My first trips to Venice were almost entirely focused upon music and art. It may have been tickets to the world-renowned opera house, Teatro La Fenice, or possibly enjoying a selection of world-famous arias presented at Musica a la Palazzo in their sumptuous mansion overlooking the Grand Canal. It may have even been a simple and moving church concert such as at the Chiesa of San Vidal performed by extraordinary talented musicians. The museums to explore are endless, and then there’s Venice herself. It’s always a glorious experience to simply wander through her streets and crisscross over the canals, bridge after bridge, stopping periodically to take in her stunning beauty.
A few years back, however, a huge shift occurred. In my book, Venice suddenly became a culinary destination. There’s no denying that Venetians were always enjoying splendid local produce or catching the freshest seafood in her waters, but it seems as though a new wave of culinary artists appeared while simultaneously, small trattorias and tavernas were upping their game.
Join me as I explore some of the best places to dine in this always-inspiring city by the sea.
On past trips to Venice I had marked a visit to Pane Vino on my culinary to-do list , but for whatever reason it didn’t happen. Luckily, on my most recent trip, by chance, my travel partner Bud and I rented an apartment directly across the street from the restaurant. This was also the week of the 2nd highest Acqua Alta in 50 years! Our first night, we passed the Osteria as a waiter stood in the doorway. I expected him to wrangle us in, but no, he just pleasantly smiled. We walked on a bit and I turned around and he waved to me. I stopped Bud and said, “Let’s go back.”
His name was Massimo and although he would disagree with me, he spoke wonderful English. Being on the early side (jet lag was setting in) there were just a few patrons scattered throughout the charming and rustically decorated restaurant. After introductions were made and menus offered, two refreshing glasses of crisp and dry prosecco appeared, compliments of the house.
For appetizers, Bud ordered a plate of their grilled veggies: eggplant, zucchini, and peppers. All local and fresh, and the char on them was lovely. I ordered the sarde in saor, sweet and sour sardines. I surprised myself because I’m not a fan of sardines, but this is such a huge staple of Venetian’s diet that I thought I must give it a chance. The serving size was enormous with the sardines smothered in caramelized onions and toasted pine nuts and raisins. I took a bite and my eyes widened. Massimo must have been watching because before I knew it he was standing next to me. Still savoring the perfect bite and not speaking, I pointed to the dish and looked up at him. He smiled and nodded, knowingly. It was magnificent. The bones in sardines are edible and a great source of calcium, but you always feel them crunching away. These sardines melted in your mouth and the dish had a right balance between sweet and sour. The onions and raisins were the perfect counterbalance to the sardines and the vinegar, while the nuts offered the crunch factor and earthiness. These sarde in saor made the back of my palette sing!
Next up, Bud ordered the black tagliolini with shrimp and porcini mushrooms. Another fantastic dish. The black squid ink in the pasta was subtle but very distinct. It truly tasted like you were eating a mouthful of the Adriatic Sea. Coupled with the porcinis and the shrimp, this was heaven and sea mixed into one.
This would not be our last visit to Pane Vino. On another night, I ordered as an appetizer their scallops and razor clams au gratin. The chef treated the dish with a flame broil. It was so simple yet amazing that I did something I’ve never done before. I signaled Massimo while I was still chewing and he walked over and smiled. I pointed to the dish and managed to express my joy by blurting out, “I’ll have another, please?” He laughed as I confessed to him that this was the very first time I had ever ordered a dish twice in one restaurant visit. And each night we dined at Pane Vino, Massimo offered us complimentary ice cold limoncellos.
It was the combination of the food, the coziness of the tavern during a week of natural disasters, and Massimo’s charm and skill that created an exceptional dining experience in the Dorsoduro neighborhood of Venice. I can’t wait to return. Calle Lunga San Barnaba, 2861. Tel: +39-041- 241-0873. pane-vino-e-san-daniele-san-barnaba.business.site
Located within the stunning Hotel Saturnia, and on one of the more fashionable promenades in Venice, Via XXII Marzo, La Caravella is an excellent choice for fine dining. Entering the restaurant is like stepping into a vintage sailing vessel. The wood paneling and lighting is warm and inviting, but there’s also a gorgeous outdoor garden in the back when the weather is nice.
This is first class service without being fussy or pretentious, and the food matches the attentiveness. Upon sitting down your waiter will offer you a complimentary hors d’oeuvre. Most recently we were served a marinated sardine.
For starters I highly recommend their burrata. Here’s an example of a very simple dish that’s transformed into a 5-star delight using the fresh local ingredients that are served in a stunning way. Burrata has an outer shell of mozzarella but inside is your reward, stracciatella and cream, which creates a luxurious texture. Surrounded by fresh crunchy carrots and zucchini resting in a cold tomato soup and topped with daterini (tomato) confit and basil, this dish is a standout.
Another starter I recommend is their sea selection Caravella style which is comprised of sea-bass, scampi in saor, stuffed squid, scallop, octopus, broccoli, pesto, salmon caviar, and soft pumpkin cream with ginger. It’s a true feast for your eyes and your taste buds.
We’ve also enjoyed their spider crab with a lemon infused emulsion and parsley mousse, and the pumpkin and goat cheese pie on Parmigiano Reggiano cream with black truffle flakes.
For mains try their braised port cheeks, which are fork tender, and their savory and sweet lacquered duck breast with orange caramel. Both entrees are deliciously decadent.
La Caravella is a dependable Venetian classic that offers seasonally inspired and innovative recipes. Via XXII Marzo 2399. Tel: +39-041-520 -8901. www.restaurantlacaravella.com