A bit after noon, we left our apartment and headed straightaway to explore the area of the Rialto Produce Markets, as we had gotten to the Rialto Bridge several times so far in our walks, but had not yet crossed the Bridge and gone any further, into the San Polo and Santa Croce sestieres. We discovered a vibrant, busy section of Venice, but both the fish and the vegetable markets were already closing down for the day, so we will return to see and photograph them on Saturday or Monday morning.
Even though Tali mentioned that she wasn’t at all hungry for lunch, I somehow didn’t register what she had said – perhaps I was listening more to my own desire to eat something than I was to her! – and so we went anyway to Vecio Fritolin, just a few streets from the Rialto Markets.
Even though I had heard good things about this small restaurant, our first impression was that it looked a bit forlorn, with only one of its dozen or so tables occupied when we entered, and the interior looking like it could use a little sprucing up. The food, however, as we soon found out, was at the high end of traditional Venetian cooking – absolutely fresh ingredients, perfectly prepared.
The signature dish of Vecio Fritolin is a generous plate of fried fish and shellfish, served with vegetables and roast polenta. The fish and vegetables are selected fresh every day by Chef Daniele Zennaro from the nearby stalls of the Rialto Markets. The name of this restaurant comes from “fritolini,” or “fryers,” small Venetian inns that used to sell freshly fried fish, served in paper bags, and indeed the restaurant continues this centuries-old tradition by serving its fried fish on plates covered with brown paper, to absorb any excess cooking oil. The building housing the restaurant dates from the sixteenth century, and is where Caterina Cornaro, a descendent of a noble Venetian family who later became Queen of Cypress, was born in 1454.
After we were seated, Tali mentioned again that she wasn’t very hungry, so we decided to share a first plate, of potato gnocchi stuffed with black olives, spinach, and raisins, served with a deep green spinach and herb sauce. The exquisite taste of this dish is what alerted us to just how good the chef was, and I immediately felt a pang of regret that I hadn’t brought us here instead for dinner, or anytime Tali might be hungrier! The saltiness of the olives blended beautifully with the sweetness of the raisins, and both were well balanced by the earthiness of the spinach used in both the filling and the sauce – wonderful!
Next we each sampled the signature dish of fried seafood, vegetables, and polenta (“frittura mista di pesce con scampi, verdure e polenta”), which was artfully prepared, each of the eight or ten different varieties and sizes of fish, shellfish, calamari and octopus lightly dusted with seasoned flour and fried for just the right amount of time, which must have ranged from just a few seconds for the smallest shrimp to a few minutes for the larger fish – nothing either overfried nor undercooked, a true showcase of the chef’s skill and delicate touch.
We also shared a house salad of the best tomatoes we have had in Venice so far, along with a lovely variety of greens, whose delicate flavors suggested that they were organic or biologic, with an aged balsamic vinegar that was both sweet and just a touch bitter.
Regrettably, we were too full to even tempt ourselves by looking at the dessert menu, but we might return to Vecio Fritolin sometime during the rest of our stay in Venice. Our lunch, including service, came to 84 Euros.
We then slowly made our way through the San Polo sestiere, north into Santa Croce, to visit Ca’ Pesaro Galleria d’Arte Moderna, the Venice Municipal collection of art, which is housed in a beautiful baroque palace located right on the Grand Canal. Most of the paintings and sculptures on display were acquired by the city of Venice during its Biennale International Art Exhibitions, which date back to 1895, and have continued to this day as one of the most important exhibitions of cutting edge contemporary art in the world. The work on display at Ca’ Pesaro forms a virtual survey of the major art movements, especially in Europe, of the last century, including sculptures by Henry Moore, and paintings by Chagall, Ernst, Dufy, Kandinsky, Klimt, and many others.
The top floor of Ca’ Pesaro is devoted to an amazing exhibition of Oriental art, ranging far and wide in Asia, from Japanese swords and armor, to porcelain, musical instruments and lacquer ware, to Javanese shadow puppets. A Venetian nobleman went on an around the world trip with his wife and a small retinue, from 1895 to 1897, including stops in Japan, China, Malaya, Java, and India. During his travels, he somehow managed to acquire and ship back to Venice more than 30,000 pieces of all sizes, and many of these pieces are displayed here. This is an incredible exhibition that speaks to the intricate beauty and skill involved in the traditional arts of Japan and the rest of Asia, and of the energetic man who built this huge collection in only two years!
We stayed in Ca’ Pesaro until closing time at 5:00pm, then stopped in a nearby cafe for cappuccinos. Did you know that the price of a coffee taken standing at the bar everywhere in Venice is about half what it is when you sit at a table (even if there’s no real table service, just you, sitting down to drink, rather than standing up)? Coffees and teas are quite inexpensive if taken while standing, which is what most Italians do.
We slowly strolled through Santa Croce, window shopping and enjoying the relaxed pace of a city that has no cars, no motorcycles, no electric scooters (that you can’t hear approaching you from behind!), not even any bicycles – what a pleasure, to wander down narrow streets and alleys, coming to beautiful piazzas or campos every once in a while, complete with cafes, shops, restaurants, schools and churches. This is not an experience to be rushed; it is to be savored and enjoyed at leisure.
We had reservations to eat a late dinner in a very out-of-the-way restaurant, in the western part of Dorsoduro sestiere. L’Avogaria, despite its location well apart from most tourist traffic, was very modern and creative in both its decor and cuisine, and the most vegetarian-friendly of all the places we’ve eaten in since we arrived in Venice. After a wonderful dinner, we had a relaxed and enjoyable late-night stroll through Dorsoduro, where several of the piazzas were crowded with Carnevale partiers enjoying live bands, and stalls selling snacks and drinks.