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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What are your favorite restaurants in Venice?