A huge part of our trip to Italy was the food. I have a friend who lived in Italy until he was 13 and who has returned many times. He told me the food is just fresher tasting there. I knew that Italian pizza is different than the corner pizzeria and I read up on local specialties of the areas we were going to visit. I was prepared (such a sacrifice) to eat several courses at dinner. I thought I knew what to expect. I had no idea how incredible the food was going to be.
Today I begin the highlights of our culinary journey. Today’s post is about Venice, the city I lost my heart to. It’s pedestrian only streets, glorious canals, romantic bridges, and cozy campos were the stuff of fantasy. Fortunately, so also was the food!
Our first meal in Venice was confusing. We were jetlagged and not used to the extreme
heat. We needed to eat and it didn’t matter where or what. We had sandwiches and salads a place in a campo near the Rialto. It was meant to merely be fuel. It instead was stunning. The salad was lettuce, tomato, and fresh corn (this was a constant in the salads we had all over Italy and it was always wonderful) with oil and vinegar dressing (the only kind in Italy). The salami sandwich was out of this world with delicious thin bread and flavorful salami. I knew right away that Italy was going to work out! Our first meal was next to the Grand Canal at the Ristorante Floridian. Spaghetti Fruitti Mari, gnocchi and caprese salad were all stunners. The seafood in the pasta was a wonderful mix of shellfish and fish and all of it was fresh. The gnocchi was tender and perfect. The caprese (first of many) was fresh and bright.
On day two in Venice we had lunch at the Caffe Florian, the oldest cafe in Piazza San Marco, dating from 1720. I think the waiters might have been around then too (that’s an interesting point about Italy: the waiters are all older, distinguished Italian gentlemen for whom this is a respected career OR they are Asian or Indian immigrants). You sit at the chairs in the square and an orchestra (4 dudes, not really an orchestra) play music. The menu is ancient. We enjoyed some sandwiches (club sandwiches and a ham on croissant). We had to have dessert and worked our way through an amazing tartuffo, a lovely plate
of cookies (where in the U.S. are cookies on the dessert menu? NOWHERE. WHY NOT?) and a dish of fruit and ice cream. Your food arrives on a tray which balances on a tiny table. It was an experience to sit in this beautiful, gigantic square, facing San Marco and eat. It was particularly interesting, because the summer before this we went to Vegas and had lunch in the pretend Piazza San Marco at the Venetian hotel, after a gondola ride on their pretend canal! Let me just say, the real thing is much better!
That night we dined at Ristorante Giorgione, next door to our hotel (this turned out to be their last night before closing for the summer holiday, so we got lucky). Some items that graced our table: baby scallops with polenta, farfalle with lamb ragu, sea
bream, and sea bass. The seafood was all excellent. The baby scallops were delightful. Usually when you get them in the States, they have been frozen and overcooked, making them like little balls of gum. These were tender and sweet. The sea bream was light and moist and a
The third day was our last in Venice and we dined well! We had lunch on the island of Murano, at Al Vetrai, along the main street of glass shops. Again, I had a salad (Insalata Mediterranea), and again it was stupendous. When you think of a good salad here at home, it generally means one that is filled with lots of things like meat, cheese, olives, croutons, garbanzo beans. In Italy, the salads are simpler and come out as an explosion of color and all of the vegetables taste like they came right out of the fields. There was no brown or wilted lettuce and there were definitely no unripe tomatoes. This salad had shrimp and mozzarella on it. Dressing was a bottle of olive oil and one of balsamic vinegar. Perfect. Other dishes at the table for that lunch included a fish lasagna, traditional lasagna, and a fried
seafood plate. The seafood plate was so full it was falling off the plate and was far more than one person could eat. The lasagnas were much like lasagna here at home, with spinach in them, a rich sauce and a deeply browned top. Each piece was about the size of an index card and about three inches thick.
Later that day we enjoyed macarons at a shop near San Marco. This little shop had a whole case of macarons, as well as candy
and gelato. The macarons were light and airy and a perfect little pick-me-up for the afternoon. This was also our first experience with the granita, essentially a slushy. They’re sold all over Italy, sometimes in really fun flavors, like melon. My son had many of these throughout the trip and they were perfect when you needed something cold (which we did just about every day!) but didn’t want the richness of gelato. Mostly, these were sweet but once in a while you would get one that was on the sour side, so it was a bit unexpected. The lemon ones were almost always sour.
Our dinner that night was one of the most memorable. A La Veccia Cavanna was in the same general area as our hotel, essentially right behind it. We walked in
and knew this was the real deal. The restaurant had awards and signed photos all over the walls. It is a family-owned place that appeared to have been in business more than 50 years. The walls were simply covered with proclamations and art
that seemed to have been created by an owner or family member. There were autographs from Italian celebs. The lighting was dim. The tables were big. The waiter was clearly a family member (they all showed the family resemblance in the photos, so we knew!). There was an amazing first course buffet we could have had (with a huge ham hock of prosciutto), but didn’t. The food was stupendous. Everyone got a free bellini and everyone sipped it. My husband and I just do not care for alcohol, but enjoyed a few sips of this lovely fizzy peach beverage (our 20 year old
daughter was kind enough to finish them off for us!). Even the 14-year-old thought they were pretty good.
Dinner included: big ravioli (called tortolloni), tagliolini with lobster, beef carpaccio, beef tenderloin with wild mushrooms, sole menuiere, and spaghetti with clams. The ravioli were very thin and delicate. The tagliolini with lobster was one of our top dishes in all of Italy. At the time I announced it was the best thing I had ever eaten (I think I said this about once a day). The beef tenderloin had a completely different texture than the beef here
at home. We must talk about the potatoes that came with it.
This was our first experience with Italian potatoes and they are on my “must learn how to make list.” At almost every meal, we had a dish that came with potatoes. They are cubed and roasted, but they are superbly soft and tender on the inside and crazily crispy on the outside. I’ve got to experiment with roasting them at high temps to see if I can replicate it. I’ve simply never had potatoes that good.
The sole was deboned at the table and was very lemony and
delicate. We also had dessert at this wonderful restaurant: tiramisu (invented in Venice, so it was a must!), lemon torte with chocolate chips, and a cream filled cake. A complementary plate of cookies also arrived (we might not have ordered so many desserts had we known). We overate that night and didn’t regret it for a second. We felt welcomed and
cared for in this homey and warm restaurant that truly did make you feel like “when you’re here, you’re family” (now I know why Olive Garden commercials say that!). I didn’t want to leave.
I have one more food experience to share with you from Venice: the stores. We drooled at many a window and went into a grocery store. Now, keep in mind that there are no cars in Venice. If you live there, you carry your groceries on foot or by vaporetto. I saw many Italian women with little wheeled bags with their groceries in them. The pasta aisle was the biggest thing in the small grocery store. In a shop with about 6 aisles, it was one entire aisle. Clearly there was a need to fill there!
Venice was a food lover’s dream and I particularly loved that there was magnificent seafood and equally terrific pasta everywhere. I could eat in Venice every day of my life I think.
More dining posts to come. What did we eat in Florence, Rome, and Sorrento? How much weight did we gain? What was the stellar dish of the trip? Were we convinced to try more alcohol? Stay tuned to find out!