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Jun 25, 2012 08:02 AM

VENICE Report: Ostaria Al Garanghelo, La Zucca, Antiche Carampane

For the benefit of the Chowhound community, here's my report on the restaurants that my wife and I visited for dinner during our recent trip to Venice from 22 May to 24 May.

Four years ago we ate at Ostaria Al Garanghelo, and we enjoyed it enough that we decided to return our first night. Our choice was made that much easier by the fact that it was so close to our bed-and-breakfast. Most of the tables were empty when we arrived, and they stayed that way throughout our meal. We ordered a liter of the house red wine and a bottle of water and started with spaghetti all’amatriciana and sarde in saor. We thought amatriciana, typically roman, would be a mistake, but we couldn’t resist. We should have. Prosciutto cotto had been substituted for guanciale, and the sauce, normally rich and slightly spicy, was thin and bland. The sarde in soar was solid—slightly vinegary, sweet, and not at all fishy. Next, we split fegato alla veneziana and spaghetti with seppia. My wife thought the liver was too greasy; I thought it was overcooked and not especially great. The spaghetti with seppia was good, but less because the dish was exceptional and more because this pasta was better than the first. Overall, we were disappointed, and our experience didn’t match the one that we had four years ago. We learned the next day from our hostess that Al Garanghelo’s previous owner had sold it four weeks prior. She wasn’t sure that the food had suffered because of the sale, but she said that Venetians had ceased visiting. Unless we romanticized our experience from four years ago, I would say the food has definitely declined. But at least the meal was inexpensive. Dinner was 53€.

We went to Osteria La Zucca the next evening, and I was a little surprised by the menu. I had seen so much written on Chowhound that La Zucca was vegetarian friendly that I assumed there wouldn’t be much meat. This wasn’t true at all (although, indeed, there was no fish as reported elsewhere in this forum). La Zucca seems to be labeled “vegetarian friendly” due to the long list of contorni on the menu rather than anything else. I was also disappointed to see that many of the items on the menu weren’t especially Italian. To start, we ordered a carafe of house red wine, a bottle of water, tagliatelle with goat cheese and artichokes, and La Zucca’s pumpkin flan. The pumpkin flan, which we liked very much, was topped with Mizithra cheese, olive oil, and pumpkin seeds, and it reminded us of pumpkin ravioli filling. The tagliatelle, like the spaghetti with seppia from the night before, was fine, but not exactly memorable. After our primi, we had lamb with tzatziki sauce, veal, and stewed romano beans with tomatoes. The lamb was well cooked, well seasoned, and the better of the two secondi. Neither my wife nor I can remember anything about the veal, which may say more than anything I could have written about it. My wife liked the beans; I thought they were overcooked. At the end of dinner, my wife and I were split on La Zucca: she enjoyed it, and I thought it was mediocre. I’m not sure we’d go back. The total bill was 80€.

On our last night, we had a 730 reservation at Trattoria Antiche Carampane, which was earlier than we would have liked, but the sleepy dining room quickly sprang to life as more diners arrived. We were led to a table and given menus that had been translated into English and French. When we ask for Italian ones our server replied that none existed. We thought this was odd, but when a Venetian woman sat to my left, indeed, she never consulted one. While we made our selections, our server brought us simply fried tiny shrimp served in a paper cone. They weren’t extraordinary, but they were pleasantly addictive, and a great start. We ordered a bottle of Roero Arneis, a bottle of water, and pasta for our primi. My wife had linguine tossed in a baby octopus sugo, and I had spaghetti with a spicy shellfish sauce. Both were excellent and satisfied our notions of what pasta should be in Italy: simple and fresh. As secondi, we ordered sepe in tecia (cuttlefish) and moeche fritte (soft-shell crabs). According to my discerning wife, the cuttlefish, which was served with white polenta, was the best she’s had in Venice. I didn’t try her secondo as I was too preoccupied with mine. The crabs were lightly fried and mixed with greens and fried sage. (Quick aside: After reading about moeche upon returning home, I wonder if the moeche I ate were previously frozen or imported as their local season didn’t seem to correspond to our visit. Either way, they were delicious.) We usually pass on dessert in Italy, but we went against our instincts and asked for the tortino morbido di cioccolato. Richly decadent and chocolaty, it turned out to be one of the best desserts we’ve had in Italy. From start to finish, our high expectations were met in all areas. Not only did we enjoy our dishes very much, but we also appreciated our server's willingness to engage us, a gesture that made us feel most welcome. The total, including a glass of grappa, was 133€.

