Four favourite Venetian restaurants revisited
December 14, 2018
A four night stay in November was prompted by the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Jacopo Tintoretto’s birth. This in turn triggered the question “where to have dinner?”
Instead of seeking out new restaurants, we decided to revisit four that we have tried before. For the first evening we wanted somewhere lively and informal, and reserved a table at Estro, a vibrant place in Dorsoduro that was introduced to us by a friend early last year.
First we made our way to the church of Santa Maria della Salute, where we witnessed the annual Festival of Health, in remembrance of the deliverance of Venice from the great plague in 1631. November 21st is a public holiday, so we were expecting the restaurants to be busy.
ESTRO Vino e Cucina
It was a short vaporetto ride to the San Toma’ stop, then a brief walk. Estro is visible on a corner at the end of a long alley; it was pouring with rain, and I nearly crashed into the glass door in my hurry to get in.
Inside it has an urban vibe; while the kitchen and front of house staff mostly sport full beards, our waiter was clean shaven, with a crisp Peaky Blinders haircut.
We went straight to our table, and quickly decided to order red prawn ‘Carpaccio’ followed by Castradina Sciavona, the hearty lamb and cabbage soup which is only seen on menus during the days following the Festa. It was sensational, one of the best things we’ve eaten this year. Its origins are described in an earlier post: https://wp.me/p7AW4i-xw
I hadn’t spotted the blackboards above the bar, where a dozen whites by the glass are listed, and seven reds. I suggest you check it before you go to your table.
“And to drink?” https://wp.me/P7AW4i-aV
ESTRO Vino e Cucina
Calle Crosera 3778. Dorsoduro 30123 www.estrovenezia.com 0039 041 476 4914 Closed Tuesday.
Vaporetto: San Toma’
Alle Testiere – the main event
I had made the reservation six weeks before. It’s a tiny fish restaurant, seating only 24 covers. They have two sittings in the evening, so booking is essential, they have to turn away about 200 people a day who are trying to book a table (as well as optimists who walk through the door without a booking).
Arriving for the second sitting at 9.30, the restaurant was already full.
Alle Testiere is consistently busy because everything about it is right: hospitable and assured, simple and sophisticated. Luca di Vita runs the room with an infectious smile, and chef Bruno Gavagnin creates an extensive daily menu in his tiny kitchen, according to what’s available in the market.
Our only difficulty was deciding what to have from a menu of a dozen starters, five primi (pasta or gnocchi) and half a dozen secondi (mains). You can also have fish simply grilled, which are priced by weight. There’s no meat, and no vegetarian option.
We started with scallops with lentils and mandarin, and sardines and soft-shell crabs “in saor” (onions, pine nuts and raisins).
For mains we chose swordfish with Pantelleria capers and Ligurian black olives, and turbot fillets in a crust with pumpkin.
“And to drink?” Ribolla Gialla with the fish, then a glass of sweet Verduzzo with bitter orange pannacotta, and passionfruit gelato; for details click here: https://wp.me/P7AW4i-aV
One of the best meals of the year in one of our favourite restaurants anywhere….
Osteria Alle Testiere.
Closed Sunday and Monday, when the Rialto Market is closed, so there’s no fish available.
Calle del Mondo Novo, Castello 5801. http://www.osterialletestiere.it/
The menu here is unusual for Venice in that it features a lot of vegetables, but La Zucca isn’t a vegetarian restaurant; there’s meat on the menu, but little fish, if any.
One option is a platter with a small serving of all the vegetable dishes (around eight) with rice. Prices for wine are modest, and they serve a couple of simple wines in carafes (€5).
The menu is very seasonal. The eponymous Zucca (squash, or pumpkin) featured in my antipasto “in saor”, a classic preparation of onions, pinenuts and raisins which is more usually served with sardines.
Rabbit is cooked with chestnuts, chicken with olives, lemon and rice, and we ordered a side dish of chicory.
La Zucca is a quirky, cosy, casual restaurant, owned by a couple who’ve been doing their own thing here for ages; it was remarkably unchanged since a previous visit about eight years before. Our friendly waiter seemed to be able to be extremely helpful in at least four languages.
The dark interior is panelled with pine slats on an angle, reminiscent of a 1970s Scandinavian sauna, or perhaps the interior of a vintage yacht. Later in the evening the diagonals induced a strange feeling of sliding down the banquette, but by then wine had been taken….
It was another unremittingly rainy night. Acqua Alta was expected the next morning…
La Zucca, Santa Croce 1762, near S Giacomo dell’ Orio.
Closed Sunday. http://www.lazucca.it/en/ 0039 041 524 1570
Vaporetto: San Stae.
Approaching from across a canal, Anice Stellato (Star Anise) was a welcome sight. Inside it’s an attractive room with a central bar. The menu was explained, which was helpful but not overdone – in some restaurants the staff are so well drilled that they describe every ingredient as you read the menu, and again when they bring your order….
Some dishes needed explanation. Unusually, beef ‘polpette’ (a starter of meatballs) were raw, with a crust of puffed black rice, and puntarelle, a very seasonal crisp chicory, served with chive mayonnaise.
A satisfying dish of guinea fowl with thyme, beetroot and port sauce was more straightforward.
The staff are charming and the welcome is genuine; a wine which one of us found unpalatable was swiftly and efficiently replaced by a choice of alternatives, and the cooking is ambitious and confident. The only disappointing aspect was that, by the end of the evening, the front of house team seemed a little undermanaged. (We were one of the last to leave but, even so….)
ANICE STELLATO, Fondamenta de la Sensa, Cannaregio 3272.
https://www.osterianicestellato.com/ 0039 041 720 744
Vaporetto: San Marcuola Casinò.
Wines at Estro and Anice Stellato are mostly ‘natural’, which is a topic I refer to in “And to drink?” https://wp.me/P7AW4i-aV
Alle Testiere helpfully code their list, so you can choose something produced more conventionally.
Where do Venetians eat?
On the day of departure, we wanted to have a simple lunch that would see us through to our evening flight. After a walk around Cannaregio to visit the Madonna dell’ Orto church, it was raining hard (again!) so we decided to try a nearby trattoria, which had the standard menu you see everywhere in Venice. It was perfectly reasonable and well-executed, and busy with what seemed to be a mostly local crowd. Followed by an excellent coffee at nearby Torrefazione Cannaregio, it was an authentic and enjoyable end to our visit, as well as a welcome refuge from the unremitting rain!
Osteria 40 Ladroni (40 thieves),
Fondamente della Sensa 3253 Cannaregio. 0039 41 71 57 36. Closed Monday.
Vaporetto: San Marcuola Casinò.