Archive for August, 2007

Italy, Part I: Cicheti in Venice

Cicheti at the Antico Dolo

Here I am, finally tornata from my Italian adventures! The first part of my trip was spent working in Verona, but grazie a Dio I had some free time scattered throughout the evenings and the weekend.

On my free Sunday I hopped a train into Venice with one mission in mind. No, not the Biennale (though I did stop by later in the day) but cicheti.

Cicheti, translated as “little snacks,” are offered in Venice bars and served with an ombra, a small glass of wine. I had never heard of cicheti until I read about them in an old issue of Bon Appétit, so I decided an investigation was in order. I photocopied the magazine’s restaurant recommendations, slipped on my most comfortable sandals, and hit the cobblestone streets of Venezia.

No matter how many times I’ve been to Venice, I’ve never walked the same route twice. I spent hours looking for those bars, wandering the narrow streets sheltered by their tall, crumbling walls. I encountered a watery canal here, a dead end there. I caught my breath whenever I happened upon a vast, quiet piazza and surprisingly found…no one.

Canal in Venice

When I finally stumbled onto the first bar near the Rialto Bridge, it was closed. Not too surprising for a Sunday afternoon in Italy. I then back-tracked through the crowds of tourists towards the “old-school” Ostaria Sora al Ponte, at the end of the Ponte delle Beccarie.

This small cicheti hub was bustling, with customers clustered around the doorway, the bar, and large rectangular tables. As I waited uncomfortably by the bar, I noticed bowls of what seemed to be shiny snails, whole crayfish, and platters of unidentifiable fried goods waiting behind the glass counters. No one working at the bar met my eye.

After ten minutes or so, I just chickened out and left. Eating alone can be intimidating, rarely more so than when surrounded by groups of boisterous Italians. And to be completely honest, I just didn’t see myself eating those little snails.

Discouraged, not defeated, but definitely hungry, I wandered a little further, and came upon the Ostaria Antico Dolo, a warm-hued, modest space near the Rialto market. I decided it was time to leave my list behind. Serene and quiet, the Antico Dolo seemed like the perfect place for the solo traveler, and I gladly rested my weary bones at one of the weathered wood tables.

I asked my waitress (who looked remarkably like Chef Colette from Ratatouille) to put together a selection of cicheti for me. As can be seen from the photo, I received quite a spread!

Mixed with the glorious grilled vegetables were a few Venetian specialties. The most typical were the two servings of polenta, one topped with baccalà and the other with gamberetti (little shrimp) in a sweet tomato sauce.

Baccalà is dried cod, and its methods of preparation, from what I have read, are seemingly endless. My waitress explained that for this dish the baccalà had first been crushed, then mixed with olive oil to form the creamy, slightly salty mass sitting on top of the golden polenta.

I also sampled a very fresh and simple bruschetta with fresh tomatoes, and a gently flavored omelet made with fresh herbs. I was reminded of Spanish tapas as I slowly worked through my food, and I felt a moment of sadness as I wished I wasn’t alone. I still finished everything on my platter though. Somehow I felt much better after that.

Window in VeniceAlthough the cichetti from the Antico Dolo were not as hard core as what I would have received at Ostaria Sora al Ponte, I was very happy with my introductory tasting. Sometimes you just need to ease into things. For me, snails and crayfish fall into that category.

Ostaria Antico Dolo, Ruga Rialto, 778  (near the Rialto Market) 041 5226546
Ostaria Sora al Ponte, San Polo, 1588 (near the Ponte delle Beccarie) 041 718208





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