Bob Gorman's Venice Diary
Based on his Spring Visits Over the Past Several Years
(and updated periodically)
A VENETIAN DIARY
Venice is something else! A city, or better, a world unlike any other. For one thing no
one is ever quite prepared for the labyrinthine tangle of streets, alleyways, canals,
bridges and side streets that make up Venice. I can recall arriving on my first visit one
stormy, blustery March evening trying to find our way to the legendary center of Venice:
St Marks Square. Turning a corner of what seemed a bizarre series of blind alleyways we
came upon this incredible vision. High tide and rain had created this three-inch deep pool
of water covering the plaza. It was like a vast expanse of mirror that reflected the
lights of the square. Shimmering in that reflected light was that jewel of Venice: St
Marks Cathedral, arrayed in Oriental splendor. A series of 17th century baroque palaces
elegantly defined the remaining three sides of the square. The bell tower to the right of
St Marks rose up seemingly forever, its top obscured by the hovering clouds.
You are suddenly struck by the absence of vehicular traffic in Venice. Alighting from a
narrow alleyway or calle you enter a small square (campo),
fountain in the center. You feel like an actor entering a stage set. Further on there is
only the constant lap-lap of water as it licks the foundations of medieval
palaces. Only the occasional whir of the motors of the Vaporettos, the large public
taxi-boats which ply the main canals remind you that you are indeed present in the 20th,
nay, 21st Century. It is as though Venice emerged, Atlantis-like, from the sea. It is only
our modern technology that will eventually prevent it from being engulfed, receding like a
legend back into the sea.
Even after several visits you still have to re-orient your way around. Arriving late in
the afternoon, refreshing ourselves at the Hotel, we set out to find our selected
Restaurant. Our guidebook gave ambiguous directions. Sketchy street maps proved of no
avail. (You really need a complete street map to find your way around.) Curiously, you
learn to exult in this sense of being lost, this dreamscape that is Venice for there is
something of wonderment every step of the way. It is said that in London everything 18th
century is old but in Venice everything 18th century is new. What a trip!
Turning a corner, finally, Ecco! there is our restaurant: Fiaschetteria
Toscana. Bottles of wine are shown in the window, Gaja Barbaresco,
Tignanello, Solaia, an awesome wine-list and an intriguing menu. Our table is not ready
for an hour. No problem for there is time to cross the nearby Rialto Bridge to see the
recently cleaned and restored exterior of the Cathedral, with its gleaming multi-colored
marble, lapis, and porphyry. Takes your breath away!
Back at Fiaschetteria we are seated and regaled in what seems like the perfection of
Venetian cuisine. Old time visitors claim that the restaurant isnt quite what it
used to be but Im not convinced. A glass of Prosecco gets things under way and first
course arrives: a slice of Foie Gras marinated in Picolit, the rich, semi-sweet wine of
Friuli, served with a glass of the same unctuous Picolit. Only a drying out old bottle of
Chateau dYquem could have been better! A main course of Sauted Veal Kidneys in
rich sauce of reduced stock and red wine are accompanied by grilled slabs of Polenta. And
there is a platter of perfectly grilled Radicchio di Treviso, dramatically bitter/sweet,
lovely white and garnet-red with a crisp smoky encrustation from the grill and exuding its
own delicious juices. My companion waxed enthusiastic over a platter of eel baked with bay
leaf (a house specialty), garnished with grilled vegetables. A Michele Chiarlo New
Style 95 Barolo accompanied nicely, sufficiently complex but user-friendly for
Barolo: one way to go! And then there was a Caramelized Apple Cake served with a spoonful
of Vanilla Gelato. Coffee and a glass of Grappa di Veneto seem a fitting conclusion.
FIASCHETTERIA TOSCANA Salizzada San Giovanni Crisostomo,
Closed in August (or whenever you're showing up) Open Mon, Wed-Sun. Our dinner, including tip and
wines: $95 for two. Some reviews and comments:
The restaurant has a sort of web site:
Some restaurants around Italy offer a "signature dish". If
you order their specialty of the house, they provide one of these plates.
Dozens of fine dining establishments around Italy offer these.
Our two star Hotel Dolomiti, just around the corner from the
Railroad Station, proved to be comfortable, spotlessly clean with a polite, friendly
English speaking staff and eminently affordable. I would much rather squander my vacation
money on fine dining and entertainment. So little time is spent in the Hotel on either
side of a gloriously deep and restful sleep.
