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The Ideal First-Night Restaurant in Venice

In a couple of months, my husband and I will be taking our 10yo daughter on her first visit to Italy; we've been there a number of times.

I'm having the usual foodie indecision about where to go to dinner on our first night. Our flight will arrive into Marco Polo airport at about 5 pm, so it'll be later when we get into Venice. It will be our daughter's first flight to Europe, so we don't know how she'll react to the time change. We're staying near Campo Santa Maria Formosa. Our other two nights in Venice, we'll probably go to Alle Testiere and Anice Stellato (both of which we adults have been to). Our daughter is an adventurous eater, and we have no problem taking her anywhere.

So, where to go? First, I wanted to go to alla Botte, which I've enjoyed, but husband not so much. And it would be close by, which is good. But for ambience and scenery, not as great. Then I came up with Vini da Gigio, which we haven't eaten at, but wanted to the last time we were in Venice. It has a great location on a canal, but if we're too jet-lagged it may be too far of a walk. And the cuisine and price range may too similar to our restaurants. Then, maybe, Bancogiro. I've never been here, either, but it looks great, has a local crowd, closer than Vini da Gigio. Or da Remigio, which is typical, I think the prices would be lower, close by, but no canal view.

Votes for any of those, or other places that are good food, good scenery/ambiance and close-ish to our hotel?

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  1. I've been to Vini da Gigio twice and found it nice but not spectacular. You'll be happy with the meal but if you start snoozing waiting for your primi you won't feel like you wasted it. It might be the perfect first night restaurant. It's consistent and the service is good. As for it's location, it is on a canal but you can't see it from the restaurant. Anice Stellato is much better in this regard. Enjoy your trip.

    1. My one experience at Da Remigio did not encourage me to return. Nor were the prices signifcantly lower than at Vini da Gigio.

      1. It is always tempting to cram another meal into one's itinerary. After a long flight, I can't imagine being holed up two hours and eating a full dinner at a place like Vini da Gigio ( which I happen to like for good traditional cooking and one of the best/well priced wine list). My advice is to pick an informal place near your hotel such as La Mascareta, Cavatappi or Vini da Arturo and relax a bit. Then if there is still energy left, stroll, eat gelato, listen to the canals and just let Venice sink in; it's magical.This is always how we spend our first night in Venice after a trans-Atlantic flight. Bancogiro being a good standby because it is informal, lively with wonderful outside tables and a short stroll from our apartment.

        1. I believe da Alberto is pretty close to you - I think you want a pretty simple meal on your first night. Ive note been there, but it should be unpretentious and good.
          There is also a restaurant Ive wanted to try on the fondamenta nuove,called Algiubagio that looks out on the lagoon, which would be wonderful at night and is not far from you. Osteria alla frasca, where we have lunched a couple times is also not far, on a tiny plaza which will challenge your map skills to find.

          1. Thank you for all the great suggestions. The best, perhaps, being the reminder that sitting somewhere for 2 hours on arrival night is not the best idea.

            Funny how, even though we enjoy art, history, people-watching, etc., our trips seems to come down to talking about and planning where and what we'll eat!

            1. There are some great responses here, but the problem is "ambience/scenery." If you really want canal views and decent food close to where you are staying you could go to da Rioba on the Fondamenta Misercordia.. that's on a canal.

              Osteria da Alberto and Vini da Gigio are awesome and you don't have to order a ton of food, but you DO have to make reservations and on a first night that's kind of sketchy.

              To PBSF's list of bars I would add La Cantina, great cheese plates and great people watching. It's very near Vini da Gigio (which is not far from Santa Maria Formosa - 10-15 minutes tops.)

              You could also go to Casa Mia near Campo SS apostoli, they have great pizza and other stuff too - it's not uber gourmet, but it's where I head on my first night in Venice if I'm on that side of town. The pizza there is killer.

              1. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/605395 From the ones mentioned I would go to Il Refolo and sit outside. The ambience will be incredible by the little canal with Venice's best pizza and a full menu to compliment it. This is owned by the da Fiore family. Please note in the body of what I wrote I incorrectly referred to Il Refelo by a different name. When I discovered my error it was too late for me to edit this.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Joe H

                  Il Refolo came to mind but it is too far of a walk from their hotel on Campo Santa Maria Formosa.

                  1. re: PBSF

                    It's an easy ride on the Vaporetto. There's a stop only three or four minutes away.

                2. I know that there have been recent postings about Il Ridotto -- we were there at the end of June. With some trepidation, because I feel like the boy who announced that the emperor had no clothes, I am voicing my opinion that the meal we ate there -- which was by far the most expensive of our two weeks in Italy -- was Not That Great. We went with our two sons (teens). The server asked if my husband and I ate raw shrimp and I indicated that while I and my sons did, my husband did not. The server, inexplicably and without asking, brought our first course of shrimp (mine raw and my husband's, cooked) but brought small pizzas for the boys -- they would have happily eaten the shrimp, raw or otherwise. The seafood plate that we ordered as a first course to share -- marinated in olive oil -- was fresh but not special. We ordered the homemade pasta with clams, shrimp ravioli, baked fish with crumb crust, and grilled lamp chops. All of it was well-prepared and good, but nothing that I would even begin to consider thrilling, interesting, transcendent or inspiring. Maybe it was the chef's off night. For a while there was only one other couple in the place and, as we finishing our meal, a large party came in. Only then did the owner/chef come out to greet the newcomers -- although he did shake our hand on our way out. All in all, a disappointment.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Where are my glasses

                    I gotta agree with you there, glasses. Here's my review of our disappointing evening at Il Ridotto:

                    The Best? Far from it, I'm sorry to say. We went Monday evening and it was horribly disappointing.

