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Gourmet stroll in Venice and Chioggia
Venice is not like other cities, to say the least. Some of its inhabitants claim that it is not a city at all, but rather a representation of itself.
For the 50,000 Venetians overrun by 19 million tourists each year, it is a dream that sometimes turns sour. This archipelago of lagoon islets looks increasingly like an open-air museum, devoid of inner life...Such a context does not necessarily favour a relaxed way of life. However, in a maze of bland restaurants, bars and establishments, there remains a handful of places that are popular with Venetians of all ages.
Whet your appetite
A gourmet day can get off to an early start with an aperitif at the All’Arco bar, tucked away in an alley near the Rialto Bridge. Here you will find a rare example of a bàcaro – traditional places where the Venetians have, for a long time, been in the habit of having their breakfast at the bar, washed down with glasses of wine called ombre. One could justify their penchant for the bar by the layout of the city: it would be difficult indeed to catch them tipsy at the wheel, “because in Venice people don’t drive, they walk,” as they like to say.
The Arco is a safe bet for cicchetti – an untranslatable word which is used for slices of bread with brandade of cod, halves of hard-boiled eggs seasoned with anchovy, paninis with ham or pancetta (mild bacon), small grilled cuttlefish, etc. Simple ambience and rather ordinary wines: the Arco will probably not win you over with the nobility of its beverages, but the cicchetti and working class atmosphere are authentic. The price of wines by the glass varies between €2 and €5, so reckon on paying about ten euros for two glasses and several tasty nibbles.
Lunch according to the chef’s mood
To continue your culinary stroll, just cross the Grand Canal in Rialto or take a gondola from the courthouse side to the Santa Sofia side. In a recess on Strada Nuova, La Cantina might not catch your eye. Just one rather nondescript window, a modest sign... And yet for 12 years, Francesco Zorzetto has been serving a personal selection of wines by the glass here and cooks according to his whim, using exquisite ingredients.
His means – limited to a grill and an oven – don’t prevent him from serving up excellent meals for his regulars, according to market availability. The fresh fish, crustaceans and shellfish from the region, local charcuterie and even sometimes game, are of superior quality. No rules or real menu: trust the host, he will guide you depending on his mood.
Don’t be in a hurry, or take offence at his sometimes offhand manners, and be aware that quality comes at a considerable price. A dish of succulent grilled shrimp and scallops, a glass of an amazing white Frioulan – the result of grape skin maceration – will dissipate any regrets. Dish of charcuterie, cheese and fish at €6 for 100 gr. Wines by the glass from €2.60. Reckon on €40 to €50 for a proper meal.
When it’s time for an aperitif, just return to the sestiere of San Polo, cross the Ruga dei Oresi and head into Campo Bella Vienna. You will spot Al Marcà, an historic little bar renovated by three young friends, consisting of just a window and a counter. Everything takes place in the street, “Italian style”. Several slates display a choice of Italian wines, most of them coming from the Venetia region. You can also try a glass of spritz – a fashionable aperitif in this region, consisting of a curious blend of white wine and soda water enhanced with a liqueur (Aperol or Campari).
If you have the munchies, there are little Venetian charcuterie sandwiches, fresh cheeses, or meat and vegetable balls from Zanetti’s, a deli in Mestre. Allow an hour for a stop at this unpretentious place, sitting on the terrace or just standing on the little square of the old vegetable market. Price of wines by the glass: between €2 and €5.
Dine at the best restaurant in Venice
At dinnertime, you reach the height of pleasure. From Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square), go along the Riva degli Schiavoni then take an alley adjacent to the Gabrielli hotel. At Campiello della Pescaria, you will see a simple, elegant terrace: the Al Covo restaurant is known to all the gourmets of Venice. Many of them consider it to be the best restaurant in the city, particularly as far as fish is concerned.
Since 1986, Cesare and Diane Benelli have been putting the spotlight on the fruit of an almost miraculous draught of fishes, fed by the confluence of the sea and lagoon. “It’s in these channels, called ‘ports’,” says Mr Benelli, “that the waters are the most clear and rich in food. Here you find an incalculable variety of fish and crustaceans that the whole world envies.” For lack of fishermen and in the face of growing competition, supply is becoming increasingly difficult. “I like to talk of a cuisine ‘of subtraction’,” explains the boss. “This means that we remove from the recipe anything that is not useful for showing the main ingredients to advantage.”
It is, of course, a triumph for fish: sea bream, bass, eels, John Dory, but above all produce from the lagoon such as moéca, a little crab caught during the moulting period, then fried. You can check the origin and price of the fish: the purchase invoices are on public display. The menu is merely to give you an idea because the dishes vary depending on the market. It is completed by a highly specialised selection of meats from Piedmont and cheese.
Cesare Benelli is also a wine buff. His wine list is rich and varied and on it you will find excellent Italian and French wines. A small symbol denotes the boss’s favourites. To finish your meal, a glass of Moscato d’Asti, Vin Santo or Recioto will wash down the charming sweetmeats concocted by the lady of the house. Sampler menu at €69.
Cross the lagoon...
If you want to find an authentic place that is much less touristy, then a trip to Chioggia is in order. This charming town, built on an island in the south of the lagoon (25 km as the crow flies), has remained loyal to its capital but boasts a very original, somewhat surly, character.
As in Venice, good restaurants are rare; however, if you like a popular atmosphere, you will enjoy the morning snack (merenda) at the Enoteca del Teatro, a pleasant, very simple cafe, livened up by local characters (wines by the glass between €2 and €5). You can enjoy an excellent midday meal at the Ristorante Palazzo, another restaurant with a very modest appearance but a very high culinary standard (seafood, pasta, and spectacular fried fish made with fresh local produce). Don’t be taken in by the simplicity of the décor: it is merely a reflection of the authentic flavours (reckon on between €25 and €35 a la carte).
San Polo 436
Tel: +39 041 52 05 666
From 8.30am to 3pm. Closed Sundays and public holidays.
Strada Nuova – Cannaregio 3689 – Venice
Tel: +39 041 52 28 258
From 11am until late evening. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Al Marcà bar
Campo Bella Vienna (Erberia)
San Polo 213
Mob: +39 346 83 40 660
From 9am to 3pm and 6pm to 9pm. Closed Sundays and public holidays.
Al Covo restaurant
Campiello della Pescaria
Tel: +39 041 52 23 812
Closed Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Enoteca del teatro
Calle San Nicolò 468 – Chioggia
Via Felice Cavallotti (calle Palazzo) 368
Tel: +39 041 55 07 212
Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Gondolas are still used to cross from one bank of the Grand Canal to the other, given that there are only three bridges. It costs 50 euro cents to cross. You will find the list of landing stages at www.gondolavenezia.it