EN VOYAGE – Happy Days In Venice

25 Oct 2001

Clichés, and one of Pulcinella’s secrets
Venice is impressively packed with places to eat, bars, trattorie, osterie, pizzerie, pubs, restaurants … As you wander around among the magnificent buildings and palaces in the center, weaving in and out of crowds of tourists from all around the world, walking along the murky emerald green water of the canals, wherever you look there are jam-packed outside terraces, windows crammed with fish and shellfish on gigantic lettuce leaves, menus and bottles, lights and signs promising delicacies (often at prohibitive prices) and an endless clinking of knives and forks – because in Venice people lunch at all hours of the day. Not at night though: at night, Venice shuts down early and surrenders to the damp mysterious silence.
Here, more than anywhere else, you need to be well-informed about where to eat, because the few good places in the midst of a myriad of mediocre competitors change hands from one season to the next, which can be bitterly disappointing to the visitor who returns armed with enthusiasm and good memories.
So what can you do? If, like me, you are lucky enough to know someone who lives in the lagoon all year round, and has a passion for good food to boot, you can place yourself in their hands as far as choosing a restaurant goes, and consider yourself privileged, because you’re likely to discover little oases of pleasure that are probably not within the reach of the millions of enthusiastic visitors to the lagoon every year. If you are among them, the secret (Pulcinella’s secret) is to have first-hand information under your belt (or Osterie d’Italia under your arm, as long as it’s the latest edition, for the reasons stated above).Getting down to the matter in hand
This consists of just one, extraordinarily warm evening in early autumn, and a wonderful aperitif, in a venue that is practically impossible to find (without miraculous help) in the long procession of bars in the Serenissima. I’m almost reluctant to talk about it for fear of ruining its precious genuine, slightly clandestine, nature and handing it over to hordes of curious visitors… (and this by the way is one of the classic dilemmas of those of us who work for Slow Food).
‘Al Prosecco’ has four tables for four, and seems like a simple, pleasant, casual bar. But the wine list is nothing like a typical bar-next-door: it includes 300 labels, with a wise preference for the Veneto and Friuli regions, and a prestigious selection of French, Argentinian, South African, Australian, Austrian and New Zealand wines. The passion of the two brothers who own the business, Davide and Stefano Corrò, is the driving force behind all this abundance: along with Eleonora Bordin (Davide’s wife) they enthusiastically supervise selection and service of wines (also sold by the glass at extremely honest prices), often delighting in polite recommendations for food and wine combinations. What to drink with cheese for example: “Al Prosecco” serves local cheeses but Piedmontese, French, Spanish and English cheeses too. This appealingly rich selection extends to the cured meats too (Argentinian marinated carpaccio, salted donkey-meat, pork spinal cord cooked with Valdobbiadene Prosecco, pancetta from the Marche region matured in caves, turkey with honey, the list goes on….), which are used for sandwiches, salads or assorted lunchtime dishes. However, either because I had just returned from Cheese or because I come from a ‘landbound’ area (where cured meats and cheeses abound), I decided to opt for fish. Trusting in the recommendations of the proprietors, I was served a wonderful dish of carpaccio of Irish salmon, lightly drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, plus raw imperial prawns and even a few hard-shell clams. This was all washed down with a coppery, excellent Leonardo Specogna Pinot Grigio ’99 (also their choice), whose tropical fruit bouquet blended perfectly with the unbeatable freshness of the fish. When we reluctantly rose from the table, blissful and at peace with the world at large, the four of us had spent just 45,000 lire altogether.

Dinner: expectations and pleasure
In good humor and slightly behind schedule we move on to the fruit and vegetable market in Rialto, one of the most attractive parts of Venice, to dine at ‘Bancogiro’, a smart little restaurant in a sottoportego, the former location of one of the city’s ‘mobile banks’. On one side ‘Bancogiro’overlooks the Campo San Giacometto, under a portico, while on the other it opens up onto a square by the Canal Grande, with about a dozen tables outside and comfortable wooden seats. The restaurant was opened by young experts Elena and Andrea a couple of years ago, and is tiny and well-looked after with a visible kitchen and an L-shaped counter, where you can help yourself to a cicheto or an ombra, an aperitif or an after-dinner drink. There is an excellent selection of wines, including the best Veneto and Friuli labels, and very good price-quality ratio. The four dining tables upstairs are highly sought-after, as the little dining room with its low, brick-vaulted ceilings, candles and arched boathouse windows is absolutely delightful. In fact, there is no table for us, but the extraordinarily mild weather makes it possible for us to sit outside. We soon realize we have not chosen the right evening to come, because there is a long wait between courses and we are obliged to lose ourselves in conversation to pass the time, while polishing off the white wine. However when the food arrives it is worth the wait. The following are worth mentioning (in no particular order): the fresh sea bass and orange salad, the little squid steamed and sprinkled with cinnamon, the wonderful Caesar’s mushroom salad with parmesan, the sautéed tuna with cherry tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil, the pumpkin, turnip and mushrooms gratin salad, and for dessert, the Bavarian cream with persimmons and little fig ricottas. All the dishes are fresh, subtle and creative, and simple to prepare (‘Bancogiro’ only has a small kitchen which does not allow for elaborate preparation), with unbeatably fresh, good quality ingredients, and blot out the slight inconveniences encountered during the evening. We spent 50,000 lire a head.

Happy ending
It is a moment of perfect, simple, authentic lively joy, a blessing, to experience all at once a warmish late summer breeze, Venice, an excellent aperitif, a deliciously fresh dinner and good company. You feel at peace with yourself. We go to bed replete and happy. Tomorrow Balthus.

>Pro memoria

Al Prosecco
Santa Croce 1503, Campo San Giacomo da l’Orio
tel 041 524 0222
Open 9am-9pm – closed on Sundays

Vaporetto, Rialto stop
San Polo, 122 – Campo San Giacometto
Tel. 041 5232061
Closed Sunday evening and Mondays
Open: 10.30am-3.30pm/6.30-11.30pm
Holiday closing: variable

Balthus a Palazzo Grassi
The exhibition is open from
September 9 2001 to January 62002
every day except 24th, 25th and 31st December 2001 and 1st January 2002, from 10am to 7pm.
Access to the building permitted until 6pm when the ticket shop closes.
16.000 lire– 8.26 euros – full.
12.000 lire– 6.19 euros–reduced.

Stefano Sardo is a member of the Slow Food Internet Office

Translated by Ailsa Wood

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