If Venice is on your travel bucket list and you like to eat, you’re in luck. Despite this tiny pedestrianized island’s dimensions (roughly the size of 2 Central Parks), restaurants, eateries, and fresh food markets are ubiquitous.
While you’re strolling colorful Fondamenta that border serene canals, grab a fresh strawberry or a Gelato. Hell, it’s a vacation. Get both. Not only will you burn off many of those calories while exploring the city on foot, more importantly, I quickly learned that the Venetians have a rule about not letting tourists go hungry.
Persuading the boss that we should travel to Venice
I didn’t think it would take much to convince Monica that visiting Venice would be a great way to break in the travel season. However, when I recalled the surprising pushback after suggesting equally appealing vacations, including a 6-month backpacking trip through Appalachia, and a hunt through primitive Transylvania for vampires, I thought it best to prepare an unassailable argument. Just in case.
Me: “Love, I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I think Venice should be our first bucket list destination this year.”
Monica: “Sounds great, Love. When do you want to go?”
Even after all these years, she is still a mystery to me.
Me: “Don’t you want to hear my reasons for picking Venice?”
Monica (probably sensing that she wasn’t going to be able to get back to “Iron Fist” until I showed her my PowerPoint presentation.): “OK, Love. Go ahead.”
There were gorgeous photos of colorful old buildings and bridges arching over canals speckled with gondolas. I talked about shopping, and dining, and a 5-star hotel with a private garden and dock, and, since I knew my audience, more shopping. Her eyebrows raised when I tried to slip in the budget, but she didn’t flinch. You probably had to be there to appreciate the full theatrical effect, especially when accompanied by the moving soundtracks and my carefully practiced gestures, but I hope you get the idea.
And I wasn’t done yet. I completed my tour de force with… “Then there’s the food! Seafood so fresh it still wriggles on beds of ice, handmade pasta, Limoncello. And pizza. You know eating pizza in St Mark’s square, the birthplace of pizza, is on our bucket list.”
Her attention returned from the TV screen for a minute, “That’s more of a “your” bucket list, than “our” bucket list,” she replied. “Besides, isn’t pizza from Naples?”
“Sure, the Neapolitans like to try to claim that, and for some reason, Google is backing them up. However, you should remember, these are the same people that are trying to take credit for combining strawberry, chocolate and vanilla ice cream. And we both know that if anyone is capable of that kind of brilliance, it’s Ben and Jerry’s”
Pizza in St Mark’s Square
This may come as a surprise to fellow Foodies with expertise is the culinary field of pizza, but Italy has been reluctant to allow our most beloved pizza within its borders. I was ready to be generous if we were outside the delivery zone, even if it meant hiring a water taxi to bring us our pizza. However, when I discovered that we would be 286 kilometers away from the nearest Domino’s delivery zone, I began to have second thoughts about how magical Venice would really be. After seeing my pouty replies to her attempts to convince me that the pizza we find there would be “just as good,” she told me not to worry about it, that she would take care of it.
As any good househusband would do, I stopped worrying about it. But after disembarking from our vaporetto to set foot on the Venetian dock, all I wanted to do was head straight for St Mark’s. We had to see what our options were.
Monica knew better than to try to reign me in any longer, so we made the 20-minute walk across the length of the city to St Mark’s Square. It was (almost) everything I expected it to be. St Marks Basilica and the Doge’s Palace proudly showed off regal Byzantine facades, while the uniform heights of the procuracies and Muzee Correr formed a comforting border for the spacious and irregularly shaped piazza. Seagulls and pigeons, the true rulers of this realm, playfully dive-bombed tourists to assert their dominance.
We settled into one of the many outdoor cafes. A small orchestra played live music in the background. While there was a wide offering of €18 beers and paninis, I was disappointed to see that the only pizza was a basil pesto flatbread that seemed more like a bruschetta trying to reach above its station in life. Not even close to the fluffy, garlicy dough that Domino’s perfected. We ordered a few beers from a haughty waiter who explained that a cover charge for the performance would be added to our bill.
As soon as he left, Monica pulled a t-shirt out of the backpack she had thus far refused to let me carry and put it on. She beamed with pride as I noticed the huge Domino’s logo. Sure, I thought it was cute, but I wasn’t going to be appeased by this flimsy gesture. I couldn’t resist reminding her, “Have you ever heard the old Roman expression about spreading honey on a turd? Just because you’re wearing a Domino’s T-shirt, I still know what this is,” I pointed at the basil pesto flatbread from the menu. “And it wouldn’t be right to cross off “eating pizza in St. Mark’s Square” from the bucket list for this.”
