Thursday, October 18, 2007

Da Fiore in Venice

For our first evening in Venice, we had two criteria: good food, easy to find.

Da Fiore, San Marco 3461 on Calle delle Botteghe, is located just one minute from where we’re staying, and according to the reading I’ve done, sounds like a good bet for some seafood.

The welcome is warmly pleasant, and the interior, decorated in “trattoria tipica” looks just perfect. Someone has broken a bottle of wine in the dining room, and, a little harried, the staff asks us to wait, but then offers a seat in the front. We’re just happy to sit—anywhere.

What looks like a well stocked refrigerator of wine lurks in the front, as well as a buffet case of cold antipasti seafood. I point to small little pudgy crabs and ask “Molecche?” the waitress answers no, but that they have them on the menu—fried only. Oh yeah.

I have a few targets in mind when it comes to Venetian food. Molecche, the small soft-shell crabs, and canoce, the white langoustines, are high among them.

It seems like forever since we’ve eaten real food, and we order way too much, but a rousing assortment: mixed seafood antipasto, a plate of Bolognese for me and spinach and ricotta cannelloni for my Omnivore, then a plate of frittura misti, mixed seafood fry, to share. Wash down with a glass of Tocai for me and Sharjs for him.

What a fantastic way to start. The antipasti includes briny shrimp that taste incomparably of Venice, mussels, octopus and tiny anchovies that are unsalted but deliciously fishy. A white fish pate is remarkably creamy and smooth, while the canoce, an alien from the deep with eyes on stalks and tiny wings beside them, is a soft textured, bizarrely sweet and tasty critter.

Bolognese tastes like the best mix of meat, made the right way, combined and then cook the hell out of it, but the pasta… the pasta…we have nothing of the like in the US.

The cannelloni was made with impossibly paper-thin pasta wrapped around a creamy mix of spinach and fresh ricotta with a light butter sauce drizzled over it.

The grand finale though, was the frittura mista which came with grilled cakes of white polenta, chewy on the outside and creamy on the inside, calamari perfectly fried – sweet and chewy but not like a rubber band.. The soft-shell crabs were a revelation – crunchy light and sweet with a zing of saltiness – there is nothing like them. The waiter informs us that we’ve hit it right – they’re in season for one month in the autumn and one in the spring and that’s it.

“Dolci?” asks our hostess. “Dessert?”

Oh…no. Just roll me out the door, we say as we head out into the darkness of Venice’s evening to wander the streets.

* Note that this is not the very pricey Osteria Da Fiore in the San Polo District on Calle del Scaleter 2202, 041/721308, which is also reputed to have fine food.

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