Travel Destinations

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dining at the Best Restaurants in Venice, an Impossibility?

Lunch at Marco Polo Airport
Lunch at Marco Polo Airport
Italy is known for its delicious cuisine.  Pasta, pizza, gelato, seafood, and all sorts of other delights abound.  So you might think how hard can it be to find good food in Venice?  You should be able to pop into any restaurant and have a fabulous meal.  But you may be surprised to learn that in Venice, not so much.  It may be because so many of the patrons are tourists and therefore not return customers.  It may be because the restaurants are trying to cater to foreign palates.  But whatever the reason, it can be difficult to find a good meal in Venice. Before we traveled to Italy, knowing Venice’s reputation for sub-par restaurants, I researched Venetian restaurants for hours and days to find the very best I could for our trip.  I was mostly successful.

I am sure there are many great places to eat in Venice.  And I am sure there are many Venetians that have a long list of recommendations.  However, for the average traveler not familiar with Venice with only their guidebooks and the internet to guide them, it can be difficult to find those gems. And, as happens in many waterside locations, many of the canal-side restaurants are pricey and mediocre.  While I cannot tell you every good restaurant in Venice, I can at least give you the benefit of my own personal research and experience to assist your quest for a memorable Venetian meal.

Seafood Antipasti at A Beccafico
Seafood Antipasti at A Beccafico
One of our favorite restaurants was A Beccafico. We ate at A Beccafico after attending the opera at Teatro La Fenice.  The restaurant is located on a piazza called Campo Santo Stefano, which is very close to the Ponte dell’Accademia (Academy Bridge).   I found it on Trip Advisor, and at the time it was ranked number four.  Three people waited on us, all of whom were exceptional.  The menu was completely in Italian, a good sign of an authentic meal, and one of our waiters was kind enough to explain every single item on the menu.  After we ordered, we were given a small plate of bruschetta on the house.  Our antipasti were a variety of marinated raw seafood presented beautifully on large scallop shells. 

Pasta with Shrimp and Zucchini Flowers at A Beccafico
Pasta with Shrimp and
Zucchini Flowers at A Beccafico
We next shared a primi, a pasta dish with shrimp and zucchini flowers.  The spectacular thing about this dish was that every single pasta tube had a shrimp inside.  They appeared to have been hand-placed.  For the secondi, I ordered the lamb, and my husband had the sea bream with a citrus sauce.  Desert was a coconut sorbet served in a coconut shell.  We were also given a bottle of grappa and a bottle of limoncello from which to partake at the end of our meal, both complimentary.  As if that was not enough, our waiter came by, took the grappa, and gave us a bottle of chilled sweet wine which he said was better.  And it was.  Not only did we have fabulous food and fabulous service, we also struck up a conversation with two lovely women, a mother and daughter from Pennsylvania, who have a tradition of visiting Venice every year.  Just another perk of traveling the world.

Razor Clams at Alle Testiere
Razor Clams at Alle Testiere
Our other favorite restaurant was Alle Testiere.  This small restaurant is located on Calle del Mondo.  Reservations are essential, as the restaurant has only a few tables and set dinner seating times.  I found this restaurant in my Fodor’s guide, and it was also ranked number eight on Trip Advisor at the time.  We started with the razor clams.  I was very excited since this would be my first time to ever try them.  They were fantastic.  We next shared the pumpkin ravioli, which were out of this world.  For my main course, I had the John Dory served with a sauce with multiple herbs and spices.  My husband had the sole in a citrus, olive and caper sauce served with new potatoes.  I loved our experience at this restaurant, and I could tell the other patrons loved their experience too.  This place was all about the food.

John Dory at Alle Testiere
John Dory at Alle Testiere
Unfortunately, all the planning in the world cannot guarantee success.  Another restaurant we visited was Al Mascaron.  Not only did I find this restaurant in my Fodor’s guide, and ranked number 18 on Trip Advisor, it was also featured by one of my favorite travel and food personalities, Anthony Bourdain.  Our reception when we arrived was not the best, though our waiter was very kind.  The menu, which was in English on one side and Italian on the other, had more choices on the Italian side, and the items that seemed to correspond were less expensive on the Italian side.  The biggest disappointment of our meal was our primi, which was a pasta dish with assorted shellfish, including shrimp, mussels, and clams.  The pasta was presented with two empty shrimp shells on the top, with the shrimp meat nowhere to be found in the dish, and with a number of closed, dead shellfish and empty shells.  The rest of our meal was average.  It seems we are not the only travelers who have had a disappointing experience, as the restaurant’s rank on Trip Advisor has since fallen from 18 to 371.

For all restaurants, I highly recommend making reservations in advance.  We made our reservations before we left home for our vacation.  It was clear that every restaurant we went to for dinner would have been impossible to visit without a reservation. 

We also had good luck for our lunches, which I did not plan in advance.  We kept our eyes open for good looking places deep in the heart of Venice, far from Piazza San Marco and the canal.  Our finds included a pizza place with standing tables and a restaurant with a few tables outside in a small piazza.  I recommend avoiding restaurants along the Grand Canal, as those seem to have the worst reputations. 

The Marco Polo Airport also deserves an honorable mention.  We ate lunch there while waiting for our flight home.  If you live in the United States, or have visited one of our airports during your travels, you are probably painfully aware that the food available at our airports is nothing to write home about for the most part.  Yet at Marco Polo, I purchased from a casual eatery a delicious prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich with a delightful glass of red wine.  Airport food as it should be.

Travel the World: It is hard to find good restaurants in Venice, Italy, but it’s not impossible.  There are some hidden gems.

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Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.