It was another beautiful weather day – how fortunate are we so far for late October? So we decided to make it a lagoon day by going back to Murano, then heading to Burano and Torcello if we had the time. We wanted to visit Murano on a day when the furnaces were open and we could hopefully see some of the glass makers at work.
We got to Murano by late morning and sure enough, salesmen were there to greet the docking vaporetto buses and direct people to “free glass making demonstrations”. We did follow the herd (although we stopped in a small glass shop along the way which had some lovely little gifts for sale) and watched one of the organized demos in a large factory. It was all very rote and organized: stand behind this line, watch but don’t get close, leave a tip if you liked the show and then please go to the shop and buy something, yes?
Well, I wouldn’t mess with these guys. Would you?
We bought a few small trinkets and then set off wandering – mostly with the intent of heading to the vaporetto dock where we could take the boat to Burano for lunch. But on a small alleyway away from the crowds, we spotted the entry to a curious looking gallery.
Inside, we found the chandelier of our dreams.
There was no pressure, no hard sell. For we had found the gallery of Simone Cenedese, one of the finest and most innovative glassmakers in all of Murano, from a long line of glass artists but braving his own path combining tradition with modern innovation. And believe it or not the price – with whatever customizations we wished in color, metal finish, and size – was far more reasonable than one of the readymade less-impressive models in one of the big Murano showrooms we’d passed through before.
We signed paperwork. We made color selections. We were then treated to a visit to a SERIOUS glassmaker’s workshop and furnace where we were able to go through all assembly and finishing rooms, see exactly how and where our chandelier would be made, and then get to see Simone himself in action while working on a custom job for a French department store. Happily, David was able to get a photograph taken with the maestro when he had a moment to get away from his glass.
Well, after all that shopping it was definitely time to eat! We finally found our way to the vaporetto stop and took the boat to Burano, which was a pleasant ride and the colors of Burano always a welcome boost to the spirits.
On Burano I had one destination in mind for lunch: Trattoria al Gatto Nero, which I’d seen raved about by both Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern on their respective travel/food shows. Especially for the seafood risotto here. Two of my favorite TV food celebrities couldn’t be wrong, right?
Well, yes and no.
Even at 2pm, the outdoor seating at this attractive trattoria was full, but they did have seats inside. The large dining room was attractive and not stuffy, although the service slightly was. The menu is basically seafood, seafood and more seafood, so you’d better show up in the mood for fish! Well, we certainly were, so we decided to order their special mixed seafood antipasti – the top-of-the-line selection, which indeed proved to be just that. Every time I thought they were done bringing us food, another small plate of lagoon delights appeared before us as follows:
Each of these small tastes was outstanding – the most tender octopus imaginable, the delightful baked scallop with tomato, the grilled razor clams…just yum. It was fun trying so many different things with just enough for each of us to get a taste.
The seafood risotto was what I was really there to try, and that, alas, was where my disappointment came in. For a dish that was so highly praised by these celebrity chefs? I found it somewhat laking in any distinct flavor beyond an excess of ground black pepper. It was supposed to be made with a type of lagoon fish particular to the waters off Burano, but honestly I got very little “fish” flavor from it at all, and there was certainly no fish meat to be found (I assume the fish was just in the broth?)
Significantly better was the grilled eel – not something I’m familiar with eating outside of sushi restaurants, but this was really nicely prepared. The eel is a rather heavy and meaty fish, so one order was definitely more than enough to share. Best of all was the crunchy, flavorful skin.
We did enjoy some really delightful dessert, including their housemade tiramisu and a semifreddo with a wonderful crunchy nut topping and caramel sauce.
The total given our grand seafood indulgence and a carafe of the (very nice) house prosecco wine was $178. Was it worth it? Well, parts of the meal were really exceptionally good, namely the mixed seafood appetizer. But the risotto truly was a disappointment despite all the hype and praise – one wonders if the restaurant has come to skimping on the dish or not caring about its preparation, if too many “TV-fan” tourists have been coming in to order it? All I’ll say is that it was the only time I made a point to visit a place recommended on either “No Reservations” or “Bizarre Foods” this trip and leave it at that.
It was getting late into the afternoon and we still wanted to head over to Torcello, even if just briefly, to revisit the beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, which is the oldest church in all of the Venetian lagoon – it dates back to the 7th century. We arrived just in time to see the beautiful mosaics in the church and spend about a half and hour there before closing time. Sadly the bell tower on Torcello is currently closed for restoration work so we couldn’t climb it to enjoy the lovely views again. We also noticed they were now offering a “Secret Itineraries” tour of the church but we were too late to go on it for the day. We decided if we had time, we’d make the trip back to Torcello just for that.
In the meantime I took some photographs of the beautiful grounds and gardens of the island before rushing back to the vaporetto, unsure of how late in the evenings the boats would run back to Burano. When we got back to Burano it was just about 6:00 and we weren’t sure what to do: join the throngs of tourists heading back to Venice, or linger a bit on Burano? We decided to linger which ended up being a lovely choice. We found an outdoor table at a bar, ordered our Spritzes, and watched the residents of the island come out for La Passeggiata. It was amazing observing the complete change in atmosphere of the island, and we lingered until the streets once again grew quiet, families returning to their homes for dinner.
Upon our return via vaporetto to Venice proper, we debated what to eat for dinner. “Pizza” seemed to be the call of the evening after such a large lunch, and I remembered passing what looked like a very nice pizza place on our walk to the vaporetto stop that morning. Retracing our steps, I managed to find it: Pizzeria la Perla. Located close to the Cinema Giorgione, la Perla has its walls decorated with movie posters and memorabilia – it’s a different kind of atmosphere from the tiny and quiet trattorias and osterias of much of Venice.
The menu is equally different – and huge! There are over 150 pizzas offered at la Perla, along with salads, calzones and standard Italian fare. The pizzas range from classic Margherita to truly unusual – yet without some of the trendy/gimmicky touches you find at some American pizzerias. The ingredients and flavors are still largely authentically Italian. I just had to try the pizza called the “Zucotto”, for instance, which featured pureed pumpkin (instead of tomato sauce), mozzarella and prosciutto cotto ham.
David had the “Porchetta”, which featured, of course, lovely Italian style roast pork over tomato sauce and mozzarella.
The pizzas were both really excellent. Everything was so fresh and tasty, the crust perfectly crisp yet still chewy…this was just everything I want a pizza to be. Prices were all very reasonable – I know we paid cash so I don’t have a receipt on hand – but it was a very satisfying and filling meal with a few beers and a small carafe of house wine. Oh, if this pizza restaurant was near me I’d easily be in there at least once a week to sample one of their many amazing pies! But as it is I’m determined to try to make that pumpkin pizza for myself now. I’ve got a couple big squash now left from Halloween…
We staggered home after that with bellies full and satisfied from a great day in the Venetian lagoon.
Trattoria al Gatto Nero
Address: Fondamenta della Giudecca, 88, 30142 Burano Province of Venice, Italy
Phone: 041 730120
Pizzeria la Perla
Address: Rio Terrà di Franceschi detta la Botesela, 30121 Venice, Italy
Phone: 041 5285175