Then, when the waiter came back with our drinks, Monica pulled a box of Domino’s pizza out of her backpack. It was nearly a day old, and I could see that the writing on the box was Romanian, but I knew then that I was the luckiest househusband in the world. I was more enthusiastic than she was, as I’d had quite a bit more practice refining my palate to appreciate the subtleties of Domino’s day-old pizza. That first bite was more than a delicious reminder of all that is good in this world, it was a cathartic moment. No matter what else happened for the duration of this trip, we could cross this off our bucket list.
The Foodie Fest continues
Our gastronomic tour took us to one of Venice’s 7 Michelin’s starred restaurants like Osteria Da Fiore, where eel with orange marmalade and Sea Bass teased our taste buds. More “typical” meals included handmade pastas so thick and eggy I hardly noticed the crab meat or the mussels. We also stumbled across more modest, but familiar haunts, which greeted us with Oreo shakes and chicken fries. Turns out this was the perfect snack to tide us over during our daily walks. We made a point of trying as many different foods as we could. The one constant being Limoncello, a lemon liqueur, which was served with nearly every meal except breakfast.
A Risotto to Remember
I’ve been told (mostly by friends and family that are contractually obligated to support all of my hobbies) that I make a decent risotto. While I may be wrong about Venice being the birthplace of pizza, and Ben and Jerry’s as the originators of Neapolitan ice cream, I’m certain that Venice is known for its risotto. It’s part of the Venetian heritage. And I was curious to see how mine measured up against the best Venice had to offer.
When we first checked into our hotel, I challenged our concierge to find and arrange reservations at the restaurant that served the best risotto in town. As a testament to her professionalism, nothing in her expression suggested that she thought I was another pushy, arrogant tourist. Despite Monica’s insinuations to the contrary, I knew that I was simply exercising my rights as an informed consumer.
Our concierge arranged a reservation on our final day. Before leaving she gave us a map highlighting a tortuous path to the heart of the city. Winding through alleys that were only wide enough for one person, we arrived a secluded, barely-marked restaurant called La Colombina. The chef waved to us from an open kitchen and the lone waiter quickly brought us to a cozy table looking out over the deserted ramo (side street). It felt like the kind of place the locals came to get away from us obnoxious tourists. I knew we were going to love it before we were even seated.
Soon enough, we were nibbling on a delicate selection of chilled tapas and drinking our first round of Spritz’. I was still scraping the bottom of the Sea Bass and arugula bowl when our langoustine risotto in squid ink arrived. I watched Monica take her first bite.
“It’s OK, Love. Your risotto is still good. This is just,” she paused to shovel in another moaning bite, “different.”
It’s a good thing we aren’t eating from a shared dish, I thought.
Adriana, the owner and chef, came over to chat with us when we’d eaten enough to perceive our surroundings again. As she set down another pair of Spritz, she asked if we were enjoying the meal. I’m nothing if not gracious in defeat, and simply gestured towards Monica who was transported to a “different” place than any of my meals had taken her. “La nostra cena è deliziosa,” I said in what I hoped was decent Italian. She discussed the preparation. I wasn’t surprised that she hand-minced the sufrito (onion and celery base); however, I was skeptical that no butter or parmesan cheese was used. It could be that I was just bitter that I would have to up my game when we got back home.
On our slow amble back to our hotel room, Monica swung my hand playfully. She reminded me that this was the perfect way to end our trip to Venice. Full bellies, carefree feet, happy mouths, and another item checked off the bucket list.
Silently I reminded myself, I’m still a good househusband (I can clean dishes like a pro). That’s MY heritage.
If I’ve done my job well, you’ve found a few tasty new additions to your Foodie menu (or remembered it’s time to try an old favorite again). I’ve also included quite a few links (all the yellowish words are clickable) just in case you want to see more for yourself. While I may call this a “job,” I don’t do it for the money. I’m not getting paid to promote anybody or any product. I’m in it for what Monica calls: “full bellies, carefree feet, and happy mouths.” But, if one of you wants to come over and help with the laundry (as a show of appreciation), I won’t stop you…