Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pizzeria Ai Tre Archi

Stumbling upon Ai Tre Archi was a mere accident, but a nice surprise. I was wandering around Venice on my own, looking for a restaurant I had read about in a cookbook. The other restaurant, Dalla Marisa, had no signs posted, only a street number. Waiting for it to open for 90 minutes was enough time to waste, so I backtracked a few doors down and was cordially greeted by the staff at Ai Tre Archi, named after the bridge a few steps away. There were few foreign tourists around, so mostly Italian was being spoken although the staff, or at least some of them, spoke English. My appetite was ready for some truly authentic Venetian fare and I ordered it from an extensive menu.

Unfortunately for this review I could only eat two courses, but I suspect I will be back in Venice within a year or two, to try more. My order was rather esoteric and if I were putting a meal together I would not have combined these two items.

Sarde in Saor is very typical of Venice and it can be found on many menus in the antipasti section. This version was made with fried sardines and onions that had been sauteed then braised in vinegar and sugar to create the classic sweet and sour taste. I've tasted it before, but not in Venice and this recipe was better. Sometimes raisins and pignoli (pine nuts) are added, but they weren't missed. The polenta seemed unnecessary since it was bland and it didn't add anything.

Call me adventurous, call me un American, but I occasionally eat horse meat. This was one of those rare opportunities when it was offered on the menu and I ordered it. Paired with fresh cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, olive oil and parsley, the small amount of sauteed horse meat was barely perceptible in the sauce that went over the fresh potato gnocchi. What was noticeable was the overuse of saffron. The gnocchi, however, were excellent; very light and melt in your mouth good. Since all the pasta is made in house, I'll be back to try more, dressed in more classic sauces. Tre Archi also hand makes bigoli the Venetian buckwheat pasta that is dressed in "salsa", an anchovy and onion sauce.

552/553 Fondamenta San Giobbe
(turn left from Lista di Spagna at the Ponte Guglie
onto Fondamenta Venier, more than halfway down the canal)
Cannaregio Venezia Italy

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Trattoria Ca D'Oro alla Vedova

This is the second review I've done on Trattoria Ca D'Oro alla Vedova in a week. I contribute to Tripadvisor and saw a few bashings that made me feel very protective of this delightful little dining establishment in Venice's Cannaregio neighborhood. The first time I stepped through the portal was on my honeymoon. We could barely fit into the small bar area for cichetti as the place was packed. The second visit I dined alone while exploring Venice on my own for a few days and the last time I took my nephew there for lunch on a whirlwind day in Venice. I wanted him to get a good impression of the city, in the hope that he might elect to return one day, so going to my favorite places for espresso and pastry, lunch, and cichetti were squeezed into a short 7 hour span of time. Trattoria Ca D'Oro's atmosphere was perfect for setting the Venetian mood; old, compact and a bit brooding and dark, veiled in mystery, not only because of it's napkin draped lighting, but because of it's small labyrinth of rooms.

That being said, I came here for the food and the quiet, since the restaurant sits at the end of a very narrow alley off the busy Strada Nova. My nephew and I needed a little down time from our hectic blitz through Venice and although the service was fast, Ca D'Oro provided a needed rest for us. I'm sorry to note that we dug into the polpette (meatballs) so fast, I forgot to take a photo, but this restaurant is famous for them and at 1.5 euro per plate of 2, they are well worth ordering.

Their seafood antipasto plate comes in two sizes with the half portion for 9 euro being quite sufficient to sample a variety of seafood, mostly cold, but all good with the exception of the sliced item in the right hand corner of the photos above. I have no idea what it was, but it was overly chewy and had little flavor. Left to right there are boiled shrimp, a grilled baby octopus, stuffed mussels, the sliced mystery fish and the classic Venetian Mantecato, a fish spread made of bacala, olive oil, garlic and parsley. I've experienced several versions of this and some are more appropriately called a fish mousse made with potato and mayonnaise.

My nephew ordered the scampi with spaghetti dressed with the tomato sauce that had been used to cook the prawns, so it had a mild shellfish taste to it. It was light and flavorful and came with the scampi facing one another from both sides of the oval plate like warriors about to engage in mortal combat, a combat I'm afraid to say, they both lost. Speaking of the combative, the shell, in relation to food service is quite beautiful in the plating, but impractical in the eating. In an effort to use utensils and not dig in with both hands, my nephew lost his own battle with the first scampi. Just as he was managing to get the tail out of the shell, it went flying onto the floor.

Twice now I have had the pleasure of ordering the vegetable lasagne. Both times it was not what I had thought I was ordering, but better. The menu states that it's a vegetable lasagne, but on my first attempt at ordering it, the waiter apologized and said they only had a seafood lasagne available. That also sounded good, so I had no problem with it. The lasagne that I received was redolent with fresh porcini mushrooms layered with Grana Padano and a rich, unctuous bechamel sauce. It was a melt in your mouth experience of large proportion. On this last visit, I again ordered the vegetable lasagne and once again it was the porcini lasagne, just as delicious as the last time I had ordered it. Maybe their vegetable lasagne is supposed to be porcini, it matters not; I just love this recipe.