                    - I had called to make a reservation the week before, and was assured that our table was booked for 7:45pm (we asked for 8pm) under our last name (this conversation was conducted in French, and I spelt our last name, which is Italian). When we arrived, Gianni (I can only presume it was him, as he didn't welcome us or anything) blankly just kept smiling, and didn't think we could possibly be the people he was expecting. When he showed us his book, our name was clearly there, but misspelled. Okaaaay. When we sat down (with some trepidation - we kept looking if another “Pilachi” was going to walk in (our last name is Pilati). He came over and made us write our names down, just to make sure.
                    - we ordered the lobster salad, on the recommendation of our dining neighbours (a party of 3 women), and the Tre d'Adriatico, an appetizer of fish tartare.
                    - we tried to order wine, and asked Gianni for a recommendation based on what we ordered, in a certain price range (50-60E). First of all, he shunned us drinking red, with fish. Um, any good chef knows that the white/fish red/meat thing is dead, so c'mon. Then he wandered away for awhile. He came back, to fawn over the aforementioned table next to us, carefully explaining all the dishes, etc.
                    - we get our wine (which contained cork), and wait. and wait. About 25 minutes. For two cold appetizers.
                    - our appetizer comes out, gets plunked down on the table, and that's it. There are three types of fish tartare, and I have no idea what they each are. They're great, but anonymous.
                    - our plates are empty, and they sit there. and sit there. and sit there. I have to restrain H from walking them back to the kitchen. Finally, when he comes back, he asks how it was. We say it was lovely, but would like to know the types of fish we ate – all of a sudden, he doesn’t speak English and hesitantly points at the empty plate and says “this one tuna, this one bass, the third…oh, that one I don’t know”. Seriously.
                    - our wine is now gone. Finally! Our mains arrive (no, we do not have the stomachs to do antipasti, primi e secondi). I ordered the shrimp ravioli in “essence” of tomato and buffaletta. My H, the “Sant Pietro” fish (I think). We both order a glass of wine – me white, H red.
                    - H’s fish is excellent. My ravioli tasted like sad, cold, unwitting hargow…with tomatoes? And buffaletta cheese? I'm a big a fan of this cheese as anyone, but it was bizarre, and not good. The tomato was supposed to be “essence” which is a distillation of flavours, yes? This had no flavour. None. Boring, and cold to boot. Dare I say it felt microwaved?
                    - we’re now done. H’s glass of wine has not appeared, nor has mine. Our empty plates are still sitting there, we’ve been done for 10 minutes. We finally ask for our wine, and he brings out H’s, but not mine. I never got mine.

                    I think this place has jumped the shark, totally. The service was just plain incompetent, and clearly ego-driven, the food was good but hardly rapturous and in the case of the ravioli, misguided. Interesting how out of the 5 tables inside, 4 of them were North American eaters, and one was a German couple. We should have taken it as a sign that as we asked for directions to the place, a waiter at another restaurant said "you're going there? Bah, waste of money." Indeed, it was.

                    1. re: apilati

                      Interesting to read this as well as the post above your's since my wife and I had an entirely different experience which led to my almost rapturous endorsement of Il Ridotto which, then, was virtually unknown on here. Interestingly on the night we were there I drank red-Dal Forno '03 Valpolicella and shared a glass with Gianni. He didn't make a comment about my drinking "red" with fish, perhaps because it was Dal Forno! Still, we'll be back in the spring which is a long time from now. But we'll definitely return. I am just sorry that your and wherearemyglasses' experiences were not similar to ours'. Fortunately, there are now many others' who have shared an experience similar to ours'. I must also note that if I begin to hear several bad experiences from Alle Testiere we may forsake Venice altogether.

                      .....well, maybe not...

                      1. re: Joe H

                        I have not been to Il Ridotto, therefore, I cannot comment on the particular restaurant. From my experience of dining out in Venice, it is difficult to me to recommend any restaurant without some reservation. That includes some of my favorites: Alle Testiere, Fiaschetteria Toscano, Boccadoro, Vini da Giglia, Antiche Carampane. The issue is complicated. First the food: Venetian cooking is simple and very traditional, primary seafood based. There maybe some small amount of creativity but rarely any big bang or ‘bells and whistle’. Ordering correctly is paramount in getting a good meal. It is an expensive city to dine out and a piece of simply prepared fish for 30E can be jarring to some. Also, too high of expectation can be a disappointment for many diners.
                        The service is probably what I find (and many of my friends) eating out in Venice so exasperating. Venice is still a city that one gets better service when one is known. Also the Venetians are not afraid to show their emotions which to many American a bit shocking when it comes to service personnel. I have never gotten bad service at Alle Testiere other then being rushed, but I have seen otherwise for some others. I can never recommend Aniche Carampane though it is probably our favorite. Because we’ve have become somewhat regulars, we are always treated royally but I know that is not the case for others. These are trattorias with all the personalities of their owners. Others may not have the same experience as you at Il Ridotto or Alle Testieres but that doesn't mean they are not good places.
                        Joe H: don’t lose faith in Venice; you know that very little has changed over the years. That includes Alle Testiere, where I have never had a bad meal. Enjoy your visit next Spring. Please share your experience; we'll be there for the month of April.

