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Mar 31, 2012 02:37 PM

The Big Feast - Veneia and Firenze

First installment Venezia!

On this trip to Italy we focused on just 2 cities. Venezia and Firenze. We have traveled to Italy many times but have not been to back to these “must visit” cities in over 15 years. We concentrated on food first, sights and touring second. If there was a sight or museum to see near the place we were eating we would check it out if time permitted.

I want to give thanks to all the Chowhound contributors for all their advice and tips and Especially Elizabeth Minchilli and Michela Scibilia for creating the APPs we used as our guides. These were invaluable.

Venice was up first. I felt this was the more difficult place to find the good stuff, but we found plenty of great food. Most are on the greatest hit lists here. Only one total bust. I will try to keep this brief, just the highlights, Ha!

Al Marca. Lunch spot. This place is essentailly a closet with a bar across the entrance, and a few shelves attached to surrounding walls to set your glass on. It is in the square next to Rialto Market. They serve about 25 wines by the glass and tiny sandwiches on little ciabatta style buns, Bacala montecato, prosciutto with truffled cheese etc. About 10 different types. They were all great and all the wines are local from NE Italy. Several prosecco’s to choose from. Everyone just eats standing up and it is a very local working person scene. We went back several more times even when we had lunch plans. Try it!

Boccodoro. Dinner. Our first seafood session. Really small nice place with very fresh simply prepared seafood. Nice modern decor. Very interesting modern art on the walls not your typical pictures of Venice in it’s glory days. Not on the tourist trail. Chef and wife team wait on you. It was obviously scampi season as we saw them on a lot of menus cooked and raw. They are so sweet in the raw form. Also artichoke season especially the little baby ones we ate a lot of carcioffi! We ate them both as often as possible. Also good pastas and simple grilled fish.

Alle Testiare. Dinner. Lives up to the hype. A step up from Boccodoro in creativity. Small cramped room no attempt at ambience but the seafood was stellar. More Scampi this time cooked in an agro dolce sauce and a huge portion. Turbot with star anise flavored sauce. Great chocolate dessert. Service very nice.

Ristorante Quadri. Dinner. I will try to give my honest thoughts about this place. The food was very good, a couple of dishes were exquisite. The quality of the seafood the best. My seafood ravioli was especially memorable. Prices crazy! I know location, location, location! The view was not what we remembered or expected as it was winter and the cafes were closed at night. No dueling orchestras for better or worse. All we could see was scaffolding and the touts shooting their glow toys into the sky. If you did not request a window table you would have no view. The other thing that really ticked me off was the chairs were so uncomfortable. They may have been authentic to the 1800”s but they were awful, everyone in the room was squirming around after an hour. 60€ appetizers should pay for comfortable chairs. If you are on an expense account, money is no concern or someone else is buying go for it. Not good value. Bring a pillow for your back!

Il Ridotto. Dinner. How cool is this place!! Food as good or better than Quadri at 1/3 the price . Modern sleek furniture with exposed brick walls very comfortable chairs, nice subtle lighting not always a given even in Italian places. It seats about 12-15 customers max. 2 seatings per night. Owner/Chef waits on the tables with a couple of others helping out. Standouts were more raw scampi, the calamari antipasti best fried calamari I have ever had, a very modern approach to it. All the dishes firmly rooted in Venetian tradition but elevated by a contemporary cooking and plating approach. Small tubetti pasta with go fish broth the essence of the sea! The other great discovery here was Pinot Nero’s from the Alto Adige region. These are some of the best pinot noirs I have had in a while at a great price point. I live in Pinot Noir country in CA and have drank more than my share of Burgundies and these stand up quite well. Now I am on a mission to find them in USA.

Venissa. Lunch. Ok, Venice seems crowded and claustrophobic after a week. Especially on Sundays when all the main landers come to visit family, shop and eat at the few places open on Sunday. So where to go for Lunch? Mazzorbo of course! Huh? It is the island next to Burrano which is a madhouse on Sundays. Mazzorbo had all of 15 visitors on it, all eating at Venissa! Mazzorbo is still essentially a vegetable farm with vegetable plots and a vineyard which now produces wine again. Venissa is a small hotel/restaurant that has taken old run down buildings and turned them into a chic little inn. The ristorante is set in the vineyard both outdoor and indoor seating. Too cold for outside that day. The kitchen is behind glass doors and is sleek and modern with stainless steel everything, immaculate, such a contrast to the ancient surroundings. The chef is Paola Budel and she is a true rising star and should get a Michelin star soon IMHO. This is what I found so intriguing, My 1st course was raw scampi onto which they poured a subtle porcini broth that just poached the scampi just enough to change the texture. The sweet scampi with the earthy porcini one of the best seafood dishes I have had in a long time. So refined so subtle but so packed with pure flavor. Ok so what’s next? I ordered the turbot. So here is the thing that wowed me. I thought I would get a small filet of turbot with some delicate sauce. WRONG! What came to the table was a huge turbot steak on the bone grilled with rosemary, olive oil and garlic, a totally rustic gutsy dish. Essentially turbot bistecca! Perfectly done, the kind of dish you want to pick every piece of fish off the bone. So the contrast of the two dishes was the key for me just a great overall experience. More Alto Adige Pinot Nero. The kitchen also seems to be a training ground for very young chefs as well. They will learn a lot from Paola!

