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Venice, in small bites


The upcoming Venice Biennale is the best time to explore the local eateries’ pandemic return to old-style foods such as polpetti and castraure

The upcoming Venice Biennale is the best time to explore the local eateries’ pandemic return to old-style foods such as polpetti and castraure

Just when you thought that Venice was turning into some flamboyant Gothic version of Disneyland and the gulf between tourist Venice and the increasingly endangered population of real Venetians was at its widest, comes a fresh breath of tradition — a renaissance of the old osteria and trattoria. These are family-run eateries serving simple local food at reasonable prices with daily menus reflecting what is available in local markets.

With no tourists for the last two years, small eateries have emerged in the lanes of the not-so-fashionable districts of Venice and on some of its lesser-known islands. Even some luxury hotels, like the Aman, famous for hosting the Clooney wedding, are following suit.

Baccala mantecato

Thankfully, Italians continue to hold out nobly against the 10-minute lunch, and so lunch and dinner are proper meals. Look out for old-fashioned starters or cichetti (pronounced chiketti) like baccala mantecato (salt cod whipped till creamy with olive oil), castraure (fresh young artichokes usually served fried), and a whole supporting cast of seafood starring my favourite seppie in nero (large black cuttlefish) served in risotto or with polento to mop up the umami squid ink sauce. For vegetarians, every season produces a bounty of vegetables cooked in creative ways.

If you plan to drop by — for a holiday or to visit the Venice Biennale (April 23 – November 27) — here is a sampling of where to eat:

Trattoria Bar Pontini

A family-run restaurant presided over by Jada and her all-women team, inside you will find workmen in overalls having a coffee and a tramezzino, a local sandwich made with soft white bread generously stuffed with Russian salad or ham.

Trattoria Bar Pontini

Trattoria Bar Pontini

Outside is where you need to be, at a table on the canal sidewalk in between a (non-smelly) fish stall and an old tobacconist. Try the fritto misto, the seafood spaghetti and the seafood antipasti. Regulars come here to either eat or take-away the meatballs called polpetti, sort of flattish cutlets made out of tuna or meat. I love the local vibe here, the reasonable prices and big portions. Avoid weekends when tourists hover. Pontini is a five-minute walk from the railway station and the busy shopping street known as Strada Nova.

Details: @trattoriapontini on Instagram

Trattoria Da Ignazio

This is a restaurant, with a delightful indoor courtyard and fairly spacious seating, recommended by a Venetian friend who has been coming here for years. Started in 1951 by Ignazio and his son Fiorenzo Scroccaro who runs it today, the menu goes beyond the usual seafood and stretches to seasonal vegetables, salads, as well as steak and plates of thinly sliced Parma ham.

Fiorenzo Scroccaro

Fiorenzo Scroccaro

The Fegato alla Veneziana, liver braised with onions and vinegar, is quite simply delicious. It is behind the San Toma vaporetto stop in San Polo, located in a maze of alleys with little shops and old ateliers.

Details: trattoriadaignazio.com, and @ristorante_da_ignazio_venezia on Instagram

Osteria Ai 4 Feri Storti

An osteria with a hand-written menu, the must-try here is the fritto misto which they make with rice flour so it’s quite crispy. The star is the ink squid cuttlefish packed with flavour.

Osteria Ai 4 Feri Storti and its popular fritto misto

Osteria Ai 4 Feri Storti and its popular fritto misto

Betty and Barbara (there are pictures of them on the wall) started it and the woman who single-handedly runs the whole restaurant and serves, has been here for over 20 years. It seats 24 inside with four tables outside by the bridge in a charming setting. The kitchen closes at 2.30 pm after lunch. Easy to find just off the Campo Aponal in San Polo near the San Silvestro stop, it also has some impressive wines.

Details: Osteria Ai 4 feri Storti on Facebook

Rosa Salva caffè

Rosa Salva caffè

Rosa Salva

One of the oldest caffès in Venice started in the 1870s, it is still a family business operating another flagship one on the mainland and a rollicking catering business. Its incongruous exterior on the lovely San Giovanni e Paolo square in the district of Castello, near the vaporetto stop Fondamente Nove, doesn’t look special at all but Rosa Salva has a huge reputation with the locals.

Try sandwiches and a glass of wine at Rosa Salva

Try sandwiches and a glass of wine at Rosa Salva

A pastry shop which also sells snacks, tramezzini sandwiches and drinks (the alcoholic variety), its specialties include hot chocolate with zaletti biscuits, frozen zabaglione with Venetian baicoli cookies and fritole, a soft-fried dough filled with apple and raisins or zabaglione. Their bigne filled with pistachio cream are to die for. It really is a great place to stop, pause, people watch and grab a sandwich for a few euros, if the seagulls don’t swoop down on it, that is.

Details: rosasalva.it

Arva at Aman Venice

What’s not to love about the Aman, a 16th century palace painstakingly restored to its former glory? Its restaurant, Arva, is a tribute to Italy’s rich culinary heritage.

Arva at Aman Venice

Arva at Aman Venice
| Photo Credit: @aman_venice

Chef Matteo and consultant chef Norbert work with local farmers, fishermen, and niche suppliers to secure the freshest Adriatic fish, single-source olive oils from Tuscany and Liguria, artisanal pasta, and market produce. What I love is having a delicious Negroni called Courageous and indulging in a selection of their delicious cichetti; thinly sliced prosciutto, veal tonnata, and baby artichokes on a green parsley sauce.

Details: aman.com

Ristorante Alberto Capo – Chioggia

I have found a modern equivalent to the old favourite, Locanda Cipriani, on the island of Torcello. Take a trip to Chioggia, an island where real Venetians live and which is reachable from the mainland and from Venice by car or bus… and of course by boat. It’s like a mini Venice with canals but without the tourists and the 15th century palaces. Other things going for it are the extraordinary fish market which supplies most of Venice’s restaurants, a lively weekly market on a Thursday and the oldest working clock tower in the world.

Tables overlooking the many canals, and the restaurant’s seafood antipasti

Tables overlooking the many canals, and the restaurant’s seafood antipasti

I have been coming to the restaurant Alberto Capo for over 10 years and the food just keeps getting better. His ink squid risotto, seafood antipasti platter and the fritto misto, are all must-haves. Do try the Ribolla Gialla which is both an inexpensive and lesser-known white wine from Friuli with a salty mineral finish which grows on you. Young Alberto tells me he didn’t suffer much during Covid because Italians come to this restaurant both from the mainland and from Venice.

Details: ristorante-alberto-capo.business.site

La Taverna

Felice and Nadia own and run this trattoria with menus in German and English as well. It’s on a bylane off the main street of Chioggia.

Felice and Nadia of La Taverna

Felice and Nadia of La Taverna

I am not convinced about the homely décor –quirky family memorabilia — but the place is packed with locals eating spaghetti with mussels, seafood antipasti and ink squid ravioli. They do have a small outdoor section. We had the local Gambalara Garganella white wine by the glass which is reasonable.

Details: tavernachioggia.com



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