On our first full day in Venice, we wasted no time working our way through our “art agenda”, spending the entire morning revisiting the Gallerie dell’Accademia. It was a quick walk from our apartment, over the Accademia Bridge which we would travel across many times over the next two weeks. Not every day, however, was the sky as clear and the view as beautiful as this:
At the Accademia, we were able to view the just-restored and beautiful Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, another wonderful project of Save Venice. David wondered if his contributions perhaps paid for a small inch or two of the work. In any event, it was lovely to see the painting in a “new light”, even if we were disappointed that Veronese’s glorious Wedding at Cana was NOT on view – due to ongoing restoration work. Oh well, perhaps next time…
After all of that art I was feeling a little low on mental energy – and blood sugar – so a nice lunch seemed very much in order. We had spied a number of restaurants and cafes lining Campo San Stefano near our apartment and it was a lovely day, so why not lunch in the square? Of the four or five options, the one which looked the least touristy and most promising to my eyes was a beccafico so we chose to dine there. It ended up being one of our favorite restaurants of our entire trip to Venice.
a beccafico gives off an immediate air of cool classiness. Smartly dressed waiters, black chairs, white linens over beige tablecloths – it screams “expensive” but in actuality, their menu prices are pretty much in line with many of the other places we dined and we found reasonable for the excellent quality of food and service. While the waiters might seem a little stiff here at first, they warmed up to us quickly and were eager to answer any questions on the Italian-only menu (when we revisited the restaurant later in our trip, the staff immediately recognized us and the service was even more exceptional – it seemed we had already been promoted to “regulars” after just one previous visit.)
a beccafico’s menu presents an interesting mixture of Venetian and Sicilian specialties, offering everything from the classics you expect to find in Venice as well as more unusual and unexpected offerings. We decided to stick with one large antipasti and two pastas for lunch, and made the right decision of choosing the “Variazione di pesce e crostacei marinati” (Variety of marinated raw fish.) The plate we received was not only one of the most visually stunning of all we enjoyed in Venice, but the flavor of everything was out of this world.
Included on the plate, if I remember correctly, was delightfully sweet shrimp, swordfish (which was startlingly good with some kind of currant berries in the marinade), sarde, salmon (some of the best I’ve ever tasted), and (I believe) cuttlefish or squid. It was served with an ample breadbasket and their freshmade focaccia, which they replaced quickly any time our plate was running low. What I loved about this dish was how each of the fish was marinated in a completely different yet harmonious way – it wasn’t just five or six fish in the same exact lemon/oil/spice mixture. This was well worth savoring leisurely over a glass of their house wine, while watching traffic in the square come and go. We noted that most of the other diners at a beccafico seemed to be locals/other Italians, not tourists. Some sat with their dogs nestled in their laps lingering over salads and espressos, while others dined alone and grilled their waiters about the types and freshness of their fish for the day before ordering. It was just a wonderful place to sit and watch and enjoy.
For our pastas, I chose Spaghetti alle vongole veraci, another one of those Venetian classics I was eager to re-experience on this trip. Vongole veraci are tiny little clams, very sweet and flavorful and apparently increasingly rare (many restaurants use Japanese farm-raised littlenecks instead.) This was a very ample plate of pasta – moreso than I’m used to in Italy where it is more common especially in fancier restaurants to follow a pasta/rice primi with a meat entree. The sauce was more buttery in flavor than olive oil, making it more similar to the Northern-style preparation of pasta and clams I’ve tasted in Milan and the lakes versus Southern-style preparations. Nevertheless, it hit the spot perfectly. With all the little clams to remove from their shells, it forced me to eat slowly and savor every bite – no hardship there!
David had a wonderful Sicilian pasta dish with sardines, pine nuts, golden raisins and toasted breadcrumbs. I don’t recall if it was a special of the day, but it’s a dish I’ve made at home before and one we both enjoy a lot. I liked how a beccafico left the breadcrumbs off to the side to be tossed into the pasta at the last minute, so that they stay toasty and crunchy.
