Not long ago the reliable judges of the Accademia della Cucina ventured that it was "a rare privilege" to eat well in Venice, and there's more than an element of truth to Venice's reputation as a place where mass tourism has produced homogenized menus and slapdash standards. Venice has fewer good moderately priced restaurants than any other major Italian city, it has more really bad restaurants than any other, and in some of the expensive establishments you're paying not for a fine culinary experience but for the event of dining in a posh Venetian restaurant. However, things have been getting better, an improvement due in part to the efforts of the Ristorante della Buona Accoglienza, an association of restaurateurs determined to present the best of genuine Venetian cuisine at sensible prices. In the Venetian context, "sensible" means in the region of L50,000/?25 per person, but even in the lower price ranges there are plenty of acceptable little places hidden away in the city's quieter quarters - and some are rather more than merely acceptable. And of course, pizza is a reliable standby if you're watching your budget, though - as with all restaurants in Venice - the general rule is that places within two hundred metres of the Piazza get so much tourist traffic that they don't have much incentive to make an effort.
More than anywhere else in Italy, the division between bars and restaurants is often difficult to draw. A distinctive aspect of the Venetian social scene is the bácaro , which is essentially a bar but also serves a range of snacks called cicheti (some times spelled ciccheti ); the array will typically include polpette (small beef and garlic meatballs), carciofini (artichoke hearts), hard-boiled eggs, anchovies, polipi (baby octopus or squid), and sun-dried tomatoes, peppers and courgettes cooked in oil. Some bácari also produce one or two more substantial dishes each day, such as risotto or seafood pasta. Most bars of this type are long-established places, but in recent years there's been something of a bácaro revival, and you're more likely to find a seating area in these newer establishments; in the older ones it's more usual to eat standing up, or seated on stools at a ledge. Virtually all bars will have a selection of plump tramezzini (sandwiches) at lunch time.
Many of the places we've listed under "Restaurants" have a bar area on the street side of the dining room, while some of the "Bars" serve food at tables that's a touch more ambitious than a plate of sandwiches. We've classified our bars and restaurants according to which aspect of the business draws most of the customers, but if you're looking for a simple meal in a particular area of the city, be sure to check both sets of listings - both are sub-categorized into areas that match the sections of this guide.
As enticing as the city's bars are its cafés and pasticcerie (most of which also serve alcohol), where a variety of waistline-threatening delicacies are on offer, and there aren't too many nicer things you can do to your taste buds than hit them with a coneful of ice cream from Paolin or Nico . Stocking up for an alfresco lunch, you'll be spoiled for choice at the stalls of the Rialto and the smaller markets pitched in a number of Venice's campi, whilst there's a host of tempting alimentari to supplement supplies.
As elsewhere in Italy, take-away pizza is all over the place, but most of it is pretty miserable fare in Venice - you'd be better advised to sit down in a pizzeria or have a snack in a bar. The widest range of take-out pizza slices ( pizza al taglio ) and pies is offered by Cip Ciap , across the canal from the west side of Santa Maria Formosa, at Calle Mondo Nuovo 5799 (9am-9pm; closed Tues) - their spinach and ricotta pie is especially tasty and filling. Next best choice is the simple take-away place over on the other side of the Canal Grande at Calle della Madonetta 1463, a few metres north of Campo San Polo.
Venetian food and drink
Venetian cuisine bears little trace of the city's past as Europe's trading crossroads, when spices from the East were among the most lucrative commodities sold in Venice's markets. Nowadays Venetian food is known for its simplicity, with plain pepper and salt as the principal means of gingering up a meal. Fish and seafood dominate the restaurant menus, the former being netted in the Adriatic and the rivers and lakes of the mainland, the latter coming from the lagoon and open sea. Prawns, squid and octopus are typical Venetian antipasti (usually served with a plain dressing of olive oil and lemon), as are Murano crabs and sarde in saor (marinated sardines). Dishes like eel cooked in Marsala wine, baccalà (salt cod) and seppioline nere (baby cuttlefish cooked in its own ink) are other Venetian staples, but the quintessential dish is the risotto , made with rice grown along the Po valley. Apart from the seafood variety ( risotto bianco , risotto di mare or risotto dei pescatori ), you'll come across risottos that incorporate some of the great range of vegetables grown in the Veneto, and others that draw on such diverse ingredients as snails, tripe, quails and sausages.
