Sorry for the lack of posts lately…A and I finally went on vacation and I took advantage of the time off to spend a week completely “unplugged.” We went on a 7 day cruise with Royal Caribbean that left from Venice and stopped at a few cities in Greece and Croatia. I’ll post more on that later, as I prefer to start my vacation posts with Venice and the BEST ITALIAN FOOD EVER.
But I’m getting ahead of myself…
When it comes to eating out in Venice, we quickly made a few observations:
1) Most restaurants in Venice are expensive and just aren’t good.
Even when we tried our hardest to leave the tourist path and have lunch in a residential area, we were disappointed with a “pizzera” (I use the term lightly) that served frozen pizzas for about 15 euro a piece. We figured that Venice must be a bit like Paris: the rent is so expensive that the restaurants’ business strategy revolves around serving very basic food to tourists who will never be repeat customers anyway. Menus appear in 6+ languages (always a bad sign), and the posters outside display photos of the alleged menu that were taken at least 10 years ago. And I’m guessing that in Venice, like in Paris, the locals don’t eat out unless they go to a nice, expensive restaurant that they reserve in advance.
2) International food in Venice is extremely rare.
After spending a few days walking literally EVERYWHERE around Venice, we noticed maybe one Irish pub, and that was it as far as “international” food goes. No sushi, no burger joints, not even a French bistro. This was no problem for us as we only wanted Italian food (I’m pretty sure I could live on pasta and *real* Italian tomato sauce), but we still found it strange for such a large tourist destination. Our hypothesis is this: Venice isn’t really the kind of place where foreigners just move to on a whim. Anyone can get by in Paris or London…but can you imagine adapting to a life without cars, learning to drive a boat through Venice’s labyrinth of canals, and living in such close quarters that you could literally reach out and touch your across-the-street-neighbor’s window? Me either. Not to mention that jobs in Venice don’t seem to really draw the foreign crowd. So there goes not only a potential clientele for international restaurants, but the potential restaurant owners/managers/chefs as well.
3) Good food in Venice definitely exists, but it may not be easy to come by.
The top restaurants in Venice on TripAdvisor are gelaterias or take-aways, and there’s a reason for this (see #1 above). However, there are certainly amazing restaurants that offer delicious food, impeccable service, and a beautiful, romantic atmosphere. Note I did NOT say affordable prices. To eat well in Venice, you should be prepared to search hard…and to pay.
Our first night in Venice we actually got pretty lucky. That is, after we got lost about 10 times trying to find our hotel…We stayed at the Hotel Alex in a quiet area kind of in between the Piazzale Roma and the Rialto bridge. Since we arrived late and were starving, especially after struggling for a while with our luggage to reach the hotel, we decided to have a simple dinner at a small restaurant just across the street.
The restaurant is called Muro Frari, and is apparently a chain with a couple of other locations in Venice. Even at 10 p.m. there was still a crowd of locals enjoying a late dinner on the terrace. The fact that we didn’t hear anyone speaking English was already a good sign.
I ordered a simple pasta dish: ‘orecchiette pugliesi con melanzane, pomordorini, basilico e parmigiano.’ Aka ocecchiette pasta with eggplant, cherry tomatoes, basil, and parmesan. And WOW was it good! I don’t know what it is about Italian tomato sauces that taste so different from what we have in the U.S. or in France…but this was definitely the real deal.
This was a simple meal–nothing too experimental and no elaborate ingredients…but it was exactly what I was in the mood for. Even though I don’t count calories or limit myself too much on vacations, I appreciated that this dish didn’t have any cream and just the right amount of cheese! A had a pizza which he said was alright but nothing too spectacular. The OMG AMAZING BEST RESTAURANT EVER came later in our trip…which I’ll leave for another post 😉
In the meantime, here’s the info on Muro Frari. We passed by it during the daytime and it was markedly more touristy at noon than late at night…but I’m sure the food was still great!