May 25th, 2009


Il réfolo

Location: Facing the canal on the east end of Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio. Santa Croce 1459. Venice. Italy.

In Venice, one very rarely is given bread to eat at dinner on a Sunday. On Sunday, the bakeries are closed, and Venetian bread is a special flower, a delicate bread that will be stale before the day is over. It won't last until Sunday, when, at restaurants, grissini, long, thin crunch crackers, tend to be served instead. Il réfolo began to impress me from the moment the bread arrived: it was Sunday, and the bread was soft, fresh, not stale at all. It's not hard to make other kind of bread, but regionalism is such that very, very few places bother.

Thanks to my parents' good advice, we'd reserved our table a few hours in advance. This meant we were seated at a prime table in the center of the large outdoor umbrella-covered patio, well away from the splatter of a fitful thunderstorm which would blow through later in the evening. Off to a good start with the bread and a sensibly short menu, we settled down for excellent food and a delightful evening, primi, secondi, and desserts.*

The pasta dish was, I'm fairly sure, one of the best I've ever eaten. Tender penne were cooked with a smoked ham and ricotta sauce, topped with more thickly-grated parmesan than usual, light-handed, moderately rich, completely wonderful. C.'s papardelle was excellent too. My tender little cuts of beef (scamone) were delicate, buttery, soft, and served with a nicely-dressed salad. J.'s tuna hamburger tasted well, but the dense texture undermined the lightness of flavor; it was served with a good homemade ketchup which overpowered it. C.'s lamb chops were properly done and tasty, but my dish was better.

Dessert was good and competent, if not quite as inspiring as my first two courses: a vanilla-scented panna cotta served with a choice of sauces, strawberry in my case. We moved on to a smooth grappa as we loitered into the later hours of the evening, with good company, good service, and good food.

* In theory, a well-rounded Italian meal should have an optional starter; a pasta/risotto/soup course (the first course, or primo); a second course (secondo) of meat or fish, often with or followed by vegetable sides; then dessert; before possibly coffees and after-dinner drinks. A good Italian restaurant will size the courses so it's comfortable feasible to have all of them. In practice, order what you have appetite for.
Fishy Circumstances

Scale, Part 2

I have hundreds of photos from the Festa della Sensa to go through from this weekend, and instead, I'm posting another cruise ship photo. Several really large cruise ships left harbor late on Saturday afternoon while we were back in the Piazzetta, watching a man playing the Doge and his court and entertainers perform. This was one of the ships, receding past the sculpture of Adam and Eve carved into the corner of the Doge's Palace.

The next day, we watched the bucintoro, previously a mythical creature to me, row out towards the Lido with banks of rowers and a dozen red velvet-clad horn players. We chased after them on the vaporetto, spending several hours out at the Church of S. Nicolò, watching boat races. We crossed the island long enough to gaze out to open sea for a while, across the soft sands of the Lido beach, before heading back for the shade of home.