The Evening Meal: Venice Part III
Italian evenings begin with la passaggiata – an evening stroll.
Most shops are closed by this time, and Italians take to the streets (dressed sharply, of course) and catch up on the day’s events with family and friends. This activity also serves as a bit of exercise to stimulate the appetite after a substantial lunch. Our second night in Venice, we slipped right in with the local tradition.
When I first explored Venice in 2007, a friend recommended a restaurant called La Zucca. During my first trip, I was too busy cooking with fish from the market to sit down at the restaurant, even though it seemed tempting. This time around, staying at a hotel, I had the perfect opportunity to give it a try.
After just 24 hours in the city, Venice had become familiar again. Although the walk from the hotel to the restaurant was well over 20 minutes, I knew each turn and bridge, even with the shops closed and visual hints hidden. When we arrived at the restaurant, there will tables outside along the small canal, right up to the bridge. I hadn’t remembered this detail, or perhaps hadn’t seen the restaurant at the night. It was the perfect spot to spend a few hours.
Luckily, one table outside had just been vacated and we sat down. In October in Dublin, it would be unheard of to dine al fresco. While Venice had a bit of a chill in the night air, I was more than comfortable in a coat. While we looked at the menu, the friendly waiter popped open a bottle of prosecco.
Italians are known for taking their time over the course of a meal, and yet, looking at the menu, it was hard to imagine getting through it all. I immediately skipped over the antipasti, although tempting – I knew I wanted to save room for dessert. Primi consisted of pasta and vegetable courses (the restaurant is known for creative uses of vegetables). I chose a simple tagliatelle in a pomodoro sauce with a dollop of ricotta fresca on top.
I barely read the secondo (all in Italian, but translated when necessary by the helpful, young staff) because I was tempted by a special of Osso Buco. A carafe of red wine was reasonably priced, and would be a great pairing with the heavier portion of the meal. When the pasta arrived, it was cooked perfectly – al dente – and the steam rising from the dish had the sweet smell of roasted tomatoes.
The second course was just as impressive – a flavorful, slow-cooked option that was ideal for a chilly autumn night. Layers of spices and flavors that emerge with time were bursting from the osso buco. During the meal, the evening stroll continued with locals walking their dogs or enjoying a bit of exercise after a meal. Laughter and different languages were the perfect background noise to the evening.
When it was time for dessert, I asked for the friendly waiter’s recommendation. He pointed to a panna cotta with honey and almonds – a light but satisfying choice. Coffee and limoncello came next, the finishing touches to any Italian meal.
As one of the last tables, we sat and chatted with the staff who sat outside having a cigarette. They revealed to us the water level we had seen earlier was typical for the tides, and rainfall wasn’t a significant factor. Confessing to a constant worry about the canals, the chef told a story about flooding the previous year; how there is no way to control the water. ‘If it wants to come in, it’ll come in.’
Finishing our drinks, we got up to leave. Inside the staff was sitting down to their own evening meal; heaping plates of pasta and a few drinks to go with it. We called buona notte to our new friends, and started back towards the hotel. Approaching the Rialto bridge, the buzzing sound of nightlife could be heard.
While Venice isn’t known for nightlife, it exists in pockets if you know where to look for it. Ironically, one of the spots is the square on the Grand Canal near the Rialto bridge. Here, four or five bars cater to mostly locals, serving up a tasty 3 euro spritz.
Sipping my refreshing drink, a man starting singing and playing piano in the corner. Promptly at two, the candles were blown out and we were ushered into the streets. The square would have a few hours of quiet before the morning markets brought it back to life.