                        1. re: PBSF

                          Thank you, PBSF. If we go in April I'll contact you and perhaps we can share a dinner or a drink. It would be a real pleasure to meet you both!

                          I was actually being facetious about Venice although it probably didn't sound like it. Totally agree with you about Venice not being a great city for food but we are just in love with it and cannot resist returning every year, if possible.

                          Having said this, on our trip this Spring we rented a car from the garage and went to Soave, Bassano en Grappa and Asolo. We really enjoyed this and will probably expand on this on our next trip. A close friend of mine shares our (and your) love of Venice and northern Italy and has found a converted palace near Vicenza with jr suites for E 200 a night that they stayed at this year. They loved it! They also used this as a base to explore for several days before moving over to Venice.

                          I should mention here that they are extremely sophisticated having been to numerous starred restaurants all over Italy. Still, a mutual friend of ours (who lives in Vicenza and is as passionate about food as anyone you have ever met!) took them to a really unique "restaurant" on their last trip. This was a private home outside of the city where a woman with several helpers prepared dinner for 15 or 20 people. There was no menu, only what she found in the market and wanted to cook. My friend told me that while the style, the presentation and plating were totally different, in its own way this was as good as Calandre, Dal Pescatore or Pergola for what they ate.

                          This really appeals to me.

                          There are also a number of restaurants generally south of Verona that I like, too. My guess is that we'll try the Vicenza "base" for three or four nights and include a day trip to Bolzano, a return to Bassano and Asolo and also a dinner at my favorite restaurant in Italy, the Michelin one star and wine temple, Osteria La Fontanina in Verona. And the "private" house which sounds like an experience that I would love.

                      2. re: apilati

                        We have just returned from a trip to Europe that included Venice, Berlin and Amsterdam. I researched and made reservations for a special dinner in each city. I, after hearing glowing reviews on these boards, made a reservation at "Il Ridotto". I have to say I was disappointed. The small restaurant is charming. The service was friendly and efficeint. The food was meticulously presented but was consistently over-salted., to the point of being unedible. We struck up a conversation with a mother and daughter next to us who were also unimpressed. I did however redeem myself with a reservation made in Berlin at "Ma Tim Rau"...absolutly phenomenal!!!

                    2. Thanks for the additional suggestions - I already had Refolo as a possibility (once again, more possible meals than time to eat them in), based on your earlier review.

                      What a great list to have to choose from.

                      1. Over the course of about a dozen trips to Venice over the past 25 years, my first meal has usually been at da Ignazio, towards the Grand Canal from the Frari. It serves as a reminder of what is best about Venetian cooking: fresh seafood prepared simply and with care. There are seasonal specials (watch for the lasagna with wild nettles (ortiche) in the fall), but the menu generally comprises the traditional standbys of Venetian cuisine. The same cooks and servers have been there since I started going. I prefer it for lunch, when the clientele includes local businesspeople and scholars working at the archives at the Frari (of which I am one). It's not cheap (figure on about E50 a head), but worth it and constitutes a baseline from which to judge more trendy places.

                        1. We are also looking for a few first night restaurant suggestions. Also traveling with a child (11 years old). We are staying at the Westin Europa and Regina on the Grand Canal near Piazza San Marco. Any suggestions for casual places, not needing reservations either right near the hotel or on the square? This will be our first time in Venice so something a little magical would be wonderful. We are eating at Il Refolo and Bancogiro on other nights.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: elynchking

                            For something casual with a child, da Aciugheta might be good since it is large, lively, near San Marco, has a varied menu (also cicchetti and pizza which you would probably want to skip since Il Refolo is on your agenda), good service, outdoor seating on a campo. Don't expect great food but it is crowded and fun. It is own by the same family as Il Ridotto which is the current darling of this board. It is full of visitors but everything around San Marco is in the evening is, therefore, cannot be avoided. There are many good becari and enoteca nearby but I am not sure how they would suit your child. All the places right on the Piazza San Marco are "famous" cafes which are better for coffee, drinks and light snacks. The exception is the Quadri, which is probably not what you have in mind.

                            1. re: elynchking

                              You could go over the Accademia bridge (not far from your hotel) to the Accademia pizzeria at the foot of the bridge on the other side. It's not super gourmet but the pizza is good, you don't need a reservation (though you may have to wait a bit) and they have tables on the Grand Canal. Or you could go to Taverna San Trovaso just around the corner from there, it's not such a stunning setting but very comfortable and the food is consistently good. Both are good places to take kids.