Don't you sigh every time you think of Venezia? I do.
I've been going to Venice ever since I was a toddler, eating seafood risotto straight our of my mother's plate, and then snatching the secret recipe for salsa universale at Harry's Bar at age 6. Venice has since become a regular appointment for me.
Every time I go back, I sigh. The sensual, languid and shimmering water element, the distant wail of the acqua alta high tide horn, the strange yet beloved stench of the marshy canal water, the overwhelming sensation of first biting into moeche soft shell crabs... The senses are all gratified in Venice.
I recently had clients flee Venice, chased away from the crowds, the excessive prices, the outrageous cruise liners defacing the delicate ecosystem of the lagoon. I get it.
That's why Venice should not be visited in August. The best time to visit Venice is in the off season, that is between January and April/May. This may translate into experiencing acqua alta (a tide phenomenon that peaks whenever the astronomical tides are reinforced by winds) and thick blankets of fog envelop the canals, adding to the city’s innate romantic and mysterious charm. I highly recommend avoiding booking your Venice trio during film festival days, Carnevale, Christmas and July/August.
When I go, a big part of my time in Venice is spent seated at restaurants. I like to discover new ones, and rely on steadfast classics. I know I will in some cases spend a little over my budget, but I can also enjoy a gargantuan meal without breaking the bank. Let's break this cliché: not everything in Venice is outrageously expensive. I don't like spending a fortune on a passable meal, I want to be wowed by a phenomenal one, and am ready to pay for it. So I can alternate paying a bigger check with extending aperitivo with cicchetti (tapas-like snacks) and ombre (small glasses of wine) standing at the counter of a bacaro.
Here are the top 10 favorite Venice restaurants you'll find me at, off season,
Antiche CarampaneOccupying the bottom level of what used to be a brothel, this sensational restaurant is one of the city’s best. This is not a place you can chance upon. As a matter of fact, you'll most probably get lost getting there. But that's the charm of Venice, where even the locals get lost in their own city. Depending on season, I order gnocchi with granseola (European spider crab) and any fresh fish in the daily specials menu. If you're lucky enough to find them available, please have the "drunken" reef mullets gently poached in red wine.
Ca' d'Oro - Alla VedovaThis classic bacaro-restaurant is in the Cannareggio sestiere, one of the six quarters of the city. Much loved by Venetians for its vintage setting, tiled floors, bent wood chairs and brass pans on the walls, and for the Venetian classics on the menu. I come not to sit at the tables in back, but rather to stand at the front of the house, sipping on my ombra and munching on the house fried meatballs.
Isabella is a friend. She and her late husband Dino––one of the kindest people I knew––kept me warm and fed during one particularly nasty acqua alta incident back in 2005, during filming Casanova. Our friendship was sealed over a plate of fried stuffed zucchini blossoms and dessert.
Osteria Ai Assassini
This is an informal eatery, rustic and off the tourist radar––despite being in the San Marco quarter––not far from the traps and high rolling venues. Their "poker di baccalà" is a game-changer. The owner speaks very little English, but he's completely fluent in French.
With tables set on a deck with views of the vast open lagoon, the islands and the snowy peaks of the Dolomites in the far background, at Algiubagiò I like to linger with my coffee after scarfing the lobster with ginger, served with lentils and jerusalem artichoke velouté.
Trattoria Da Fiore
Note: This trattoria is not to be confused with the overly expensive "Fiore" restaurant located one alley over. I come here for a relaxing dinner, or for classic cicchetti appetizers in the front room bacaro, the likes of steamed artichoke heels, fied anchovies and mini-meatballs. The sit-down menu features Venetian classics, like sarde in saor (pickled sardines), baccalà mantecato (creamed cod) and moeche (very narrow seasonal window). But they also serve lesser known local dishes like bigoli which are thick homemade noodles, normally dressed with a simple sauce of onions and anchovies, and my favorite: linguine al nero di seppia (black cuttlefish ink). Close the meal with the house sgroppino.
Al Gatto NeroLocated on the island of Burano, this family-run ristorante offers top-notch seafood and elegant service in the home-like dining room or at canal-side tables outside. Signor Ruggero, who took the kitchen over in 1965, still cooks with his wife Lucia with the same passion and emotion of when they were in their 20s. Order the best fried calamari of your life, the house risotto, and continue with the trio of crustaceans au gratin. You can thank me later.
This is a local's favorite, so be sure to make a reservation. Small and family-run, this place is where I come for sublime modern seafood cuisine. Think tagliatelle with scampi and zucchini blossoms; spaghetti with moeche and cherry tomatoes. Mains depend also on the catch of the day and may feature baked skate with ground hazelnuts and almonds or the classic assorted fish fry with vegetables thrown in the batter. Leave room for dessert, especially if the pistachio flan with coffee gelato on the side.
Trattoria Dai Tosi (Piccoli)
As soon as the first ray of sun pierces through the clouds, the folks at Dai Tosi Piccoli (not to be mistaken with the nearby namesake, if in doubt, ask around for directions to Dai Tosi Piccoli) put out tables in the laundry-festooned street. Located in a residential area of Venice, this place is great for pizza, simple plates of pasta and vegetable sides.
Vini da GigioDining in the refined trattoria run by siblings Paolo and Laura, is like walking into dinner at their home, with the added bonus of super professional service and a stellar wine list. Menu musts are the rigatoni with duck ragù and ravioli filled with arugula. The seafood mains are good, but the meat dishes steal the show. The red peppercorn steak, and sautéed lamb fillet with a light, crusty coating are both in my little red book. Book a table for late lunch or for the 9:00PM sitting in the evening, to avoid the rush.
What are your favorite restaurants in Venice?
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