Calle del Pistor 3912 (an allley off of Strada Nova)
Cannaregio VENEZIA
Vaporetto stop: Ca D'Oro (turn left at Strada Nova and walk up a few blocks looking on your right for the small alley)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ristorante Ricchi

Ristorante Ricchi was well worth a second try. We found this restaurant the first time in 2005 and were amazed at the proprietary versions of classic Italian recipes that it was serving along with very unique modern cuisine. Nouvelle Italian is what I would call it although Nuovo Italiano is probably what the locals called it. On the right side of Piazza Santo Spirito in the Oltrarno neighborhood of Florence, this restaurant specializing in seafood was a great find.

On our first encounter with Ricchi many of the courses we ordered were refined and elegant, with some of the dishes even employing foams. My 1st course had been fried goat cheese coated in panko crumbs, with black olive pate over a salad of radicchio. For the secondo I ordered sesame encrusted duck breast with honey orange sauce and leek foam. My travel notes described it as a triumph of taste and texture. Other members of our party ordered seafood pasta that included lobster; sea bass on a bed of creamed spinach; and a smoked lamb prosciutto. The following year one of our party who had loved the restaurant reported a disappointing meal, saying that the seafood pasta was not what it once had been. I noticed it had also fallen off a website restaurant recommendation list and wondered what had happened. I wanted to find out.

There is good news, Ricchi is still open and ready for business with a competent staff and a very good chef. There is also bad news, the restaurant is struggling after several years of management missteps. It no longer seems to specialize in seafood, as the non fish offerings were broad and therefore the focus isn't as sharp, nor are the dishes themselves. No more foams, fusion, nor nouvelle approaches, but good solid Italian classic dishes with modern twists. As you can tell by the photo on the left, the Caprese salad was nicely plated and a grassy, Tuscan olive oil was on the table ready to pour over it. My dining companion ordered the pear and Gorgonzola tortelloni that was delicate and luscious.

I opted for a salad that was large enough for 2-4 servings. Very atypical of Italian salads, it combined mixed greens with green apple, walnuts, fresh strawberries and parmigiano cheese. Again, the dressing was left up to the guest so I used the balsamic and olive oil for a bright, crisp taste. Finding a large salad in Italy is getting easier, but finding one with anything more than lettuce or tomatoes is another matter. I appreciated the variety of ingredients in this salad.

Since we didn't bother with the English menu my secondo was somewhat of a surprise, a good surprise. The Italian menu read Mille Foglie and included the words chicken and porcini. I thought it would be like a pot pie with puff pastry. What I received was dish of layered boneless chicken breast, thick slices of porcini mushrooms and parmigiano cheese. It was delectable and so very fragrant, a delight for the olfactory nerves as well as taste buds. The chef is obviously creative and modern in his use of seasonal ingredients, but his talent will not scare off the local clientele who may not have been ready for the gastronomic high jinks of foams, nor the fusion direction some of the older menu items had.

The flourless chocolate tort was decadent, though not overly sweet, so the restraint made it very Italian in my mind. It was almost a pure ganache. The staff comped us a nice dessert wine. Usually on my reviews I add a link to the restaurant's website and even though I wrote it correctly, it is nowhere to be found on the Internet. Unfortunate, since it would be nice to see their menu. While you're in the neighborhood, you might want to stop by their cafe one or two doors down for the lightest, creamiest gelato we have found in Florence.

Piazza Santo Spirito 8/R
50125 Florence, Italy
Tel: (+39) 055 280 830
Closed Sunday
Open 7:30 - 11:00 p.m.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Snack Bar

Sometimes a name is just a name when it comes to restaurants, but this one is a description. On the north side of Piazza Barberini in Rome, there is a nice little snack bar where we had our morning meal, while staying at a nearby bed and breakfast in the neighborhood. The hotel charged 15 euros for a breakfast that sent you around the corner and out of the building. As an independent traveler, I didn't want to be tied into a breakfast, unless it was served in the hotel. That turned out to be a good call, since friends we recommended the hotel to also opted out of the breakfast, but went to the recommended restaurant and were charged over 40 euros for a cappuccino and croissant for two on the Via Veneto.

This latte and pastry is what I ordered for 4 euro at Snack Bar. My traveling companion went in each morning like clockwork for 5 days in a row. By the time I joined in, they set up his order before he even opened his mouth (on day 4) and allowed me to sit at the small table (one of only 4) without charging extra for the privilege.

I really think we struck gold with this find. In a country where customer loyalty is rewarded, we as tourists don't get many chances to see it in action. Never before in Italy, has taking a seat at a table not cost me nearly double the price, and I'm usually happy to pay the extra fee, in order to sit and savor my food or drink. The sandwiches were brought in daily and looked every bit as good as the pastry. My friends reported that what they tried were very good and again, very reasonably priced.