It's been almost 10 years since I was last in Venice. My idea of good food has changed markedly since then. So when I heard that Venice had crap food I was more than just a tad scared. This trip was to be a belated anniversary present to my wife and she, even more then me, thrives on fabulous food. The guidebooks didn't help either. There is very little information on which restaurants in Venice are great and normally the descriptions are jam packed with expletives such as, "expensive, tourist trap, not worth it, extortionate." However, in the four days my wife and I spent in Venice we did manage to find one or two little gems that are simply not mentioned enough when looking online, or in the guidebooks for fantastic Venice gastro-fare. One such restaurant is Osteria Enoteca San Marco near, you guessed it, Piazza San Marco.
We were warned numerous times to stay away from any restaurant near the Piazza, but I'm glad we didn't heed that rubbish advice. Osteria San Marco looks and indeed is, quite expensive. So if you're going to Venice on a budget and want to eat on a shoestring, skip this review. If however, you want to try one of the best restaurants in Venice, pray continue.
Mixed amongst the high-roller stores such as Prada, Gucci, Burberry and Versace rests a little, seemingly unassuming wine bar. There are hundreds of them in Venice, but Osteria San Marco is a very special place. We arrived there quite early for Italian standards, 6pm sharp. And except for the two Japanese tourists toting Louis Vuitton and Gucci bags, we were the only ones in the restaurant. We sat at a quaint little table by the window and watched everyone as they walked from Piazza San Marco towards even more high-end shops and ultimately, the Rialto Bridge.
Several glasses of superb local Cabernet and Prosecco later and we were ready to order. And this is where the fun really began. Minutes after ordering, my Aubergine Pudding with Anchovies and Blue Cheese arrived and I dove in head first. The Aubergines were tender and tasted of buttery Filet Steak. The Blue Cheese and Anchovies added a multi-dimentional flavor to the dish that I really appreciated. My wife's Scallops with Creamed Spinach and White Truffles could of been slightly more intense, but she and I usually say that about any dish. It understandably wasn't, due to the delicate flavor of the White Truffles. Still, a gorgeous dish.
We asked to take a momentary break, grabbed our wine and stood outside watching all the tourists look at the menu, glance at each other, shake their heads and then walk away. We suspect it was because they figured they'd find something better. Well, they're wrong, as we were when we did the same thing and wound up in a small, family run restaurant near Piazzale Roma. We have regretted it ever since.
Our mains arrived shortly after we ordered them upon coming back inside and it was more of the same. My Mixed Fried Seafood with Vegetables was exactly what I came to Italy for. Loads of fresh, incredibly tasty seafood. My wife's Sesame Seed Baked Plaice was another story. She was envisioning a delicate piece of fish with only a sprinkling of Sesame Seeds and what she got was a piece of fish drowning in Sesame Seeds that completely overpowered this, one of the most delicate fish of all. So, I got to eat most of it and my belly was happy. However, I agree with my wife, it didn't need to be beat up with Sesame Seeds, it just needed a pinch. They need to learn what I've learned from my wife after many accidents in the kitchen, sometimes... less really is more.
Osteria Enoteca San Marco is a jewel of a restaurant, located in one of the most lovely areas in Venice. I highly recommend it. This is what I think about when I think about brilliant Italian food.
If I have one piece of advice to offer when looking for a really good restaurant in Venice, it's this; be prepared to spend a lot of money on your meals. If you're not, you will go home feeling cheated by all of the sub-par, and downright shitty restaurants on the island. After all, it's Venice, people aren't going to stop coming here because the food sucks. So be careful, do your research and you'll eat some of the finest food available. Start with Osteria San Marco and go from there.
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