HOTEL DOLOMITI, Cannaregio, Calle Priuli, 72-73 Book on line: email@example.com
The location of the Hotel gives me the chance to make a fast getaway on the train for an
hour ride to Verona and VinItaly, that incredible gathering of over three thousand (!)
wine producers from throughout Italy and beyond. Im awestruck by the expanse of
pavilions, easily covering the extent of several football fields. Any serious
student of Italian Wine should attend this fabulous Fair at least once in a lifetime.
The days tasting introduced me to several of the producers that we feature at
Weimax Wines & Spirits. The charming and friendly Pietro Ratti of Renato
Ratti presented an impeccable series of Piemontese wines, (currently represented
at Weimax by the fine, Cabernet influenced 2001 Villa Pattono, the 2003 Barbera
"Torriglione" and two exceptional Barolos.) Tasters are four-deep at
the Gaja table (oh well!). A warm reception from the charming and stunningly
beautiful Elena Walch a producer in Alto Adige more than made up. The wines of
G.D.Vajra showed well with their angular, nicely structured style. And
whos this angling toward the table for a tasting but the inimitable Randall
Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards! I had the pleasure of an extended conversation
with young Stefano Chiarlo of Azienda Vitivinicola Michele Chiarlo, the producer
of last nights Barolo, whose Nivole (Moscato dAsti) is such a hit with our
customers at Weimax. At the Allegrini presentation, I was blown away by the
Valpolicella "big, easy, juicy (almost Zin-like), as nice as it gets!"
The current release is available at Weimax. The 1997 Amarone were among the most
exciting wines tasted: Masi's 1997 Amarone Sergio Alighieri "Serego Vaio"
(still available at Weimax) and the 1997 Amarone of Le Ragose. We have the
1995 Le Ragose Amarone in stock at Weimax. I must have tasted well over 250
wines that day!
Back in Venice, the days tasting, grueling but exhilarating, whetted the appetite for a
major dining experience. We selected Vini da Gigio, much touted
in a review as an exceptional dining value. At the end of the meal were drinking to that!
This time the opening Prosecco was just the right note for an antipasto plate of
perfectly grilled vegetables (Venetians have a way with this!) and one of the signature
dishes of Venetian cuisine: Sarde in Saor. Fresh sardines are sauted and marinated for a
day or two in white wine vinegar along with a kind of white onion marmalade
studded with a few plumped white raisins and pine nuts. To accompany our main course we
opt for a 95 Barbera of Elio Altare Vigna Larigi, rich, deep and
beautifully developed, one of the finest Barbera wine Ive ever tasted.
Altare's wine paired beautifully with a Risotto di Frutti di Mare, possibly the best in
memory. The excitement built with the arrival of an Osso Bucco in a sauce of remarkable
finesse. Across the table my companion was presented with another specialty of Venetian
cuisine: braised local duck. Quite unlike any duck we know here stateside these
small darkly flavored birds remind more of squab. The sauce is equally dark and incredibly
flavorsome. I asked for a wine-glass and poured some Barbera to offer to the chef.
Momentarily our cuisiniere appeared, a tall, stunningly beautiful young blond woman in
gleaming whites smiling broadly with glass raised in friendly salute. A very fruity
grappa, reminiscent of pear eau-de-vie, completed the repast.
VINI DA GIGIO, Cannaregio 3628A, Fondamenta San Felice. Tel.:
041-528-5140 Closed Monday and Tuesday. Our meal $65 for two excluding wine. Booking recommended.
Photos by Gerald Weisl, who visited in July
This place was excellent...be sure to arrive hungry!
There are virtually no long, straight lines in Venice, no horizon, no
grid. It wreaks a bit of havoc with your sense of perspective, your
apprehension of space. Sunshine reflected every which way from undulating water bathes
everything in a shimmering light. Colors are somehow more vibrant. Standing in the
Vaporetto (the Canal public transportation) you develop a keen sense of balance as it
rocks gently through the water.
At the Accademia, the museum showcase of the masters of Venetian Painting, you get a sense
that the artists created their canvasses in this flood of wonderful color and light. The
human body twists and turns in unlikely but elegantly balanced positions. Figures are
crowded into the frame. Angels twist and contort in mid-air. There is no grid,
no vanishing point. But the best artists (Titian, Tinteretto, Bellini,
Carpaccio, Tiepolo, Veronese) make prefect sense of it all. Colors are brilliant
(especially now that so many masterpieces have been recently cleaned). Everything is
bathed in a wonderful light. You have a sense of the wealth, the exuberance, the
self-confidence of the citizens of the first great modern democratic city.
