I knew eating in Venice was going to be tough. There are only 55,000 residents left in Venice — experts predict there will be none left in another twenty years — and the island (grouping of islands?) gets 30 million visitors a year. So…everyone is catering to the tourism trade, many of which are cruise ship day trippers. And if what I observed is any indication, tourists just want to eat pizza and hamburgers and gelato. GAH. What is wrong with people?
I was fairly booked with tours and other plans while I was in Venice, so it wasn’t always possible to go out of my way to find good food. In many situations, I just selected the closest/best option to whatever it was that I needed to do next. Here’s where I ate and drank, roughly in order of preference. I have not provided addresses because these are all Googleable and then you can read other people’s opinions too…
Ai Mercanti: After I checked into my hotel, I was in need of sustenance, and the little local place the hotel concierge sent me to was packed with mid-afternoon revelers. So I wandered around for a while until I found Ai Mercanti. The place was empty — except for a German family eating hamburgers! — so I was a little nervous. But my server was so helpful and sweet and I loved that the menu wasn’t packed with five thousand different options. I had the typical Venetian starter — sarde in saor — which was a hysterically large portion. Four very plump — and very delicious — sardines. After this, I made room for tripe and octopus pasta, which was very, very good. (If only the plate had been hotter.) All in all, I liked my food here and I really liked the service. The dining room was a bit dark for an afternoon meal, but I can see it being very cozy in the evening. Also, I loved the location in a quiet courtyard. I considered going back here for a 2nd meal but never really had the time.
San Giorgio: On the day I was heading to Murano and Burano, I knew I had to be down at the waterfront for my water taxi. San Giorgio is right in front of the Aresnale vaporetto stop, so it worked out perfectly for a quick lunch. Despite the touristy location and menu, my garlicky spaghetti vongole hit the spot. Service was a little awkward — Q: “Where is the white wine from?” A: “It is white.” — and the outdoor seat covers needed a good power washing, but the view was nice.
Quadri: Quadri is a one Michelin star restaurant on San Marco’s Square. As I told them when I left — sorry, it’s the New Yorker in me — they better do something about their service and staff if they expect to keep that Michelin star. I was ignored, ignored, and ignored further once my main — a luscious bowl of spaghetti with smoked razor clams — was delivered. Yes, yes I know this is Italy and I need to relax but it was still weird. Luckily, the memory of the decadent amberjack tartare with white truffle starter helped assuage my annoyance. (Which was further compounded when I passed the host stand on my departure, only to spy a plate of half-eaten food stashed there by a member of staff. Kids, this is not The Ponderosa!) The dining room at Quadri is over-the-top beautiful with red velvet wallpaper and glittering chandeliers, and the glassware is astoundingly gorgeous. I want to buy it all! And I would have…had they not ignored me.
Bistro de Venise: I popped into Bistro de Venise in between tours and I didn’t have a booking. Don’t do this. Make a booking. I knew immediately that I would like Bistro de Venise. It has that clubby, wood-paneled old school thing going on that I am kinda a sucker for. An off-duty staff member in plain clothes — perhaps one of the co-owners because he looks just like Sergio in the first photo here — immediately saw me hovering at the entrance and ushered me into the bar to wait for my table, where I was promptly brought a bellini. After about 15 minutes, I had a table in the dining room, surrounded by mostly Americans. While I wished my seafood risotto was hotter, my extremely capable server — the omniscient Walter — deserves his own Michelin star. This was a very good experience, except for the loo which is located right off the dining room and regales you with hand dryer noise every time someone exits.
La Caravella: Charming Italian waiters, kitschy old-school sailing decor…I kinda loved it here. (It reminds me of that seafood restaurant in the Drake Hotel in Chicago.) La Caravella specializes in spider crab, particularly, so after a small plate of sarde in saor (nowhere near as good as the ones at Ai Mercanti), I had some thin spaghetti with spider crab. It was nice. I wanted it to be nicer. But it was nice and my servers were nice and well, I just liked it here even though the food wasn’t all that. There is something to be said for a charming Italian waiter of a certain age in an old school waiter outfit, flirting with you incessantly.
Vino Vino: Don’t go here. It’s a tourist trap. I only went here out of desperation. It was late on a Friday night and I was tired and the recommended restaurants I had tried to get into were all full. I knew just by looking at the menu at Vino Vino — a mishmash of what every tourist imagines Italian food to be — that it was going to be terrible and it was. Service though was super nice to me and gave me a free glass of wine! They totally ignored the two tables next to me though. Have you ever realized that the tables next to you hate you? That’s how I felt at Vino Vino! Very odd.
So while I had some nice food in Venice, I’m just not sure…next time I go, I might stay in Castello or in Maestre on the mainland, where the locals live. I bet prices will be cheaper and food will be better as well.