Part 2: Sitdown Restaurants
First, a few words about sitting down to lunch or dinner in Venice, either of which can be the main meal of the day. I had several guide books, but this stuff was still not apparent:
- Many places have a "Tourist Menu" in the window. Though skeptical, we did try one of these places and it was awful. I'd suggest staying away.
- Most places charge a 2 euro cover charge, and you might see it listed on the check as "bar" or "copierto". Many also charge a 12% service charge. Just expect these things. There's no separate tax added to the bill.
- If you pay by credit card, there won't be a place on your receipt to add in a tip. Have cash handy for tipping. I usually left about 10%.
- First courses are often as expensive as second courses, and - contrary to what I had expected - the first course portions were gigantic. If you order 3 full courses, you'll pay a lot and there is little chance you'll come close to finishing. Unless you're starving, I'd suggest sharing antipasti, first courses, and dessert. I saw a number of local families doing this, and the restaurants were always happy to provide share plates.
- Don't expect olive oil or butter to be served with your bread. In fact, if you see it it's a good sign that you've found a tourist trap.
- Venice is not a late night party town, and most restaurants close down at around 10. Plan to show up for dinner before 9.Fiaschaterria Toscana
One of our reservations was at a place recommended by dmnkly (Thanks Dom!). Fiaschaterria Toscana near the Rialto bridge is an upscale, somewhat formal place where the old-school waiters are tuxedo clad and the menu is expensive. This was my place to try a classic dish called Fegato alla Veneziana - basically liver and onions. The liver was sublime - sliced into strips and sautéed just shy of medium, with terrific texture and robust flavor. The onions were sweet, and this very simple dish had a sauce of the cooking jus, a little olive oil, and a drizzle of nice balsamic vinegar. The plate was rounded out by some grilled polenta and a pretty little mixed salad. We also had baked gnocchi with chanterelles, and while gnocchi had terrific texture and the dish had plenty of flavor, I found the mushrooms slimy and rubbery. I'm glad I went to FT for that wonderful classic dish, but overall I'd have to say it's not my cup of tea. It was the one place in Venice where the expense, formality, and - imo - pretension - made me uncomfortable. Our server transparently tried to upsell every order, showed visible disappointment when we didn't choose an expensive wine, and was just generally a bit unpleasant.Osteria La Ponte - La Patatina
This was a much more casual place, and one with a casual charm that we enjoyed immensely:
Here I started with another classic Venetian dish: sarde in saor, roughly translated as "sardines in a savory sauce". The sardines were marinated with lots of sliced onions in a sauce of vinegar, red wine reduction, and finely chopped raisins. A real flavor burst, where despite the strong marinade, the fresh-out-of-the water sardininess really shined:
We also had 2 superb homemade pasta dishes: tagliata with pesce spada and papardelle with porcini. There's a talented pasta cook in this kitchen. The noodles were eggy and had terrific texture, and both sauces let the freshness of the main ingredients shine. These were some amazing porcini, and right-off-the-boat swordfish with sweet cherry tomatoes. In both cases, the "sauce" was really just good olive oil infused with the natural flavors of the dish. Here's the swordfish pasta:Antica Trattoria Poste Vecie
We were proud of ourselves for discovering what seemed to be a hidden secret with one entrance off a canal and another buried deep in a maze of tiny San Polo alleys. In fact, this place was so well hidden that on a night when every restaurant in Venice seemed packed, we were the only patrons here.
Though that had me a bit worried, one taste of yet another classic dish, and I was happy.
This black ink risotto with stewed cuttlefish truly tasted like the sea. The risotto had a delicious brininess, and the meaty cuttlefish was full of salty, pleasant fishiness (to me, "fishy" is a poorly used derogatory term. I want
my fish to taste like fish!). Our other dishes did not particularly shine, and the bread was a little stale. Touted as the oldest restaurant in Venice, this may be a place past its prime, but that one dish made me pleased to be there anyway.Pizzeria da Gianni
With an amazing view overlooking the Giudecca canal, and surrounded by hotels, I expected this full-of-tourists spot to deliver mediocre-at-best food. Thankfully, though not as wonderful as the setting, our eggplant pizza was simple, crispy, and tasty.
If you're looking for a place to linger over a bottle wine, enjoy the food, and eat quite decently, this is an excellent choice.
Yes, you can get ripped off and eat terrible food in Venice. But if you choose well and accept some not-so-great dishes with the sublime, I think the city is full of terrific restaurants.