Firenze report later this week. Cippola Rosa, Osteria Personale, Ora d'Aria Dario Cecchini and a few more.

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  1. Thank you for the excellent write up.

    1. Great report and many thanks for all the detail!

      Glad you found those pinot neros. They are unfortunately pretty hard to find in the US. Do you remember which ones you had??

      6 Replies
      1. re: jen kalb

        The "pinot neros" are blauburgunders and are wonderful wines. We drink them all the time in the Alto-Adige. That being said, to begin to compare them to Burgundies is, as scfinson said, IMHO, is way off the mark. It will only lead to disappointment. They do not age well at all and have to be drunk within 5-6 years.

        You can find them in The States, but the wines do not travel well and on top of that, as with most other Italian wines coming to The States, aside from a very few importers, the shipping is poor (think sitting out on the docks in non reefered containers). Italian wines coming to The States, in general, are a mere shadow of what they are here in Italy.

        @scfinson Il Ridotto. What time are the two seatings per night?

        1. re: allende

          The seatings at Il Ridotto are 7:30 & 9:30. Yeah the Burgundy reference might have been a little over enthusiastic. The reserve bottles(2005's) we had were very good at <40€ on a restaurant list and I think it would be difficult to find either CA pinot noir or red burgundy at that price that would be comparable.Obviously they would not compete with the high end of the scale. There is always the joy of the moment factor and when you try to repeat the experience at home it is just not the same.

        2. re: jen kalb

          These are some of the producers Cantina Terlano, J Hoffstatter, Colterenzio, St Michelle Eppan
          Tramen- We also liked Lagrein form this area, a different grape more deeply colored and robust than the pinot neros.

          1. re: scfinson


            This is not only directed to you (and this is not meant to be critical), but also to many others who have written here. It has to do with restaurants in Italy that have two seatings.

            What I've failed to understand is the two seatings policy coupled with the full enjoyment of an Italian meal at a restaurant, Il Ridotto for example.

            Two hours at a restaurant such as Il Ridotto is, IMHO, a very short period of time. If we go into a restaurant, it will take at least 15 minutes to get settled, to have the servers bring over the menus and the wine list, to take our time to look through the menu and the wine list and choose, to ask any questions and then to have the servers take the orders. Then it will take some time before the first course is served (I would certainly hope so)!

            We're not talking about a trattoria which might provide fast service. We're talking about a restaurant that prides itself on a decent sized menu and a decent wine list. I would say 15 minutes at a minimum and certainly more before you get the wine and the bottle is opened and before food is served.

            At the end of the meal, assuming one has coffee and then attempts to get a check, it is at least another 15 minutes. That leaves 1 1/2 hours, at the very maximum, to eat a meal and, let's assume there are two people at the table, to drink a bottle of wine. Let's also assume that you have just a first course, a second course and dessert, with no antipasto.

            My question to the blog is how does one do this in 1 1/2 hours max and fully enjoy the meal? How would two people drink a bottle of wine in an hour and a half and eat three courses (and quite probably a "pre primo or a pre antipasto") and fully enjoy it? Is there no time for relaxing between courses and glasses of wine?

            We've eaten out in Italy during the past 35 years, many more than a thousand times, and aside from the few times we've gotten up from the table. paid our full check and left two of our courses because the food and/ or the restaurant was vile, there has never been a time when it has not taken us more than two hours to eat dinner. Never.

            I don't mean this as disrespect in any way, but if this site prides itself as it says "Chowhounds hate to ingest anything undelicious" and "A Chowhound is someone who spends nearly every waking moment planning her or his next meal", how does that fit in with gobbling down a meal and a full bottle of wine in 1 1/2 hours (max). Where is the enjoyment of a leisurely Italian meal as only the Italians know how to do?

            1. re: allende

              I totally agree. I have never been able to finish a 3 course meal with coffee in 2 hours without feeling that I am being push out of the door. The first seating is too short and the second is usually during an uncivilized late hour. It has become the norm in all the small good bistros in Paris. That has spill to Venice. I have given up going to Alle Testiere, basically a simple trattoria, unless I want to dine late. One of the reason that I have never been to Il Ridotto. Guess it is just the economics.

              1. re: PBSF

                It is NOT my policy and I did not ever feel rushed at Il ridotto to their credit and we are slow eaters and do not hesitate to tell servers to give us more time between courses. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The one thing I noticed on this trip is we saw very few if any people including Italians who were eating the old traditional antipasti, primi, secondi, dolce, coffee meal. We were quite surprised. So the Italians aren't even doing it anymore. Many would just have one course only or two at the most. One table of 4 at Il Ridotto one couple ordered 3 courses the other couple only an insalata misto and dessert. Not sure what the story was there. I can't eat like that anymore and either for health or money reasons it does not seem as many others want to eat that way anymore. It may become a thing of the past to do the multi course long meal. Restaurants may be adjusting their policies to ensure profitability if people are only going to order 1 or 2 courses even at fine dining places. We also saw few people ordering full bottles of wine and only drinking by the glass, another trend?