So we arrived in Venice on the morning of October 18, weary from the flight but excited to be back on one of our favorite places in the world. There’s nothing like that first view of the Grand Canal while riding the vaporetto or Alilaguna boat into the city. Our apartment was near the Sant’Angelo stop, so we took in the views for a while before meeting our rental agent for the keys.
Our apartment was on a charming, quiet calle near Campo Santo Stefano, which proved to be a perfect base of operations for two weeks. Not only was the area away from the worst tourist crowds, but there were numerous great little bars, bacaretos and restaurants in the area. Our apartment was also next door to a house which was the home of the great painter Veronese for many years. Yes, that was one of the reasons why we rented the unit we did from Views on Venice. (Ca’ Grassi 2, for anyone curious or who might be looking to rent a charming apartment in Venice for themselves…I thoroughly recommend the unit!)
It was just about noon and I was starving – for some reason David wasn’t, but before we set out exploring the city I thought it best to get in a good lunch. Okay, I was excited to get my first taste of true Venetian food again. Calle delle Boteghe, right near us, was just about a little strip of foodie heaven with wine bars, restaurants, shops and bars all along it. I spotted Trattoria da Fiore which was one of the places which had been recommended to me on Chowhound. Because of the early time we were able to be seated right away at a cozy table in the back of the restaurant. Ah, to be back in Italy again!
To start, we decided to share a mixed seafood and vegetable antipasto – which was as delicious as it was beautiful to look at. Featured on the plate were marinated carrots, artichoke heart, greens, onion and squash blossom for vegetables, along with baby octopus, scampi, canoce (my favorite!), sardine and Baccala on crostini. It was, of course, all wonderful.
I wanted a pasta dish that is truly unique to Venice to follow, so I had the spaghetti with cuttlefish in its own ink. When you first see it, you freak out. But then you get a taste of that earthy, rich sauce and the tender stewed cuttlefish…mmm. It’s a very filling pasta dish and I could see it was a popular one among the Da Fiore regulars who started coming in soon after we were seated – almost all of the pasta plates coming out of the kitchen were this one, so I knew I had ordered right!
David, wanting to keep it “light”, went for the meat lasagna. This was extremely tasty as well, with finely chopped meat (as you only get in Italy) and a nice balance between the meat sauce and the creamy Béchamel.
I know we shared some kind of dessert – likely tiramisu – which I forgot to photograph but it was a light and nice finish for the meal. With a half-carafe of house wine, water and espresso the meal total was just under $90 US. (No, food in Venice is not cheap. But one doesn’t go to Venice looking to stick to a tight budget.)
We spent most of the rest of that afternoon and into the evening on walkabout. Since we were groggy from the flight and lack of sleep, we stayed clear of the main touristy areas and set off along the quieter streets of Dorsoduro, visiting a few churches including San Sebastiano to see the wonderful restoration work done since our last visit by Save Venice. We then decided to hop on the vaporetto over to Giudecca, which we’d never managed to visit at all on our previous visit to Venice. This very quiet, largely residential island doesn’t have a great deal of attractions for tourist save a few notable churches, but walking along its long fonadementa offers beautiful views of Venice, and makes for a great spot to sit and enjoy a spritz.
Keep an eye on your potato chips, though…the pigeons here are bold and junk food addicts.
A little more exploring brought us around to the boat yards of Giudecca, which provided some lovely sunset views that surely few tourists ever go out of their way to experience.
While exploring Giudecca we passed several restaurants along the fonamente which looked temping…it was a little early in the evening still so some were not open yet for dinner, but we were getting hungry now for a full meal and too tired to wait around much later to eat on “Italian time”. So we decided on Ai Cacciatori not just because the menu looked good (as did the outdoor tables looking over to Venice) but because they were open and ready to serve us.
We shared a soothing bottle of Cabernet Franc from the Veneto with our meal, which began with a Caprese Salad for me, and Sarde in Saor for David. One of his favorites, he had to have it for his first dinner in Venice (and several other meals after that.) My salad was simple yet refreshing, with peppery baby arugula, ripe tomatoes and small balls of fresh mozzarella (the real stuff, none of that rubbery nonsense in the states they dare to call mozzarella cheese). The grilled polenta with David’s sarde was outstanding…I stole more than a few tastes of it for myself.
For our secondi, I chose another Venetian favorite I was eager to re-taste: a fritto misto of seafood and vegetables. I enjoyed the tasty strips of zucchini and red peppers along with the fried sardines, calamari and polenta. I will say it wasn’t as varied in fish included as at other places we later ordered fritto misto, and it was a bit salty for my tastes. David’s stuffed rolled pork with prunes was absolutely delicious, however. I know at one point we switched plates and he finished off the rest of my fry when I was too full, and I enjoyed every last taste of the pork.
Dessert was, perhaps for me, the highlight of the meal. Panna Cotta with (I believe) red currant berries (I wasn’t sure what they were at the time but looked them up after the fact.) This was one of those desserts that was truly sex on a plate. The texture was perfect, the taste creamy but not overly sweet, each little berry packing a surprising punch of spicy-fruity flavor. Well worth the indulgence and something I only regret having the chance to order just once!
Our total with water, espresso and a side order of caponata-style vegetables was $160 US. All told it was a quite successful first day in Venice – exploring and foodwise equally. We eventually made our way back to the vaporetto stop and took a beautiful night ride along and up to the Rialo bridge, walking back to our apartment from there. And of course, managing to get COMPLETELY LOST for a good hour or so before finding our way…but such is Venice, and something one simply needs to expect and get used to when there.
Trattoria da Fiore
Address: Calle delle Botteghe, 3461, San Marco, Province of Venice, Italy
Phone: 041 523 5310
Hours: Tue-Sun 12–1:30pm, 7–11:45pm
Address: Sestiere Giudecca, 30133 Venice, Italy
Phone: 041 5285849
Hours: Tue 10–11am, Wed-Sun 10am–11pm