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Italy Trip Report: Venice (or, The Quest for Canoce)

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Let me start by telling you that addresses are useless in Venice. The only way to find anything is either getting to a nearby landmark and asking someone or by getting a map off of the restaurant’s website or business card.

Cavatappi
San Marco, 525 – Campo de la Guerra
041 2960252
Had a nice lunch at this friendly enoteca from the Slow Food Guide serving mostly locals (including a couple of gondoliers). My wife had octopus salad – tender chunks of chilled octopus with greens and tomatoes. I had an okay salmon pasta.

I had read in Jefferey Steingarten’s Venice essay about a type of shellfish called canoce (also squill, or mantis shrimp) that are supposed to be some of the sweetest crustaceans you can eat. I asked our hotelier about this and he warned us that we would have trouble finding lagoon seafood because they had a fishing stoppage in August to replenish the fish. The first place we tried was

Trattoria da Bepi
near Campo SS Apostoli
041.528.5031
We ordered the mixed seafood antipasto plate after being told that it had canoce on it. When it arrived, I didn’t see anything that fit the description. When I asked the waiter, he said that the canoce were “finished”. I didn’t yet know that this would become such a familiar refrain. We had some very good scallops grilled on the half-shell. Spaghetti with clams, mussels, and grilled shrimp was also good.

When we reported back to our hotels’ proprietor and told him we were planning to go to Murano the next day, he said we might have some luck at

Trattoria ’Busa alla Torre’ da Lele
Campo San Stefano, Murano
041 523 7027
We sat down at this bustling island restaurant and asked the waiter about canoce. “Finished,” he replied. I was disappointed, but not surprised at this point. We ordered the fried shrimp and calamari and a grilled branzino fillet. We waited. We waited some more. Lele, the friendly red-haired giant of an owner was chatting with some of the regulars and bringing them food himself. We waited some more. The waiter said it was coming. About 45 minutes after ordering, our food finally appeared. As we started eating, I heard Lele talking to a table that had just arrived. My Italian is pretty bad, but I know enough to know that they asked for recommendations and he recommended the branzino and the *canoce*. Okay, maybe I misunderstood. So the next time the waiter came by, I asked if he was sure that they were out of canoce. “Yes, sir. I am sorry. They are finished. No canoce.” As we finished eating Lele walks to the nearby table with three plates, proudly announces “canoce!” and sets the plates down. I was pretty sure about what was going on now. As I paid the bill, I asked the waiter again, “Isn’t that canoce they are eating?” “Yes, “ he said, “but they reserved it.” Grrr. We were going to have to find someplace that wouldn’t deny us the good stuff because we were tourists. The food we did get, by the way, was very good.

With only one day to go, what had started as a minor curiosity had become an obsession. I had to try canoce before leaving Italy. Starting at noon, we walked from restaurant to restaurant asking if they had canoce, until we finally came to

Trattoria da Gianni
Near Camp SS Apostoli
041 523 72 68
map: http://tinyurl.com/r5puk
Canoce are, in fact, delicious. They come five to an order here and we ate three orders, along with these tiny sweet shrimp called gambertini and an order of scampi (langoustines, more like large crawfish than shrimp). It was an elaborate lunch (70 euros), but well worth it. The waiter was great, the food was fresh, and they gave us the good stuff despite being tourists.

Antica Birraria la Corte
San Polo
041 275 0570
A okay place for a relatively inexpensive meal, but nothing to write home about. The pizza had a good crust, but was topped with cold, raw, mozzarella, which I thought was strange. The crab pasta could have been fresher.

Trattoria Pizzeria Nono Risorto
from Campo San Cassiano, just over the bridge on Sotoportego de Siora Bettina
041 524-1169
A much better place for a relatively inexpensive meal. Very casual with great service in a nice gravel garden. A good, simple, margherita pizza and a plate of spaghetti carbonara were just the thing for our farewall to Italy.

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  1. Brian, thanks for all of these reports, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I'm so glad that you got your canoce and liked them!! Sounds like you had a helpful hotelier in Venice too.

    1. Great that you made such a thorough report!

      I dont think it will make you feel better to know that we got served canoce - without asking - several times in our winter trips to venice. I just suspect that in season the tourist-local dynamic gets really strained as well as the supply of the special stuff.

      Sorry you had that outsider experience at "da Lele" - we had a very nice meal there, but different options were definitely presented to other tables (our last trip, in the dead of winter, February, there were only dribs and drabs of lagoon seafood available at all.

      My suggestion is to go to the Rialto market early in the morning and see for yourself what is likely to be available seafoodwise - you will be more realistic - when we went and saw how little of the available fish was from the lagoon or the adriatic, and that there really was no schie, canoce, hairy crabs, etc., or local prawns, we adjusted our expectations.

      1. It is true: there is almost no fresh fish available in Northern Italy in August, since there is a ban on fishing from the Adriatic sea during August , in order to spare the young fish and shellfish. All you get is frozen fish, and most likely also the canoce (cicale di mare) had been frozen...

        But Venice is much more enjoyable between October and April, when fresh fish is available everywhere and without reservations !

        1 Reply
        1. re: Sturmi

          It's possible that they were frozen, but we saw fresh (or at least pre-defrosted) ones at the Rialto market that morning. Just not that many.