Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pizza Fish

There are times when a person does not want what is said in one language to be lost in translation into another, and ordering food is one of those times. Anyone who has traveled in Europe knows that sometimes the translation on the menu is not 100%. It may be a transliteration, but it is not a proper translation. One example that comes to mind in Italy is the translation of “prosciuto crudo” as “raw ham.” In the U.S. we call what the Italians refer to as prosciuto crudo simply as “prosciuto.” But in Italy, prosciuto means ham, and it comes in two varieties: cooked (cotto) and cured (crudo, which literally means raw). So, instead of saying “cured ham” on the menu, it usually says “raw ham.” So far as I can tell, this is universal.

Just as the restaurants have made an effort to translate the menu, the waiters in touristy places such as Venice generally have made an effort to learn English to the extent they are able to take orders in that language. But one must use care. Recently while giving a tour, one of our clients told the waiter that he would like a “nice juicy piece of fish.” I heard this and understood it, and did not give much attention to what was actually ordered. All of our meals came in a timely manner, including this man’s, which was a pizza covered with various and sundry critters of the lagoon. What the waiter had heard was “pizza fish,” not “piece of fish.” It was topped with calamari, mussels and clams still in their shells, and a whole scampi (miniature lobster), shell and all. I have eaten pizza all over Italy, and I have never seen anything like it. We all looked at it in disbelief.

There are three ways to react to this. Either one eats it and tries to be more precise the next time, one orders something else, or one neither eats it nor orders something else. We explained the problem to the waiter, who did not seem particularly sympathetic, so I asked for the menu. I looked for a nice grilled fish and ordered it. It was brought after a short time and the man enjoyed it very much. The moral is that when you order in a restaurant in a foreign land, be sure to refer specifically to the menu, pointing it out to the waiter what it is you want. Do not rely on your skills of pronouncing the foreign word, and definitely do not rely on the waiter’s skill in understanding a general statement as to what you want.

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Friday, July 4, 2008

Alla Madonna Review

We were very interested to try this restaurant, as it has a reputation of being a favorite with the locals, and we have had clients sing its praises to the extent that they ate there three nights in a row. We wanted it to be good, and expected it to be good, but it’s not. The service is quick and attentive, but it’s too quick. There is no time between courses, meaning that they must have your next dish ready and waiting before you finish your first. This also leads me to believe that things may not be freshly cooked, but prepared ahead and reheated. This may be expected with the rice, I suppose, but it does not work with a grilled fish.

Karen had the seafood risotto and the mixed fried seafood, and I had carpaccio of cured beef and grilled red mullet. With the dinner I ordered a bottle of white wine.

The seafood risotto was ok, but not the best around. The mixed fried fish came with a long hair in it. The dish was promptly replaced, but the damage was done. The beef carpaccio was served as it always is on a bed of rocket, but that’s all. There was no cheese, as is standard, and for some reason the greens were not that good. The dish was unexciting, but tolerable. The greatest sin, and what probably contributes most to the poor rating, is that my fish were severely overcooked. This is a city where fish is king, and even the most backwoods restaurant can grill a fish to perfection. I do not know whether this was done in the original cooking process, or done in the process of reheating, but the fact remains: they were virtually inedible.

The final factor for me was that the wine, which was not the house wine served in a jug, but a bottle of wine, was boring and almost without flavor. The total bill was about 87 Euros.

With all the restaurants in Venice, one expects more from one with this reputation. Take away the hair, give me a fish that is properly cooked, and a decent bottle of wine, and I can overlook the hurried service. But as experienced by us, we cannot recommend it.

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Ristoteca Oniga Review

We had walked past this restaurant since the first time we came to Venice, and never went in. This mistake was corrected a few days ago.

They call themselves a “Ristoteca,” which is a combination of Ristorant and Enoteca, I suppose meaning that it is somewhere in between. This distinction is lost on me, as it is on most Americans, but no matter; they can call what they please.

Oniga is located on the corner of Calle Longa in Campo San Barnaba, in the Dorsoduro section of Venice. I had mussels and clams as a appetizer, and a steak as a main course, and Karen had pumpkin lasagna with ricotta, and a mixed salad. I also had a bottle of red wine. All were delicious.

Karen’s salad was fresh and one of the best she has had in Italy. The Venetians do a lot with pumpkin, and this dish was delicious and obviously homemade. My mussels and clams were cooked to order, and were very tender (i.e., not overcooked). They were served in a large bowl with crusty bread, and were delicious. The only criticism I could offer is that they were a tad salty. In their defense, however, I have made several dishes while in Venice using the local mussells, and they tend to be much saltier than those I’m used to in the U.S. The steak did not come the way I expected it, but was already sliced, and served with a bit of greens and potatoes. It was so good, though, that I do not fault them for slicing it. The wine was a cabernet, which was one of the best wines I’ve had, and it was reasonably priced. The service was attentive and well-timed, and not hurried. This place is not white linen, but you can get excellent food and wine at a decent price. The tab was about 84 Euros for the two of us.

Dorsoduro 2852 in Campo San Barnaba; Tel. 041 522 4410;

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