Eating In Venice
There are three comments
you will always hear about
Venice; Its sinking, its
expensive and the food
stinks. This is a half truth
perpetuated by day trippers
who have not cracked the
Where To Eat: Introduction
The Venetian menu is seasonal, much like the rest of Italy. The kitchens take particular pride in their seafood, but across the board, the Venetians maintain an extremely high caliber of food and service at local restaurants. So why is it so hard to find good food in Venice?
Problem 1: Everything looks the same
Wandering around Venice its is tough to tell which restaurants attract foodies from around the world and which places are going to serve you a salad with mold (yes, this happened to me once). Unlike restaurants in New York City, some of the best and worst Venetian restaurants look identical from the outside. The staple decorations are lace curtains, dark wood interiors, and bottles hanging from the ceiling. But the difference in quality, price, and experience can be fantastically different.
Problem 2: Location, Location, Location
When visiting a new city, there are usually a few areas to avoid. Anywhere you find a Hard Rock Cafe is not going to be a local’s only hang out. Venice has its version of Times Square called San Marco’s Square. Actually San Marco is a million times more interesting than Times Square, but it is the most touristy spot in the entire city. As a rule of thumb this is a great place to visit and a wonderful place to pay $60 for a bottle of water and two cappuccinos. The surrounding districts house the best food in the city.
Problem 3: Who Can You Trust
Its no mystery that hotels feed their guests to neighboring restaurants, even if they are mediocre. This is not a Venetian thing, it happens all over the world. The vested interests of a tourist city will pair crappy food and crummy mattresses into a three day spell that will have you fantasizing about airplane food. Ask locals where they eat and follow the lead. It will insure good eating. But what if you don’t know any locals?
Take advantage of the large ex-patriot population in Venice. Their discoveries, about Venetian life, have slowly made their way into guide books. With a little research, the secret culinary treasures will open up before you. Once it starts, you will be loosening your belt, ordering another Spritz, and cleaning the squid ink out of your teeth with an espresso.
Most visitors to Venice will only spend a day or two in the city. So the following recommendations should hold you over for about five years.
Osteria Enoteca San Marco
Located in the heart of the shopping district this is the only decent place to eat around San Marco. The wine list, food, and an leather aproned staff are fantastic. They have a cheese plate that is served with a sweet marmalade made from onions, its amazing. For those of you looking forward to long meals, this is a great place to start. Last year, while meeting some friends from London, it starting raining. We ended up having a three hour lunch. No one rushed us or even handed us a check. When we were finished we raised a hand. The check was brought immediately. And if they have the braised veal with chestnuts and honey, congratulations because your application to Heaven has just been approved.
Osteria Antico Dolo
This local seafood restaurant is has a no windows, a small sign, and a barrel out front. Since the owners are good friends with the hotel we use (sometimes the connections can work out in your favor) we were given complimentary Prosecco for every meal. They specialize in local seafood which changes daily. Depending on your level of adventure, the late fall is cuttlefish season. The squid ink dishes are not as scary as it sounds. Squid ink acts like salt, which everyone loves. Once you get over the color, it is an absolute treat.
The name of this restaurant means “Boogey Man” in Italian. The food is a mixture of classical Venetian seafood and heartier dishes like steaks and lasagna. The interior looks something like an Irish pub, minus the sports memorabilia. There is nothing about the restaurant that looks exceptional, but just wait until the food is served. My dish was served with a local Amarone from Verona. This was the best food I’ve ever had in a pub.
Ristorante Al Covo
Save Al Covo for your splurge evening. Run by a Venetian and his Texan wife, who speaks Italian faster than a fourteen year old girl, they serve an inventive mixture of Italian classics, with what I would call a French twist. Diane, the Texan, is in charge of the desserts, which combine Southern hospitality with Italian luxury.
Tucked in a alley wide enough for one person, is Alla Botte. Of all the places in Venice this is the hardest one to find. I swear, the alley way is so small you expect to end up in someones garbage bin. But at the end of this little alley is a charming fisherman’s spot with fresh pasta, seafood, and carrots so packed with flavor it made the carrots at home taste like wet plastic.
- Make a reservation. Reservations can be made a day in advance or even the same day. We tried to book a month in advance one time and they said its not necessary, but they do appreciate a call if you plan on joining them for dinner.
- Ask for a nice wine. No need to order any bottle over $50 euros unless there is a wine you are craving. Italian wines are cheaper at home and inexpensive can be quite good.
- Take a risk. My girlfriend and I played this game where we had to order one thing we had never tried before. Its not worth traveling to another country to order the same food you eat at home.
- Learn ten Italian words. Even if you can’t speak Italian learn how to say
Good Morning (Buon Giorno)
Good Evening (Buona Sera)
Thank You (Grazie)
you’re Welcome (Prego)
I would like… (Vorrei…followed by whatever you would like)
and here’s a longer one, It was good. (E stata buona)
- And most importantly, take your time. Your in Italy, relax and enjoy the pace of life. The Venetians complain endlessly about tourists being in a rush. They will give you a nod of approval if you can sit back and unwind.
Venice is one of my favorite places to visit. The more I read, learn, and experience about the city the more I enjoy each trip. Coming from the hustle of New York, I relish visiting a city with no cars. And in case you’re wondering where I like to stay check out Al Ponte Antico. Matteo is a perfect host for your Venetian adventures.