This special aesthetic is reflected in the selection of 20th Century art and sculpture at
the Guggenheim Museum. How many museums are there where virtually everything in the
collection is a stunning masterpiece?!
Entrance and Sculpture Garden
A Calder Stabile on the rear terrace overlooking the Canal
All the walking you do, and the onslaught of visual delight, gives you a sharpened
appetite as the evening draws near. Tonight we dine at Ilncontro
run by a Sardinian chef who turns out hearty, yet imaginative and sophisticated cuisine.
You'll want to bring a healthy appetite. I have a perfectly simple but marvelous first
course: a Rabbit Salad, pulled apart shreds of succulent rabbit meat tossed in
a tasty vinaigrette with scallions and Italian parsley, served over a bed of mixed bitter
and sweet greens. My companion has something quite extraordinary, especially for a
Californian. For some strange reason horsemeat is taboo in California but not so in the
Veneto. For this appetizer, horse meat is dry cured in the manner of Italian salami
and is then shredded very finely and tossed very simply with vinegar, olive oil, salt and
freshly ground pepper. Intriguing and absolutely delicious! Everyone was ordering the
specialty pasta course of the evening and we followed suit. A marvelous tangle of
house-made fettuccine in a sauce created from the puree of green asparagus, cream and
grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Fantastic! Hearty main dishes followed: a tender chunk of
beef long-simmered in stock and red wine and a Fricassee of Rabbit garnished with tiny
white onions and spring peas. The repast was accompanied by two wines of Sardinian
producer Argiolas: a dry, delightful Vermentino (white) and the from the varietal Monica a
full, robust and quite deep red wine, reminiscent in a way of both the Spanish Tempranillo
and the French Syrah.
The "piece de resistance" at L'Incontro, however, and a dish
that they're justly famous for, is "Roast Suckling Pig." The pig
is encrusted with a mix of wild herbs and wood-fire roasted until the meat is
unbelievably succulent and "fork tender" accompanied by the crisp,
herbed crackling from the skin. The pig comes out of the oven at about
9:00 P.M. so book a later reservation. They only prepare this signature dish two
or three times a week so call in advance. Following all that simple but
rich dining fare, be sure to have a glass of that inimitable Sardinian digestive
Mirto based on an infusion of myrtle berries with just the right touch of
sweetness. Mirto, by the way, is available at Weimax: $26.99 for the 750 ml.
LINCONTRO Dorsoduro 3062, Rio Tera Canal Tel.:
041-522-2404. Closed Monday. Booking advisable. Our meal, wine included: $80 for
The friendly staff at L'Incontro.
A day of sightseeing in the area of St Marks and the Doges Palace brought us to a small
scaled but marvelous gem: the Scuola San Giorgio degli Schiavoni with its wonderful
paintings of St Jerome and St.George by Carpaccio. Throughout Venice we are guided with a
sure hand by the virtually indispensable little book Venice a Knopf Guide.
We broke a cardinal rule of thumb and selected a promising-looking restaurant in this
heavily touristed area. Desultory preparations of Venetian classics arrived along with a
couple and their teen-age daughter at the next table. The wife pulled out her cell phone
and gushed on in a loud voice on matters only a mother could bear listening to. The
struggling waiter brought first courses but the woman rose suddenly. I dont
like this place, I dont like this food. Pay the bill dear, were getting outta
here! We later realized that our waiter had grossly padded our bill. At all costs,
avoid restaurants in heavily touristed areas.
Another day at VinItaly brought further tasting pleasures. The wines of Isole e Olena all
showed splendidly. There was the 98 Chianti Classico (currently available at Weimax)
smoke, red fruits, citrus; a bit of grip but such a nice mouthful of wine;
Bravo!, the 98 Cepparello (ex cask) fuller, with even better structure than
the 97, the 97 Syrah (a few bottles available at Weimax) in a class by
itself, very dry, very full, very Italian and the Vin Santo (available at Weimax).