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  1. Glad you had a good meal at Antiche Carampane. As for La Zucca, I have mentioned in many earlier posts that it is not particular "Venetian or Italian" as they draw inspirations and ingredients from all over the world: couscous, Indian spices, Latin American, Middle East. The secondi are all meat/fowl. Personally, for a short stay. I wouldn't choose it. Ostaria Garanghelo did change hands early this year. We past there in May and noticed that the menu posted outside has pizza, a bad sign in a visitors area.

    1. Antiche Carampane does not serve frozen moleche. They are offered only when they are in season and even then, It is not always on the printed menu. Their season does not correspond to the soft shell crab of the east coast of the US. This year, they were available at the Rialto Pescheria by early May for a whopping 45 euros per kilo.

      10 Replies
      1. re: PBSF

        Thank you for your report. How did you reserve for Antiche Carampane? And how far ahead? I've been trying to make a reservation and have emailed twice, with no response.

        1. re: jinx

          jinx: You're welcome. Our bed-and-breakfast was located in Antiche Carampane’s neighborhood, and our hostess said that she had a good relationship with them—she made the reservation on our behalf the day before we had dinner there. I’d suggest doing the same, or making a reservation in person when you arrive. I would make the reservation at least three days in advance if you’d like to eat later than 800pm. I’m not surprised they aren’t responsive to your emails; I don’t think email is their preferred method of doing business.

          1. re: Il Duomo

            Thanks for the info. If I don't get a reply, I'll just phone when we get to Italy. They do have their web page in English and an email listed--but I realize that doesn't mean much. I wouldn't normally worry too far ahead except that we will be there the weekend of the Redentore, so I imagine everywhere will be packed! I'm trying to reserve for that Friday night.

            1. re: jinx

              The weekend of Redentore is madhouse in Venice and Antiche Carampane is closed on Sundays. For that Friday night, I would telephone them for a reservation as soon as possible. It is only a couple weeks away. They have a few outside tables on a quiet calle if one like to sit outside.

              1. re: PBSF

                Thanks...that's my concern. I will try to figure out a way to call before we get there. I have a friend arriving before us, maybe I can get her to call for us.

                1. re: jinx

                  We happened to walk by the trattoria around 1130am, and there were half a dozen people prepping things and milling around. If you call, try calling at that time.

                  1. re: Il Duomo

                    finally heard back from Antiche Carampane so I'm all set! That and Il Ridotto are our two reserved meals in Venice...we'll wing it the other nights (night of the Redentore we'll probably picnic in place somewhere..)

                    1. re: jinx

                      We saw the menu that was posted in Il Ridotto's window, and it looked promising. You should be in great shape. Buon appetito!

        2. re: PBSF

          PBSF: Thanks for addressing my curiosity and clearing the issue. Given the quality of everything else at Antiche Carampane, I would have been very surprised to learn that they relied on frozen items. I was confused by this issue because a search on the internet seemed to indicate that the season for moeche would have ended a few weeks before our visit. I should have been skeptical about my source because I saw moeche at the Pescheria. Let me ask: When is the season for moeche, and does it very substantially from year to year?

          1. re: Il Duomo

            The two moeche seasons in the Venetian lagoon are Spring and Fall. They seem to be always available when were are in Venice between mid March to mid May. This year, they were sporadic by the first couple weeks of May. Only a couple of pescheria vendors had them when we left Venice May 22. Also available when we are in Venice for a shorter stay in late September/early October.
            And thank you for your report. Antiche Carampane is probably one of the two or three best seafood restaurant in Venice. We've been going there for the past 10 years; the family who owns it is wonderful. Too bad about Ostaria Garanghelo; the simple osterie is a dying breed; seems like every eating place on the main tourist thoroughfare has to offer pizza. Tthe elderly couple who use to own it probably wanted to retire.