Venice in December
February 2, 2018
Going to Venice in December can be risky. The days can be misty and short, and on an earlier visit the nights were cold, damp and foggy, with flurries of sleety snow.
But December last year the weather was glorious, with clear blue skies and sharp winter light. There was little traffic on the canals, the streets were blissfully free of crowds, and there wasn’t a cruise ship in sight.
By day, you could enter St Mark’s and the Doge’s Palace without queuing. At night the Grand Canal was empty, the surface as still as in a Canaletto painting.
The Rialto was deserted…..
…..and it was mostly possible to get a reservation in the more sought after restaurants.
Having said that, I took the precaution of booking ahead at Alle Testiere, which is the one everyone, but everyone, who knows restaurants in Venice says you should go to.
It’s the hot ticket. It’s tiny, just 22 covers and you are offered tables at 7 or 9.30pm for dinner. It’s unassuming, there’s no menu outside, so from time to time someone will come in asking for a table, only to be (graciously) turned away.
The point of Alle Testiere is fish, it’s their passion, and they cook it consummately well. The menu reflects what’s available in the Rialto that day, and if something runs out, that’s it. When the Rialto is closed, so is Alle Testiere. Seabass had run out the evening we were there, so we were offered baby monkfish as an alternative; sweet and tender, they were baked with tiny Taggiasca olives and capers.
We were served by Luca, the owner. Luca: “would you like any vegetables?”
Me: “what do you have?”
Luca: “I don’t know” (pause) “I didn’t follow my carrot to the end….. I’ll find out for you”.
To have the confidence to do something simple really well, with love and without compromise, are signs of a great restaurant. Alle Testiere doesn’t do luxury – but it’s a great restaurant.
Calle del Mondo Novo, Castello 5801. Located between Rialto and Campo Santa Maria Formosa
Vini da Gigio
I was introduced to Vini da Gigio by Nan McElroy, who said it’s one of the best restaurants in the city to eat fish. Nan is a sommelier, and she recommended that we put ourselves in the hands of Paolo, the owner, and let him bring a wine to go with each course.
It was a sensational meal. We shared two starters, a special of the best Moeche I’ve eaten (soft shell crabs, light, crunchy, hot from the frying pan) and a Misto di Pesce crudo (raw fish antipasto).
We both chose Spaghetti alle vongole veraci, briny clams and fat pasta, perfectly cooked. Paolo brought us a taste of two cheeses, a taste of dark chocolate mousse, followed by a Semifreddo.
I felt very comfortable in Vini da Gigio. The front of house team know what they’re doing, and there’s a safe pair of hands in the kitchen. Classic Venetian cooking with an inventive twist (and Paolo has good taste in jazz as well as wine!)
Fondamenta San Felice, Cannaregio 3628A. Vaporetto Casino di Venezia
We had lunch here the first time we stayed on Giudecca, about ten years ago. It’s an authentic, sociable bar, where locals drop in for a drink and a gossip, and serves lunch without frills. Service is friendly, but speaking a little Italian helps. This time we decided to have lunch on our last day, to set us up before leaving for the airport. It was a good decision. Their fish is beautifully fresh, it’s pretty clear they buy it from the shop located only a few feet away.
We shared a mixed seafood antipasto, which included a carpaccio of swordfish sprinkled with grated orange zest. Then one Linguine alle Vongole, and another linguine with seabass and pistachios. A Tiramisu was plenty for two. Wines by the glass were from good producers, and modestly priced (Inama Soave 4.5 euros).
Glancing up past the display of snacks on the counter, I caught sight of the Salute church and St Mark’s Campanile through the window.
A great lunch, world class view.