Friday, March 23, 2007

La Zucca Restaurant, Venice

Tucked away in a corner of the Sestiere San Polo , by the small, Ponte del Megio is La Zucca (literally, "The Pumpkin") restaurant. The canal side location is off the beaten track, and, for Venice, pleasantly quieter than the more popular sections of the city (though our visit was in January). The closest vaporetto stop, about 5 minutes walk, is the San Stea stop.

On our walk there we passed through residential areas, with working boats tied up in small backwater canals, washing hung out to dry from windows, local people walking, talking, eating and drinking, dogs fighting, teams of effortlessly machismo council workers arguing contentedly about heavy machinery...the everyday stuff a world away from where we were staying. The walk alone is worth it to see another side of the city...

La Zucca touted in the guides as a vegetarian restaurant, but, in fact has a mixed menu with fish, meat, vegetarian and some vegan dishes, reasonably priced, with a modest but accomplished winelist. I was there with the gorgeous, and directionally capable, C, and we both cursed finding the restaurant so late in our stay.

The emphasis is on seasonal ingredients - which typically includes preserved vegetables, pickled artichokes and peppers - and innovative cuisine. The Italians patronising the restaurant - mixed in with Americans, British, French and the gorgeous C and I - seemed to find some of the menu odd, unexpected, unusual, but soon settled down to an enjoyable meal.

We had 2 antipasti, 2 primi piatti with side dishes, and two desserts, and the restaurant was fine with us ordering a la carte.

The tagliatelle con carciofi e pecorino was good, not excellent, but good. Perhaps a little too understated and subdued. However the sgombro affumicato con patate limone (smoked mackerel with lemon potatoes) was amazing. An eye opener. A genuine epicurean surprise. The lemon potatoes were soft, moist, and beautifuly flavoured, lacking the bitterness I expected (salt preserved lemons?), and the smoked mackerel was delicate, and dissolved deliciously on the palate. The best smoked mackerel I have ever tasted. Simple food, expertly prepared. The zucca flan, a sweet, light, and entirely unexpected delight was made by someone with a passion equal to their expertise. It was, for me, one of the most interesting food moments of the past several years.

Dessert was a chocolate mousse - light, rich, deep and delicious, that type of dessert that in its turn swallows you with itself, I felt entombed in taste and love and chocolate, and, I think, a hazlenut semifreddo, - again light, intelligent, and delicate which the gorgeous C enjoyed immensely.

With a half bottle of house red, a half bottle of mineral water and a cappucino, the bill, with service came to circa €50. Almost more surprising than the flan.

Service was good, though difficult to get when busy - perhaps due to the small staff. Actually, for €50 the service was excellent. Presentation was uninspired. Which, to be honest, in no sense marred the experience. Reservations (tel (041) 52 41 570) are recommended, one day in advance, and on both our trips, the waiters spoke english.

And it was, by far, the best food we had in our week in Venice. Go there. Talk to the cultured American aesthete in the corner if he's in situ, and listen to his recommendations. Dress well, eat well, and enjoy.

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