful seafood, producing some of the best array of seafood restaurants we encountered anywhere.  If you or your spouse is not a seafood lover, you have my condolences.  But if any town can convert you, its this one.  Its the only place where we eat non stop and never gain any weight.  So, you can find hidden gems on your own, or take the safe route and let uncle Ziggy guide you.  Here’s a good starting point….

Osteria alle Testiere
Osteria Alla Frasca
Osteria Enoteca Ai Artisti
Antiche Carampane
Trattoria alla Maddalena in Mazzorbo (Burano)
L’Osteria di Santa Marina
CoVino
Anice Stellato
Trattoria Da Jonny

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Plan Sensibly, follow your instincts.

You dont have to follow the masses anywhere, but it especially rings true for Venice.  Venice is loaded with hidden gems and mesmerizing monuments, and simply following the herd risks missing much of that.  Doge’s Palace is stunning indeed, but that means you’ll be spending a lot of time indoors in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Instead, something like Scuola Grande di San Rocco and the nearby Frari may fit your plan better.  Many flock to the Peggy Guggenheim museum just because it is very highly rated.  But after two visit, I find the collection and building rather dull and just not for me (Let the comments commence…).  Come up with a sensible plan that includes exploring some or most of the neighborhoods, and experiences like music in a church, or a food tour.  See Venice from above from San Giorgio Maggiore bell tower, and Fondaco dei Tedeschi department store terrace.  Visit Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo and the hospital next door.

Wear comfortable shoes, and remember to Enjoy!

Seriously Ziggy?  Not really.  This is the 11th tip that is not really a tip.  The type of tip that normally makes me throw up a little in my mouth every time I see it.  Can someone explain what exactly “Remember to Enjoy” mean?  If I can somehow click on a magical enjoy button, why do I need any other tip.  Do you go to sleep sometimes on vacation thinking, “damn it, I forgot to enjoy”.  And besides maybe aunt Betty’s house is there a place on this planet where you dont need to wear comfortable shoes?  Two of the most overused travel cliches out there

Enjoy! 😉

ZiggyIMG_7520

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Trattoria alla Maddalena {Burano} – Best Value in Venice?

Trattoria alla Maddalena - mixed seafoodDuring my Brooklyn tours, we visit one of my favorite stores in NYC, Vintage in Brighton Beach.  Its Turkish owned featuring sweets and various foods from all over Europe and Middle East.  And every time I’m inside, it doesnt take long before I find myself staring at a particular brand of ice cream in the fridge, reminiscing about what I could only indulge in about once a year as a child.  Same type of thoughts come moments earlier when we visit Coney Island.  “Awwwwee”, said no one.  But today, in my late 30’s (ok, 47 to be exact), I can afford to eat one of those babies more than once a year.  And I do cherish every one of those moments.

You dont have to grow up poor to appreciate the little things in life, and good value.  A part of that is still in you.  But it does help.  After spending 6 days in Venice, two things seemed fairly clear.  I most likely saved the worst for last.  Meaning I wasnt overly excited about the last food choices, and things just couldnt possibly get any better.  Second thought was that I forget how expensive is Venice.  Maybe not NYC and London prices, but certainly above almost all Italian cities we visited.  Especially, possibly unfairly compared to neighbors like Sicily and Croatia for example.  But on the last day, things shockingly got better and for lunch at least, a whole lot cheaper.  I inadvertently saved the best for last

Trattoria alla Maddalena - Gnocchi

Burano – Now I understand!  It will make you forget about that Murano place you visited moments ago.  Like a slap in the face movie studio as soon as you get off the boat.  But its {probably} best to get off the Disney-like island for food as deliciousness awaits just across the bride on the sleepy island of Mazzorbo.  It is home to the Michelined Venissa and its vineyard.  And quietly playing second fiddle is the exceptional Trattoria alla Maddalena.  I dont know why I came with low expectations but I’m glad I did.

After a great start, a sizable plate of delicious mussels and clams, we were greeted with the most unique mixed seafood plate of the trip (we had a few).  A brilliantly balanced combination of flavors and textures.  Various kinds of large shrimp, small shrimp with grilled white polenta.  Polenta in all shapes and sizes frequent the menus of Venice and this was the best we’ve had.  There was an amazing Bacalau-like spread made from a rare fish (to me at least) called Dentice.  A fresher than fresh octopus salad.  And something they made from eggs of Sepia that tasted like crab that I couldnt get enough.Trattoria alla Maddalena - clams and mussels

Another thing we couldnt get enough of in Venice is simply prepared seafood pasta and gnocchi, and the gnocchi with crab here was another succulent hit.  Monkfish, like a good Skate, can be so delicious when fresh and just simply grilled.  I regretted not having more prior to this one.  In Venice, Panna Cotta is another item you want to consider every other meal or so (when taking a break from the incredible Tiramisus here), and this one topped with strawberry compote did not disappoint.

Add to that a plate of mixed veggies, a cheaper than water carafe of house white and the final bill of 86 Euros.  We had another great meal the same night for almost double that amount, and just about every such full meal we had was above and in some cases way above 100.  This was closer to the value we found just across the pond in Croatia earlier this year.  This is another major GO!

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Mastering Cicchetti in Venice

IMG_7382The best tip I can give you when you go to Venice with kids is this:  Start planning your return trip without them.  Meanwhile you scout, you observe, you take notes, and study.  And by the time you return you can pretend to live like a local for just a few days, and do crazy things like have a full meal before dinner.  You may even be proficient enough to able to spell Cicchetti without Googling, like the pro that you are.  Cicchetti (Chee-ke-tee) is Venice’s answer to the aperitivo (Aperitif).  Its the Venetian happy hour.  They are served in bars called Bacari, usually 5 to 7 pm, but some are open throughout the day for the rest of us tourists.

