“Venice, the only city in the world where pigeons walk and lions fly,” French poet Jean Cocteau once said. Were he to see Venice today, he’d have to add one more distinction: It’s the only city in Italy where you’re apt to eat badly.
It’s tough to get a good meal in Venice. It requires trolling through foodie websites in advance. It means steering clear of all those canal-side restaurants with barkers waving down the crowds, shouting “Table for two?” as soon as they catch your eye. It’s best to duck your head and scurry past those heaps of indifferent, generic pasta on their outdoor tables.
Advanced legwork will save the day. So next time you’re in Venice, take this list along. It’ll spare you from suffering the indignity of bad food in Italy, which should be an oxymoron but is far too common in the tourist meccas. These spots will assure you at least a few good meals in Venezia.
La Zucca The vibe is young, hip, and modern at La Zucca, a little spot in the San Stae neighborhood within the Santa Croce district. Zucca translates as “squash.” Not surprisingly, seasonal vegetables play a big role here, which comes as welcome relief in Italy, where veggies are normally relegated to the short, uninspired contorni section of the menu. We were instantly won over by an appetizer of fresh apricot halves topped with herbed goat cheese and basil. Other nice touches included an ice cube of balsamic vinegar dropped in my gazpacho. Reasonable prices and a good wine selection would make this my regular haunt, if I could transport it back to New York. Reservations recommended. Campo San Giacomo dell’ Orio 1762 (by the Ponte del Meglo); http://www.lazucca.it/
Muro Pizza e Cucina One of three Muro outposts in Venice, this San Stae spot is sleek and modern, but does classic dishes exceedingly well. Their zuppa di pesce (fish soup), a main course, comes piled high with gorgeous crustaceans, and the bread for sopping is good enough to win medals. But the true test is their tiramisu. Though this dessert is now ubiquitous, it was born in Venice, and here it’s done to perfection, with the right ingredients and the right touch. Campiello dell Spezier, Santa Croce 2048; http://www.murovenezia.com/
La Vedova (Osteria Ca’ d’Oro) Tucked off Strada Nuova, the main drag in the Cannareggio neighborhood, this is a cozy cubbyhole, with wood walls, quirky antiques, and copper pots creating a homey, lived-in feel. No wonder, since it’s been in the same family for 135 years. The short menu includes many classics, which come in ample portions. A good local wine list lifts it above average. My spaghetti al nero di seppia (pasta with squid ink) went down easily with a bottle of Pieropan Soave. Arrive early to beat the crowds. Calle del Pistor and Ramo Ca’ d’Oro
Gelateria San Stae Around the corner from La Zucca is the artisan Gelateria San Stae, a cut above the rest. In addition to standard classics, they have some ‘local’ flavors like Venexiana (zabaione with candied orange and chocolate cream), prosecco, and grappa alla pera (pear grappa). No matter where you dine, save room for a cone! Salizada San Stae, S. Croce 1910, http://www.gelateriasanstae.com/