At the Venica (Collio) tables I am blown away by the 96 Merlot: Serious stuff,
Merlot fruit, spice and oak explode out of the glass! A layered, big, luscious mouthful,
easy tannins. Other standouts of the day were the Barolos of Marcarini, Cavallotto
and, of course, Vietti. At the tables of Villa Pillo (Chianti) John Dyson, also owner of
Sonoma County's Williams Selyem winery, related how his Vin Santo of tiny production had
been gushed over by a couple of prominent wine writers. Everyone had to have a taste but
wouldnt say boo to his other fine wines. (A few bottles of Syrah and
Merlot are available at Weimax). The day was capped with a visit with the elegant Princess
Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa of Castellin Villa (Chianti). I confessed that I
had little faith in the ageability of Chianti Classico. With a wry smile she poured a
taste of her 77. Extraordinary, at the point of perfection, notes of tar but
complex and rich, like an old Vega Sicilia; a great experience! A
bottle or two of the 1971 is still available at the shop as of August, 2005.
Back in Venice, a break in showery weather brought warm, spring-like weather that called
for somewhat lighter dining. We selected Alla Zucca (the Pumpkin)
a restaurant with a somewhat vegetarian bias. We started off with a creamy Duck Liver Pate
and rounds of crisp Italian bread. The pumpkin of the restaurant's name is dissimilar to
our slightly sweety pumpkin, more akin to French strains that are dryer, more
meaty. The house specialty is a thick puree of pumpkin encased in a light,
flaky pastry crust. Delicious! My companion enjoyed a lasagna fashioned from house made
pasta, ricotta, cream and vegetables. We both opted for a nicely flattened out pork chop
still on the bone sauted and finished with stock and Marsala. We enjoyed a savory bottle
of Roero, a Nebbiolo-based wine of Malvira, the producer of our sweet Brachetto, a
favorite of ours at Weimax.
ALLA ZUCCA, Santa Croce 1762, Ponte del Megio, Tel.:
041-524-1570. Closed Sun. Booking advisable. Dinner, wine included, $80 -
Previous visits to Venice had had included dinners at the bustling, inexpensive Trattoria
Alle Burchielle on the Fondamenta Burchielle facing the southern corner of
Piazzale Rome across the canal . I revisited the trattoria this year and
marveled at this little unspoiled gem. True, the wine list is sub-par, mainly a
few innocuous co-op wines from the region. Although discovered by some smart
tourists, the trattoria is patronized mainly by the locals. In the next room
twelve convivial, handsome gondoliers were having one great time of it. At an
adjoining table several older couples on a budget were celebrating a birthday in
fine fashion. A nicely flavored dish of Pasta in a Sauce of Calamari Ink
preceded a succulent plate of Grilled Monk Fish and a plate of Mixed Grilled
Frutti di Mare. An uncomplicated, fruity glass of Grappa finished the meal. This
is certainly one of the best inexpensive Trattorias in all of Venice. Closed
Bob's Burchielle seafood.
For a map to this place: CLICK
For a look at the upper limit of Venetian Glass Blowing Art,
visit the shop at the colonnade under the Corriere Museum at the end of the
Piazza San Marco opposite the Duomo.
The people of Venice are very gentile, very polite, similar to Parisians in
that respect. But unlike Paris, their sexuality seems very discrete, almost repressed.
Back at the Hotel I am thumbing through some notes and come upon a hastily scribbled sheet
of paper Te Amo! (I love you!), a note from our full-figured,
full-bosomed maid who, well
Tomorrow, its off to Rome and further cultural and gastronomic adventures.
More when Bob gets around to writing it....Watch this space.
GERALD VISITS VENICE
We spent a Sunday one summer's day in July in Venice. With our
friend Alessandra Dorigo leading the 'tour,' we had a wonderful day being
Alessandra insisted with take the train. This would allow us to get very
close to the main part of Venezia, but be certain your train arrives at the
Stazione Santa Lucia and not Mestre. You can then hop onto a water taxi or
the ferry boat and go where you like, or hike over the bridge and around town.
It's probably far more romantic at night after a few bottles of wine.
Keep Venice Clean.
You can buy a pouch of seeds from a vendor for one Euro and then feed the birds.
If you can find the location of the Naranzaria, you can have a really good glass
of wine and a nice plate of Venetian sushi.
They have a nice array of wines and the place is a bit off the tourist
track. On a hot summer afternoon, we found it well-shaded and mildly
An American Sushi Expert found the Venetian version to be very good.
A great gelateria near the train station...don't miss it!
1159 Calle Larga dei Bari
Carlo Pistacchi is the gelato meister at this place...
He's a fan of Jamaica, so you might hear some reggae music.
Don't miss the ginger gelato!!! It is amazingly good.
BRUCE DINE IN VENICE
An interesting web site of Venice Info:
NY TIMES / FODORS - A Page About Venetian Culinary