One of the best things about being in Venice is that you easily become lost but end up discovering something interesting, something new.
It was our second day in town and Kent and I were looking for a dry cleaner or a laundry nearby; Kent also wanted to find out the path to the Rialto Bridge from where we were – without consulting a map. Well we went in totally the wrong direction and stumbled across this alluring restaurant which, had customers’ ‘original Tripadvisor’ reviews in paper notes pined on a board to share. ‘Lovely!’ Digital to analogue, and no phone required! That immediately impressed us and we decided to walk in and check it out.
Wooden beamed ceiling, brick walls decorated with china plates, old black-and-white pictures and wine bottles… it’s romantic yet homely. We spotted the most popular table in the house which was directly facing onto the Santa Maria Formosa canal. We tried our luck by asking for it but It was of course taken for the night. ‘It’d be so nice enjoying your meal while watching gondolas passing by!’ Seems everybody has the same thought! Kent and I both had a good feeling about this place, so we booked a table to be back in the evening for our first proper dinner in Venice.
At The Foot Of A Bridge Under The Gothic Madonna Arch
To be back in time for our dinner at Ristorante ai Barbacani… We followed our morning route by passing through Campo Santa Maria Formosa. Luckily Kent did remember how to get to Barbacani restaurant; whereas myself, all I remembered was that it’s situated at the foot of a bridge under the Gothic Madonna arch. If you have been to Venice, you’d know how confusing the City of Water can be for out-of-towners, especially if you are Venice first-timers too.
And later on, thanks to a little research by Kent, we found out that the bridge is called Ponte del Paradiso and that Gothic-style arch above the bridge’s southern doorway is Arco del Paradiso, also known as The Madonna Arch.
Traditional Veneto Style And Seafood-Focused Menu
Besides the cosy ambience, the type of food here was what we were looking for. Traditional Veneto fish cuisine such as Venetian Fish Soup, Bigoli with Anchovies and Savoury Sardines and Scampi Tails “In Saor” were among other popular local dishes in the menu. We were definitely in the right place since we set our minds and tummies to try as much Venetian cooking – especially seafood, as we could.
Let’s Get A Bottle Of Veneto Wine
Kent and myself both preferred From the Sea’s offerings on the menu; whereas From the Land on the menu provides vegetarian and/or meat choices. With the help of our hosts, we selected a bottle of Veneto white wine to compliment our dishes. Throughout our Italy trip, we stuck to ‘trying local produce’ and this was no exception.
My First Appetizer: Tuna Tartare With Lime And Orange
My first appetizer: Tuna Tartare with Lime and Orange. Not only did this mouth-watering looking starter come in a generous portion, it was delicious! Fresh, balanced; well-seasoned and left me wanting for more!
My Second Appetizer: Savoury Sardines and Scampi Tails “In Saor”
The “saor” dressing, together with the caramelized onion and raisin, making it a sweet-and-sour note on the palate. The deep-fried sardines and pine nuts add crunchiness to the bite. Yet again, a very balanced dish and it was very flavoursome too. This traditional Veneto starter has become my very favourite from our Venice travel. After my first taste of the Savoury Sardines and Scampi Tails “In Saor” here, I had many more since. The reason why I had two appetizers, simply because I liked the sound of both, and they turned out equally satisfying!
Kent’s First Course: Venetian Fish Soup
Kent chose a main course on the menu – Venetian Fish Soup to be his appetizer. Although it’s a little unusual to spot Soup on the Main Course section, the serving was sizeable and it’s served with toasted bread.
Although Kent liked his fishy soup, he did envy my two appetizers and thought I made a better choice than him. I knew that Kent would prefer his prawns peeled and deveined but he seemed doing just fine. Personally I wish the cook didn’t remove those prawn heads… prawn heads are succulent and they are the tastiest parts of the prawns if you ask me!
My Main Course: Grilled Sea Bream
Grilled Sea Bream, my main course of the evening. My fish was lovely, very fresh. For some reason it’s always more enjoyable having the whole fish instead of a fillet. Perhaps it has a lot to do with my Chinese background, we love the whole fish! The grilled eggplant and zucchini for a garnish was plentiful and I polished them all off!
Kent’s Main Course: Mixed Fried Fish And Seafood
‘I got fried calamari rings! I could have had a real meal!!’ Well that’s Kent’s reaction regarding his main course. The Mixed Fried Fish and Seafood was more than just pieces of fried calamari on the plate, but it did remind us both of a takeaway option from a seafood market. Asking if Kent wanted to add any more comments before I publish this article… ‘All I remember is that your food looked better than mine and my main course was really something I could have ordered back at home… My mistake!’ And I think he was right.
My Dessert: Caramel Panna Cotta
I grew up eating Caramel Panna Cotta. In Taiwan, you can find caramel panna cotta in sealed plastic cups from any supermarket and they are light, ultra silky and very tasty. It’s hard to believe that those ‘instant panna cotta’ were my very favourite to date. The creaminess and the silky texture of this panna cotta transported me back to my childhood. This one was richer thanks to the generous amount of caramel sauce.
Kent’s Dessert: Dark Chocolate Truffle Ice Cream
Kent’s Dark Chocolate Truffle Ice Cream looked very inviting. I had one spoonful of it and it was delightful! Great textures from pieces of chocolatey truffles and cocoa powder too. After a night of envying my dishes, this one finally put a big smile on Kent’s face.
A Traveller’s Note
Before our Venice trip, we watched a few so-called foodies’ YouTube channels. Our goal was to get tips of ‘where to eat’ and ‘what to eat’ in Venice. To tell the truth we didn’t find anything informative or encouraging. Kent then developed this fear, worrying about tourist trap restaurants everywhere in Venice and missing out on the authentic Venetian cooking. After only one and a half days of walking about town, we were discovering real local food culture. There are plenty of genuine and affordable Veneto food offers, look for the local! So, fear no more. And most importantly, we’ve learnt that instead of watching mediocre ‘iPhone foodies’, we are better off investing our time with real food experts like Chefs Rick Stein and Anthony Bourdain.