Venetian soups are as versatile as their risottos, with brodetto (mixed fish) and pasta e fasioi (pasta and beans) being the most popular kinds. Polenta is another recurrent feature of Venetian meals; made by slowly stirring maize flour into boiling salted water, it's served as an accompaniment to a number of dishes, in particular liver ( fegato ), a special favourite in Venice.
Pastries and sweets are also an area of Venetian expertise. Look out for the thin oval biscuits called baicoli , the ring-shaped cinnamon-flavoured bussolai (a speciality of Burano), and mandolato - a cross between nougat and toffee, made with almonds. The Austrian occupation has left its mark in the form of the ubiquitous strudel and the cream- or jam-filled krapfen (doughnuts).
Particular foods are traditional to certain feast days . During Carnevale you can buy small doughnuts known as frittelle , which come plain, con frutta (with fruit), con crema (confectioner's cream) or con zabaglione (which is made out of egg yolks and Marsala). During Lent there's an even greater emphasis on fish, and also on omelettes ( frittata ), often made with shrimps and wild asparagus; lamb is popular at Easter. On Ascension Day it's customary to have pig's trotter, either plain or stuffed, while for the feast of the Redentore (third Sunday in July) sarde in saor or roast duck are in order. Tiny biscuits called fave ("beans") fill the pasticcerie around All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day (November 1 & 2); on the feast of Saint Martin (November 11) you get biscuits or heavy quince jelly cut into the shape of the saint on his horse; and on the feast of the Madonna della Salute (November 21) it's traditional to have castradina (salted smoked mutton). On Christmas Eve many Venetians eat eel, usually grilled, though with variations from island to island; on Christmas Day the traditional dishes are roast turkey, veal, duck or capon.
Many of the wines of the Veneto will already be familiar, especially Valpolicella (red), Bardolino (red) and Soave (white) - the Veneto produces more DOC ( Denominazione di origine controllata ) wine than any other region, and this trio of Veronese wines comprises the bulk of exported quality Italian wine. Far more rarely exported is Prosecco , light, champagne-like wine from the area around Conegliano - don't miss a chance to sample Prosecco Rosé and the delicious Cartizze , the finest type of Prosecco. Wines from neighbouring Friuli are well worth exploring too: the most common reds are Pinot Nero, Refosco, Raboso, Merlot and Cabernet, with Tocai, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon the most common whites. Grappa is the local fire-water - associated particularly with the town of Bassano del Grappa, it's made from grapes, juniper berries or plums, and will take your head off if you don't exercise a degree of caution.
Apart from coffee in its manifold varieties, non-alcoholic drinks include: frullati , a milk shake made with fruit; freshly squeezed fruit juice ( spremuta ), which is usually d'arancia (orange), pompelmo (grapefruit), limone (lemon) or mele (apple); and granita , which is crushed ice with syrup (often coffee-flavoured).
Virtually every budget restaurant in Venice advertises a set-price menù turistico , which at its best will offer a choice of three or four dishes for each course. This can be a cheap way of sampling Venetian specialities, but the quality and certainly the quantity won't be up to the mark of an à la carte meal, and frequently won't even be acceptable. As a general rule, value for money tends to increase with the distance from San Marco; plenty of restaurants within a short radius of the Piazza offer menus that seem to be reasonable, but you'll probably find the food unappetizing, the portions tiny and the service abrupt.
