Best restaurants in Venice for the accidental connoisseur (part 1)

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best restaurant st marks squareVenice is a tough town for hungry and thirsty food and wine tourists. It’s the ultimate tourist trap, especially when it comes to the dining scene.

And let’s just be honest about it. The Venetians don’t like tourists. And that applies to Italian tourists as well.

It’s understandable. How would you feel if you actually lived in the Magic Castle at Disneyland?

The Venetians live nearly 365 days a year with a unrelenting onslaught of people, people, people… People who need a bathroom, people who don’t speak their language, people who think pizza is a dish for lunch and cappuccino a beverage to drink after dinner, people who think that Sassicaia is the only Italian wine worth drinking…

And people — egad! — who want to put grated cheese on their seafood risotto! Blasphemy to an Italian of any stripe.

best restaurant rialto veniceThe only way to get great treatment in Venice is to speak Italian with a Veneto accent (which, fortunately, is how I speak Italian). I hate to say it but it’s true. And I write this as a lover of Venice and the Veneto who spent many days studying in Venice (mostly at the Marciana library) and many evenings playing music there back when I was a grad student in Italy.

If you don’t speak Italian with a Veneto accent, try your best to be your most polite and considerate and take in everything cum granu salis as the saying goes. It just comes with the territory.

Here are some of my recent discoveries from the week I spent in Venice earlier this month. It’s the first part of a series I’ll be publishing this week on the blog.

best wine list venice italyThe recently opened Local (above) is a natural wine lover’s dream.

Owner and wine director Luca Fullin honed his chops at Al Covo (previously, the only destination for natural wine folks) and now he’s opened his dream restaurant. Food is traditional seafood (fantastic) with modern touches. Expensive but worth every last cent. I really loved this place, especially the wine program.

Another great discovery for me was ABC Quadri, the Alajmo brother’s casual concept downstairs from their Michelin-starred restaurant in the historic Caffè Quadri on St. Mark’s Square.

The décor is classic 18th-century Venetian, the food was good, the service superb, and the wine list is very reasonably priced for the location. I never thought in a million years that you could get a solid and affordable meal right on Piazza San Marco. But lo and behold, ABC Quadri is the answer to this age-old conundrum.

best seafood restaurant venice italyAnother place I highly recommend to you is Ai Gondolieri in Dorsoduro, which is worth the visit if only for the classic 1950s feel and look of the dining room.

People often think of Venice solely as a seafood destination. But don’t know the Venetian gastronomic canon until you have had Fegato alla veneziana, Venetian style liver, cooked with onions and white wine.

Ai Gondolieri is also a great destination for a steak if you’re in the mood for beef (something a lot of Americans crave when traveling abroad, of course).

But the two things that take this joint over the top are the wine and artisanal beer program and the overall service experience.

Barman and wine director Marco is from Udine and runs a really tight and classically focused wine program. I loved his selection of Collio wines and I loved how he had super groovy crunchy natural beer ready to pop open (this place became my afternoon/before-dinner stop).

General manager Massimiliano is a Venetian dude and not only does he keep Gondolieri humming but he also runs catering for the nearby Guggenheim museum.

These guys are top-flight pros and they make the magic happen nightly. I really loved them and this place…

On deck for tomorrow: my favorite new bacaro will blow your mind!

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