Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ahhhh Venice...........

Venice Gondola Ride On The Grand Canal, Italy -

October always reminds me of Venice as that's when I visited there and it's the perfect time to go. While most jet setters are rushing off to Germany for Oktoberfest you practically have the whole City to yourself. The summer tourist crowds have waned, the weather is still fairly warm and the winter rains and snow have not yet flooded San Marcos Square. Each day we would ride up the Grand Canal in style, passing the beautiful palazzos, in their glorious colors, seemingly ready to crumble into the water but as sturdy as steel. If you love photography you will think that you have died and gone to Heaven. Everywhere you look it is a visual feast and you can't take a bad picture. If one can fall in love with a city then I was head over heels!

Venice is the kind of spot you want to wander and discover on your own, at your own pace. There is so much to see and do and, of course, so many tourist traps to fall into as people from all over the world come to see the city they have always dreamed of. I ate in more than one restaurant that seemed to be great but disappointed. Tourists are fleeting, in their eyes, maybe never to return. Little do they know we will tell everyone that their restaurant is not worth visiting. I do have two jewels to offer, however, one a hidden gem, and the other a famous, glittering classic.

You've probably seen it in movies like "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and why not? It's been famous for hundreds of years and is not only the best coffee parlor in Venice but also the oldest. It's a world-renown salon of literary figures, celebrities and the global genteel. It's also the most expensive coffee house you'll ever see but still worth the visit. You simply can't go to Venice without a glamorous respite at the Cafe Florian. Luckily, when Foodie visited it was as the guest of the manager, where we sipped sweet bellini aperitifs and were even presented with a full color coffee table photo book outlining the history of the place. More on that to follow. In short, you will never spend a more elegant few hours than here. The service, the atmosphere and the drinks and snacks are simply the highest level one can enjoy. Stroll past the Palazzo Ducale, the famous Palace of the Doges, the ancient rulers of Venice, see the Bridge of Sighs, where Casanova made the walk to prison, ride a gondola or cross the Rialto Bridge but do NOT miss the Florian.

Cafe Florian
Piazza San Marco 56, 30124 Venice
+39 4 15 20 56 41

Our second spot is much lesser known. In fact, it's hard to find unless one knows about it. Hidden in the Mestre section, where we stayed at The Plaza Hotel as a guest of Costa Cruises, we had dinner here at the recommendation of a local worker at the hotel. It turned out to be the very best meal we had in Venice. Small, family run and operated, the food was classic Italian and perfectly done. We began with a simple antipasti plate of fresh tomato, sliced, fresh as fresh can be mozzarella cheese and a few strips of basil. Drizzled with balsamic vinegar, dripped from a red alabaster bottle, it was the height of perfection. I clearly remember all my fellow diners, like me, pulling out their note pads to write down the name of the manufacturer: Monari Federzoni. I have never used any other balsamic since.

The next course was braised beef, served simply in slices on a white plate, it was herbed and warm as the Italians never serve food piping hot. That, and the grissini, the thin bread sticks served in plastic packets to keep them dry and fresh, was all we needed for the perfect meal. Unfortunately, we have no pictures and there is no website. (Remember, it's a secret).

Moro Ristorante
Venezia Mestre
Via Piave 192
+39 4 19 26 456

Bellini Cocktail

2/3 cup white peach puree (use yellow peaches if white not available)
1 teaspoon raspberry puree
1 bottle chilled Italian sparkling wine such as Prosecco orAsti Spumante Brut

Place 1 1/2 tablespoons puree In the bottom of each flute and add 2 - 3 drops of the raspberry puree. Add sparkling wine and serve.
Raspberry puree: Puree fresh or frozen (thawed) berries in a food processor.
Peach puree: Peel fresh peaches, cut up in pieces and blend in a food processor.
Serving glass: Tall champagne flutes.

For those who would like to read more on the rich history of Cafe Florian:

The Caffè Florian, opened on 1720 in Piazza S. Marco, may rightfully claim to be one of the city's symbols.
The Florian has been for almost 280 years serving its Venetian, Italian and international patrons. Often you may find yourself sitting next to stars or luminaries. The Caffè also makes the summers more appealing by adopting the outside Cafè Concert.
Coffee began to be sold commercially in Venice in 1638, and coffee houses soon sprang up around the city. The Florian opened in 1720 as the Café of the Triumphant Venice. It is a contender for the title of the oldest coffee house in continuous operation. The elegant surroundings attracted many of the notables of the day including the Goethe and Casanova, who was no doubt attracted by the fact that Florian was the only coffee house that allowed women, and later Lord Byron, Marcel Proust, and Charles Dickens were frequent visitors.
The interiors of the rooms were redecorated in opulent splendour and renamed:
• Sala degli Uomini Illustri (Hall of Illustrious Men) featured paintings by Giulio Carlini of 10 notable Venetians, including Marco Polo, Titian, and Palladio. In 2003, Irene Andessner added Le Donne Illustri (The Illustrious Women), 10 portraits of notable women of Venice. Many of these works are part of the Florian's private collection and are loaned to museums around the world.
• Sala del Senato (Senate Hall) - the walls are decorated with panels depicting scenes from the worlds of the arts and sciences by Casa with the theme "Progress and Civilisation instructing the Nations".
• The Sala Cinese (Chinese Hall) and Sala Orientale (Oriental Hall) take their inspiration from the Far East with paintings of lovers and scantily clad exotic women painted by Pascuti.
• The Sala delle Stagioni (Hall of the Seasons) or Sale degli Specchi (Hall of Mirrors) was decorated by Rota with the figures of women representing the four seasons. The Sala Liberty which was added at the beginning of the 20th century is decorated with hand-painted mirrors and sumptuous wooden wainscotting.

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