In the following listings, the term "inexpensive" means that you should be able to get a two-course meal with a drink for under L35,000/?17.50, including service and coperto (cover charge); "moderate" means L35,000-70,000/?17.50-35; "expensive" means L70,000-100,000/?35-50; and "very expensive" covers the rest. We've supplied the phone numbers for those places where booking is advisable in high season. Wherever possible, we've also supplied the day of the week on which each restaurant is closed, but bear in mind that many restaurateurs take their annual holiday in August, and that quite a few places close down on unscheduled days in the dead weeks of winter. You should also be aware that Venetians tend to eat early and that restaurateurs routinely close early if trade is slack, so if you're in town at a quiet time, don't turn up much later than 8.30pm.
Bars and snacks
One of the most appealing aspects of Venetian social life is encapsulated in the phrase "andemo a ombra", which translates literally as an invitation to go into the shade, but is in fact an invitation for a drink - more specifically, a small glass of wine (an ombra ), customarily downed in one. (The phrase is a vestige of the time when wines were unloaded on the Riva degli Schiavoni and then sold at a shaded kiosk at the base of the Campanile; the kiosk was shifted as the sun moved round, so as to stay in the shade.) Stand at a bar any time of the day and you won't have to wait long before a customer drops by for a reviving mouthful. Occasionally you'll come across a group doing a giro de ombre , the highly refined Venetian version of the pub-crawl; on a serious giro it's almost obligatory to stop at an enoteca - a bar where priority is given to the range and quality of the wines (for example, Al Volto ).
Most bars serve some kind of food , their counters usually bearing trays of the characteristically Venetian fat little crustless sandwiches called tramezzini . Stuffed with delicious fillings - eggs and mushrooms, eggs and anchovies, Parma ham and artichokes - they cost from L1500/?0.75 up to about L3000/?1.50. Some bars will have a selection of cicheti as well, and even a choice of one or two more substantial dishes each day.
Cafés, pasticcerie and gelaterie
When coffee first appeared in Venice in 1640, imported by the Republic from the Levant, it was treated as a medicine; today it's a drug of which all Venetians need a fix several times a day. (Tea-drinkers will be horrified by the Venetian notion of their favoured beverage - often a jug of hot water with a tea-bag lying on the saucer.) High-quality outlets range from the Rosa Salva chain, whose businesslike ambience might not tempt you to hang around for longer than it takes to slug the coffee back, to the decadent old coffee houses of the Piazza, whose prices will prompt you to linger just so you can feel you've had your money's worth.
As with bars, if you sit in a café you will be charged more, and if you sit outside the bill will be even higher. Nearly all pasticcerie also serve coffee and alcohol, but will have at most a few bar-stools; they're all right for a swift caffeination before the next round of church-visiting, but not for a session of postcard writing or a longer recuperative stop. Elbow-room in the city's pasticcerie is especially restricted first thing in the morning, as the citizens pile in for a coffee and cornetto (croissant). You can also stop for a coffee at most of Venice's gelaterie , where the ice cream comes in forms that you won't have experienced before, unless you're a seasoned traveller in Italy.
General areas to find good cafés include Campo Santa Margherita , Crosera San Pantalon (running just south of San Rocco), Campiello Meloni (between S. Polo and S. Aponal), Calle della Bissa (behind Campo S. Bartolomeo), Salizzada San Giovanni Crisostomo , the Strada Nova and its continuations towards the train station, and Via Garibaldi . In one way or another, the following specific places stand out from the rest.
Food markets and shops
The campi, parks and canalside steps make picnicking a particularly pleasant alternative in Venice, and if you're venturing off to the outer islands it's often the only way of fuelling yourself. Supplies are always sold by weight (even bread): order by the chilo , mezzo chilo (kilo, half-kilo) or the etto (100g). Bear in mind that food shops are generally open 8.30am-1pm and 4-7pm or thereabouts, and that the great majority are closed on Wednesday afternoons and all day Sunday (though some supermarkets stay open all day Wednesday). And don't try to picnic in the Piazza - the by-laws against it are strictly enforced.
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