La Cantina – the Raw and the Cooked

We were planning to meet our rowing instructor, Nan McElroy, of http://www.rowvenice.org for lunch in Venice. When she emailed her list of suggestions to arrange where to meet, top of the list was La Cantina on the Strada Nova. I’d heard good things, so we agreed to see her there.

Strada Nova is the main thoroughfare between the train station and Rialto. In recent years it has been colonised by international retail chains like the Lush soap shops; even an Italian brand like Benetton has probably replaced a shop once useful to locals. It doesn’t seem a promising location for food of uncompromising quality. Many passers-by have probably just come from a train or a cruise ship, making straight for Rialto and St Mark’s (as if there is nothing else in the city worth seeing).

La Cantina is set a few steps back from the main drag on Campo San Felice; with customers seated outside on high stools around barrels, it would be tempting for passers-by to stop expecting a coffee or a simple snack. These are available, but step inside to take in what’s on offer. Instead of the usual display of pre-made ciccheti, the counter has oysters, a side of smoked salmon, a leg of Cinco Jotas Iberico ham, and purple baby octopus cooling in a baking tray. The point of La Cantina is the quality of the ingredients, mostly raw and all impeccably fresh. Everything is prepared to order, with passion and infinite care.

Nan suggested we ask to have whatever the owner Francesco Zorzetto recommended that day, so we put ourselves in his hands. (They were a safe pair). Being in Venice, we agreed on fish.

We started with the Raw: three oysters each, followed by a platter of raw langoustines and sea bass fillet with a salad of beautifully fresh leaves and tiny radishes and a mustardy dressing.

Then the Cooked appeared: sensational, small cuttlefish, caramelized and sweet; turbot fillet; queen scallops; prawns crusted in seeds and nuts, also prawns wrapped in Greek angel hair pastry (like savoury Baklava).

I thought Nan had asked for a “mint tea” which turned out to be “Menti”, a producer of Veneto wines, made with care, and minimal use of chemicals.

As we thought we were coming to the end of lunch, three little copper saucepans appeared, each with pieces of mackerel fillet on top of a stew of green tomatoes and peppers.

We decided against dessert – after all that fishy protein we felt pleasantly satisfied but not stuffed – and ordered a half bottle of sweet wine to round off our lunch. Our waitress brought some light filo biscuits to go with it, announcing with a smile “you can eat as much as you want because it’s 100%…..     butter”. 

Like everything at La Cantina, even the coffee is chosen with care. The brand “Indo” produced a mellow, satisfying espresso to mark the end of our memorable meal.

Malvasia delle Lipari Passito 2010 Cantine Colosi. Sweet apricots on the palate with a refreshing backbone of acidity. (12.5% alcohol)

La Cantina, Cannaregio 3689, Campo San Felice. Vaporetto Ca’ d’Oro

 

FOOTNOTE:

On 11th May 2018 Francesco Zorzetto died under the most tragic circumstances. In November 2018, La Cantina appeared to have new owners, with Chinese staff serving a fairly standard menu.

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