Last weekend, Jon and I returned to Venice. We were last there five years ago, and despite Venice’s popularity with tourists (and the expensive-but-mediocre restaurants that abound where tourists go), we’ve been itching to go back for a while.
A week before our trip, we booked a few rezzies based on Mark Bittman’s roundup from July 2007, this blogger’s recent guide to Venice, and most importantly, recommendations by a friend who married a Venetian and who just had her wedding there a few weeks ago. (Finding someone who actually grew up in Venice is like spotting a unicorn, by the way.)
There was a lot of overlap in recommendations from our trusted sources, so Jon and I could only conclude that tasty restaurants are not quite a dime a dozen in Venice. [Contrast with, say, Paris, where there are so many good restaurants that no list of favorites is ever the same.] Also interesting is that these books Jon and I used five years ago had been recommending the same restos we ended up visiting last week on our friend’s and Mark Bittman’s recs. I guess considering Venice isn’t marketing “cutting edge newness” as its selling point, it’s no surprise highly-recommended restos from five years ago are still highly recommended today.
So, our first stop: Corte Sconta. Uniform rave reviews by those books we used five years ago, SlowTrav, multiple blogs, and by our Venetian friend. And now by me.
Let’s start with Corte Sconta’s beautiful outdoor dining area in the back (see photo at top). Grape vines shade you and your table is sun dappled. It’s magic.
Our server gave us menus, but our friend had made us promise to get the “mixed seafood appetizers” for 26 euros a person. You put yourself in the hands of the chef and eat whatever was fresh that day at the seafood market. It’s omakase, Venice style, and it totally paid off. You get so many plates of seafood that Jon and I probably didn’t need order additional pasta courses for 16 euros each.
First, there was sea bream carpaccio with a slightly sweet tang from berries and celeriac slaw (photo above). The fish was melt-in-your-mouth fresh and clean. Jon and I debated whether the tuna carpaccio had been slightly seared before being marinated in a balsamic vinegar. I think it’s likely the tuna “cooked” in the vinegar, ceviche style, but regardless of how it was prepared, it was meaty and again sweet and tangy from the vinegar. A refreshing dish.
The vongole in white wine sauce (photo above) was *so* seaside in a bowl. So often, clams might look big and plump but they turn out tasting like masses of rubbery nothing. But at Corte Sconta, ours were big *and* juicy. Heaven must be an endless bowl of these things.
And then, to complete the appetizer course, we were served spider crab in the shell; salted cod on polenta cakes, small shrimp, scampi, and grilled octopus. It was all fresh, simply-prepared and tasty, but the standouts were definitely the spider crab and the salted cod on polenta cakes. I’m not a fan of salted cod, as some of you may know (I could never live in Spain for fear of the ubiquitous bacalao), but Corte Sconta’s version is whipped up creamy and light, and then all that saltiness perfectly balances the creamy blandness of the polenta.
We were stuffed after all those appetizers, but being champion American overeaters, we managed to still enjoy our lobster tagliolini (photo above), which combined the best of Italy, generally (al dente fresh pasta) and the best of Venice (seafood).
Squid ink spaghetti (photo above) was worth the 16 euros just for the riot of seafood it came with.
Sure, everyone around us seemed to be toting guidebooks (I’m guessing Corte Sconta makes an appearance in every Venice guidebook), but you really can’t escape tourists when eating out in Venice. That said, Corte Sconta was head and shoulders above a lot of other Venetian meals I can remember. It’s pricey (115 euros for the two of us, including a bottle of wine and the irritating coperto), but you get a lot of food prepared with fresh ingredients and care, all served in a pretty, out-of-the-way-feeling dining space.
Corte Sconta, Calle del Pestrin, 3886; +39 041 522 7024; Closest vaporetto stop is Arsenale, but because everything’s walkable in Venice, I’d say it’s a 15-minute walk, max, from St. Mark’s square.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy reading my impressions of two other restaurants in Venice, Vecio Fritolin and Osteria di Santa Marina.