Spaghetti Frutti Mari

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

Our first Italian gnocchi

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.

Tartuffo at Caffe Florian

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

Italian cookies at Caffe Florian

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

Baby scallops

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

Delightful sea bream

true joy.

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

Insalata Mediterranean

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

Huge fried seafood platter

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

Macarons in the afternoon

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

Spaghetti with clams

at home. We must talk about the potatoes that came with it.

Beef tenderloin with the world’s best potatoes

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

5 Star Tagliolini

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.

Venetian tiramisu

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!

Temptation everywhere

Delectable sweets in windows

More types of canned fish than you can imagine

Pasta aisle

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 … Read more

Leaving the airport via water taxi

Our two week trip to Italy began in Venice. It was love at first sight for me. This is hands-down the most romantic city I’ve ever visited. Venice is like something out of a fairy tale. It’s like a mystical kingdom: an island set off the shore where there are no cars, buses, taxis, or scooters. The only way to get around the city is by boat or on foot. What this means is that Venice is supremely quiet. There are no engines, horns, or tires squealing. When you are facing a canal, boats go by, but they are quiet (the Grand Canal is the exception – there is a lot of traffic there). The rest of the city is made up of quiet alleyways and calm squares (called campos, which mean fields in Italian).  It was this beautiful silence that first struck me. And all the streets are very, very narrow, not more than 4 people across.


The second thing that captivated me was the architecture. Venice was most definitely

Contrasting architecture styles

Italian, but because of its unique historical position as a gateway between the east and west, it has architecture that reflects French and Turkish styles. It’s an incredible combination of the most beautiful styles from all over Europe and it made the city feel very welcoming and inclusive. The buildings lining the Grand Canal were all originally palaces and the Grand Canal was their Main Street, so their elegant facades face this canal. All buildings situated on canals have doors that open (or once opened) to the canal. This was the front door. You can transport yourself to another time when you look at these palazzos. The buildings have many window boxes with flowers and this is the only greenery you will see in the city. There are no parks, no trees, no grass (except in some private courtyards). You also see a lot of laundry hung out the upper windows of buildings, which felt very Italian to me. And

One of many beautiful doors

then there are the doors. The city is filled with unique and wonderful doors. I took photos of many of them. I was hoping to find a poster of them, but didn’t see one.

The Bridge

Rialto Bridge

The top tourist attractions in Venice are the Rialto Bridge, the biggest and most beautiful bridge spanning the Grand Canal. It is filled with souvenir shops. Climbing to the top of the bridge allows an excellent viewpoint of the Grand Canal. Either end of the canal is also filled with street stalls selling souvenirs. The bridge is pretty to look at, but is choked with junky stores and tourists.

Piazza San Marco

The other big attraction is Piazza San Marco, home to a huge open piazza. It is surrounded on 4 sides by buildings. There are hundreds of pigeons in this square. One end of the square is dominated by the stunning San Marco cathedral. We took a tour inside this beautiful church. The inside of the domes and many of the walls are covered with intricate stone mosaics. The amount of work that went into this art is mindblowing. The church also has a beautiful exterior with many statues. The marble pillars around the front of the building were fascinating because each is different – and

San Marco church

each was stolen from somewhere else in the world. The view from the balcony  is remarkable because it allows you to look out over the lagoon to the Adriatic Sea. You also have a stunning view of the piazza.

Next door to the church is the Doge’s Palace. The doge was the ruler of Venice, but he was not like a king. Our guide told us much about the forward-thinking government of Venice which was a republic ruled by nobles. The palace itself is not very exciting, although the maps painted on the walls were of interest because of how wrong they were, but also because they showed the travels of Marco Polo, native son of Venice and the man credited with opening China to trade with Europe.

We walked over the famous Bridge of Sighs which connected the prisons to the government rooms. Our tour allowed us to skip the lines to get into the church and palace and I highly recommend doing so (the lines were long and stood in the hot sun). I also think it is a good idea to take an actual tour so you can learn what you are looking at and why it is important. Our tour began with a little walking tour of Venice that included the area where Marco Polo was believed to have lived and our guide provided us with much background information that helped me understand the city.

Orchestra at the Florian Cafe

We had lunch in the piazza, at the oldest cafe in Venice, called The Florian Cafe. You sit at a table in the open piazza and an orchestra plays. You, of course, pay through the nose for this experience, since there is a seating fee added to your bill and the food (which was absolutely fine but not amazing) is grotesquely overpriced. It is a once in a lifetime thing though, so we did it.


The shopping in Venice was overwhelming. I have never been in a place with so many shops. There was simply hours of shopping on the main pathways to the bridge and to the piazza. There’s lots of Murano glass to be bought and I did buy some here, but tried to wait for our trip out to Murano itself (an island a short boat ride away).


Vaporetto on the Grand Canal as seen from the Rialto Bridge

There are several types of boat transport in Venice which I carefully read up on in advance. We took water taxis to and from the train station and airport. These are small wooden boats that reminded me a lot of the classic wooden boats you see on American lakes. They have an enclosed portion with benches. They can hold up to about 8-10 people it seemed, but our guides always took us alone in them. When we left the airport, our water taxi traveled on what was essentially a road through the water. It was a specific channel tightly enclosed by wooden pillars, that led the way from the airport to the city.

The rest of the time we were in the city and were not walking, we used vaporettos, which are like water buses or subway lines. You buy a ticket from an automated machine and get on when the boat comes to your stop. There is a specific line with stops listed so it is relatively easy to manage. We heard about, but did not ride in traghettos, small rowed boats that will take you across a canal. We had no need for them since there were plenty of bridges.

We also took a private gondola ride. Our gondolier did not sing (fine by me!) and we


traveled over part of the Grand Canal and many smaller canals. When we were on the smaller canals, it was a quiet, serene ride and was something to check off my bucket list!


All the guidebooks warned me that it is very easy to get lost in Venice. If you are going to the main tourist sites, they are signs on the corners of buildings with arrows and you just follow them without issue. If, however, you are trying to find a specific restaurant, good luck. We had both a paper map and a digital map that tracked our location in real time and couldn’t find anything, ever. We saw a lot of interesting little alleys and campos this way (and as an aside, I have to say I never felt unsafe, even though most of the alleys and campos off the beaten track are as empty as ghost towns).

Overall Impression

One of the many quiet alleys

My overall feeling about Venice was that it is a very European city and not a typical Italian city, particularly when I compare it to the other places we went in Italy. It made me want to see more of Europe, however. The people were all very friendly and spoke very good English, making it easy for us ignorant Americans to communicate. I felt very welcomed and comfortable in this city. Venice is the perfect city to wander in. Go see the top tourist sites, then allow yourself time to just explore.  Venice is now on my list of my all-time favorite places (the list also includes Maine, Savannah, Scotland, Hawaii, Sedona AZ, and the Bahamas). Someday I hope to go back to this mesmerizing city.

Our two week trip to Italy began in Venice. It was love at first sight for me. This is hands-down the most romantic city I’ve ever visited. Venice is like something out of a fairy tale. It’s like a mystical kingdom: an island set off the shore where there are no cars, buses, taxis, or … Read more