We weren’t in a rush to leave, so after our pasta we decided to share a single slice of their wonderfully light pear tart. It was brought to the table with a bottle of their housemade dessert wine and two glasses – the wine was free to enjoy as much of as we wished, no extra charge! I told you this place was classy (and well worth a return visit.)
Our total for this wonderful meal – including I believe 4 glasses of wine and 2 espresso – was $115 US. We must have lingered for well over 2 hours, because I believe it was past 3pm when we finally got up and headed out to get in some walking. We started out by making our way toward Piazza San Marco, which was surprisingly not as filled with tourists (and pigeons) as it usually is. Gondolas awaited passengers, but we were waiting to take an evening ride, as we’d done one in daylight last trip.
Indeed, after quite a bit of wandering about the city and the evening started to fall, we decided it would be a perfect night to take that gondola ride – if we could find a gondolier in waiting along the Rialto! Of course the one time you want to find one, you can’t, and dusk was falling quickly. But after pacing back and forth for a while we found one just finishing offloading some passengers and asked if he was available for another ride. Of course he was – especially as it was evening now and he could get the post-dusk surcharge on the ride. But it was well worth the splurge. Some people say gondolas are a tourist rip-off to be avoided. We say they are a glorious and unique tradition which needs to be preserved. Nothing can compare to the experience of gliding along the Grand Canal in a gondola, then slipping off into a quiet waterway where one can imagine the past and wonder who might have, centuries before, glided along these canals under the cover of darkness.
On our one-hour gondola ride, we passed what looked like an utterly charming outdoor restaurant which we were determined to revisit on land so we could eat there. We weren’t able to find it that night (though a review of the place will follow shortly when we did), but instead we wandered around for a while near and around the San Marco area before I decided on trying Osteria al Pozzo Roverso for dinner. It looked quaint both in the front and in the quiet “garden” in the rear (more just a set of covered tables in a tiny campo.) I actually wasn’t all that hungry after our large and lingering lunch that day, and having indulged in so much pasta and fried food so far I wanted to eat something light. Or lighter, at least.
Osteria al Pozzo Roverso seemed to cater much more to the tourist crowds than the locals, no surprise given the location even just slightly off the main “drag” of tourist shops in San Marco. Indeed, not long after we sat down in the garden, a large family from the UK took over most of the remaining outdoor tables and immediately asked for the “fixed” (ie, tourist) menu. No thanks on that for me, and I’ll give the place credit that they don’t automatically hand it out, only give it to the tourists who ask for it.
I had wanted to try the razor clams, but they were “off” that night according to our waiter so at the last minute I switched to Bresaola con rucola, a simple salad but always one of my favorites when I want something light to start off a meal. David went for the sarde en saor again.
We skipped a pasta or rice primi and decided to share the mixed seafood grill for two – a good choice as it ended up being just enough to eat for us. The mixed grill came with two scampi, two langoustine, one orata and one branzino. Our waiter presented it to us first before then fileting the fish and plating it nicely for each of us.
We did decide to share a single dessert – their homemade tiramisu.
The total bill for all of the above with a pitcher of house wine, side salad and espresso was just under $150. The mixed grill was certainly very good, everything else was fine…overall it was a restaurant experience with nothing to complain about, though I can’t say it stood out to a degree that I’d put Osteria al Pozzo Roverso on my “must revisit/highly recommend” list. It’s definitely perfectly fine should you find yourself in the San Marco area and want a solid meal in a place that isn’t a tourist trap. We left satisfied and tired from the very full day in Venice – foodwise AND otherwise!
Address: Campo S. Stefano, 2801, 30124 Venice, Italy
Phone: 041 527 4879
Hours: Mon-Sun 12–3pm, 7–11pm
Osteria al Pozzo Roverso (no website)
Address: Castello 4829 – Ruga Giuffa – Corte del Pozzo Roverso 4814, Venice, Italy
Phone: 041 5202759