We travel because we want to see and experience different.  Taking a peek at Ziggy’s current culture back home, things are looking fairly reversed.  5 to 7 pm is when I have dinner.  At 9 when the Venetians go out to eat, I may have a small Cicchetti of my own.  And by 10 pm when the Spaniards (our next focus) go out to eat, we watch Netflix and fall asleep by 11.

In a way I was glad that my planned Cicchetti crawls failed.  I had to cancel a Cicchetti tour so we could attend the lighting of the Menorah at the world’s first ghetto (as they say “happy wife, happy Ziggy”.  Seriously who says that?!?).  And my self planned Cicchetti crawl was a complete bust for a variety of reasons.  But after visiting and enjoying a few Bacari during the week, I now get the sense that this type of forced Cicchettiing is the wrong approach to this social scene.  And while I see the appeal of a crawl, I also see the appeal of doing what the Venetian do.  Go to one, meet your buddies, and see how things shape up.  Or visit one when you dont have the time for a full meal, like before a concert.

Cà D’Oro alla Vedova – This is one “Widow” I would trust with my life.  They are famous for the meatballs and rightfully so.  Its a dense filling of mostly bread, but satisfyingly salty.  The white beans, grilled calamari, and octopus salad are delicious as well.

Cantine del Vino già Schiavi – One of the oldest and more popular Bacari around, specializing in nifty crostini like combinations like smoked swordfish, ricotta with walnut purée, egg Funghi and truffle cream.  These are my recommendations, but you can also look around and just pick what looks good to you.  English descriptions next to each one.

Bar Alla Toletta – Tramezzini, fat crustless sandwiches is something you’ll see all over Venice, and this is the best place to try it.  We are partial to the tuna

IMG_7273Salvmeria – The newest kids on Via Giuseppe Garibaldi block isnt too concerned about its spelling on Google (Yes, its a V in there) because its main aim is locals, not so much tourists.  Although far removed from the tourist route, this is one of the most picturesque streets in Venice.  The clever assortment of wine goes as far as Moldova.  Try the Salumi, and baked scallops with breading and carrots if they have

Al Portego – We had a full sit-down meal here.  But judging by the quality, and the army of Cicchetti lovers we had to fight in order to get to our table, this place looks legit.

IMG_7135Fritoin del Gondolier – Its more of a street food shack that can be as convenient as Cicchetti.  Here you can try some fried goodies like Mozzarella in Carrozza (a fried sandwich with fillings like ham) and fried cream squares on a stick.  Those creamy squares can work well with hot chocolate from Vizio Virtu not too far away

Instructions:  You dont need no stinking instructions.  Ok, I didnt mean to sound brusque there.  Too early in the morning.  But every place is different, and you need to remember that you are in Venice.  Chances are you are not the only clueless tourist inside.  Just smile, point and shoot!  And order a glass of red or white, or ask what other wine options they have available.

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Osteria Alla Frasca {Venice} – Definition of Hidden Gem

Osteria Alla FrascaAdjective fatigue, title fatigue, are some of the biggest challenges in writing blogs like this.  At some point you just sit there, staring at the computer, looking for new ways to express yourself without sounding like a douche.  A douche is when you get bored with all the cliches and resort to cuteness that is not translated well on the internet, and you begin to sound like a douche.  But what do you do when a cliche that you used many times fits a description so perfectly.  You swallow your douchy pride, write that thing and move on.  While hinting to the audience how dirty you feel for using one of the most overused cliches in the food blogger universe yet again.  Its the thought that counts, right?

But in the case of Osteria Alla Frasca, another title sounds almost like injustice.  In today’s Trip Advisor age nothing is really entirely unknown.  Just like a falling tree in the forest, “Hidden Gems” are not so until people find them and write about them for everybody to see.  Alla Frasca is not exactly a secret.  It is mentioned in just enough publications and blogs like the excellent Naturally Epicurian, the only Venice based blogger as of this writing.  But its all about the quality and location, tucked deep inside Cannaregio, inside a little picturesque courtyard that is so deserving of the title.  When you discover it, you pause.  And when you visit it, you really want to like it.

Osteria Alla Frasca - Octopus

And then when the food exceeds the already lofty expectations, it becomes a home run.  Octopuses and even Octopi dont come any more tender than this without crossing to the mushy side.  It is served with two purees, a potato, and cherry tomato for you play with.  A fresh tasting Cheese Ravioli was nicely perfumed with lemon and herbs, with razor clams added for good measure.

Here we tasted one of the best pastas of the trip.  So good a restaurant is named after it!  The Pasta Alla Frasca is a spectacular medley of seafood on spaghetti, brimming in that wonderful white wine and seafood juice we couldnt get enough on this trip.  A grilled mixed seafood plate was another delight though by this point we started to struggle as we were getting full.  We found that in Italy, and even across the pond in Croatia, one needs to be careful with those “Mixed Grills”.  Pistachio creme brûlée was fine but not great to finish still a most wonderful meal.  The Sicilian in the kitchen adding oranges and pistachios and other Sicilian touches when no one is looking.

Osteria Alla Frasca represents everything we love about eating in Italy.  When it’s just you, Bruno the owner, the young Sicilian peeping out of the kitchen cracking jokes, and a few more diners in a small room.  Bruno has been in the food business in Venice pretty much all his life, including a major presence in the Rialto market at some point, resurrecting what feels like a local institution loved by locals and savvy tourists alike.  This is a big time GO.

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Random Venice

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