Venice Restaurants, by a NYC Restaurant Snob
I had heard that Venice was very touristy and that good restaurants in Venice were difficult to find, so prior to my trip, I researched every way I could think of: Chowhound, NY TImes, Michelin, Asmallworld, etc.
Despite the hard work, great meals were in short supply. Even at the supposed "best" restaurants in Venice, I couldn't shake the feeling that the joke was on me. That instead of decking out the restaurant like an ESPN Zone for the sporty-minded tourists, the locals had instead decked out a restaurant to appear "foodie" to cater specifically to tourists like myself.
Long story short, I never had a great meal in Venice. I ate some very decent food, and you will not find terrible food in Italy, so there's that. But even when we decided to spare no expense, we left the table wanting.
Here is a brief summary of the restaurants I tried:
Acqua Pazza - got trapped in the rain and this was the closest restaurant to where we stood. Food was decent, portions were enormous. But it was very expensive given the quality, 32 euro entrees, 28 euro pastas, and the spaghetti I ate was very undercooked. Not al dente, like five minutes undercooked. They had all the tourist favorites: zucchini blossoms, spider crab, etc, but it just felt like they were going through the motions. The decor is very nice. But then the tour groups started to show up and I got the gist.
Osteria alle Testiere - this was probably the best meal of our trip and purportedly one of the best "foodie' restaurants in Venice. The food was better than most of the other meals I ate, and it was good. The desserts were fantastic. But it was not fantastic food. It was somewhat inspired, but expensive, and not that well seasoned. But I'd have to recommend it because it was one of the best meals I had.
Terraza at the Danieli - Our hotel concierge made a mistake about our reservation at MET, which was actually closed on Mondays, and so we walked a few doors down to the Danieli. We knew we were going to get hosed, but braced ourselves. Relative to the ambience and the service level, which are both very high, the prices were not that bad. The food was actually very good, especially the rabbit tagliolini, which was some of the best pasta I've ever eaten.
Al Covo - We heard great things about this place from some Brits we met at Alle Testiere. Skip it. It was all tourists, seems like a foodie place, but the lighting is too bright and the food is very mediocre. Pasta with squash blossoms had exactly two microparticles of squash blossoms in it. That kind of thing. Yes, there is a frenetic American hostess who skitters around the room and talks Texan to guests, and I believe a lot of people see the charm in that. I certainly do, but not in Venice.
Il Buse di Torre - We ate here on a day trip to Murano and were very pleasantly surprised. Don't expect revelations, but the food was very solid and the restaurant was very clean. The calamari fritti was the best we'd had, and for the first time in Venice, I didn't reach for the salt and pepper shakers.
Bistro de Venise - We wandered in here late at night, expecting to have eaten in another city. The guidebook recommended it, and given its location near San Marco and the gilded decor, it seemed like it would be a grade A tourist trap. Instead, it was a very good, very inspired, authentic Venetian meal. Their menu consists of all "historical Venetian" dishes and tells you what century the Venetians made the thing you ate. A bit gimmicky, but the output was of a very high quality. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would have.
4 Fori - ate here for lunch. Cold fish salad was old fish salad, and everything was bland. Not sure how foodies could think this is a great spot. A definite pass.
Overall, don't expect revelations, don't think in dollars because you will feel ripped off. Decent food was had. Don't get so worked up over the restaurants, like I did. Food is not the highlight of a trip to Venice.
Boy jcisrhiannon, I think your post is dead-on, 100% correct. I remember my first trip to Italy when we went to Venice first, next came Florence where I couldn’t believe how good the food was in comparison. Later, I discovered the Piedmont where the food is even better, IMO. Go to Venice, but not for the food.
Well, I'm a NY restaurant snob too, only I live in Rome. I haven't been to Venice in a few years, so my experiences are not fresh, and I don't know most of the places you went to. At least you didn't go to Corte Sconta, which I thought was a big ripoff on my one visit. But I also hated Testiere -- I repeat some years ago, and I only went once. I've been to Al Covo a few times, however, and do like the restaurant very much. You didn't mention whether you had seafood, but that is the strong point. Few restaurants in Venice go to the trouble and expense of getting the good stuff. Cesare Benelli, owner-chef of Al Covo, does, and also Da Fiore, which I'm surprised you missed. Diane Benelli IS Texan, so that is what she speaks to English-speaking guests. She also speaks perfect Italian, when that is called for, as well as Venetian dialect, to the delight of waiters, fishermen, etc. I also like Osteria da Bacco very much and various cicheti places. Also Fiaschetteria Toscana, another I'm surprised you missed, and I know there are other good ones I haven't been to. I love the food in Venice, and considering the logistical difficulties and demographics (hardly any locals left), I'll forgive higher prices than elsewhere. I know there are terrible places and dishonest prices there too, but I'm always amazed at how much GOOD food I find in Venice. My only complaint is that it can be a little repetitive.
I know the question was addressed to Maureen but I too hated Testiere. If I wasn't with friends who were hosting the dinner, I would have walked out in the middle of it. My experience there was pretty similar to this reviewer's:
I can't say that I had any life-changing food moments in Venice but I eat quite well by sticking to old favorites like Anice Stellato for meals and trying out new wine bars for cicheti.
I return to Venice at least once a year and though food isn't what bring me back, I certainly look forward to eating wonderful risotto, perfectly grilled fish, and decadent dessert.
Thanks for that link. It pretty much describes my experience except I don't remember the specifics of the food. The attitude was awful -- they brought me the wrong pasta and acted as though it was my fault. The kitchen was way too small for what they were trying to do and it made them all cranky or something.
what dishes dd you eat? where else did you try?
most venetian food is very simple preparations of seafood with a bit of oil and lemon. The thing is the freshness of the fish or seafood and some of the unique, delicious varieties. At this season, the chicories, cooked or in salads, and the pumpkin is also very good. Mushrooms are still available too. and some dishes combine seafood and mushroom very nicely. We also have had some very good lasagna in Venice in the winter.