Shannon’s Super Sexy Blog. Music. Travel. Randomness. And a Lot of Wine.

Archive for the ‘Queo Che Ghe Xe!’ Category

Tales from a Tasty Land

Wednesday, April 12th, 2006

OK. Here’s some stuff on Venice.

As I mentioned before, there are new wine bars all over town. On Salizzada San Canciano in Cannaregio, there are three – yes, THREE – all within a two and a half foot distance from each other. The one I liked best is Un Mondo di Vino (A World of Wine) at #5984. Great staff, good wines by the glass, and some really interesting cichetti like mussels topped with tomato sauce, or marinated salmon. The cichetti were heavy on vegetables and all looked very fresh. There was a constant stream of locals in and out both times I was there. Three bars in one busy calle? Awesome. A destination, even if you are not headed to Fondamenta Nove or the Miracoli church. “Which Nero d’ Avola?” The girl asked us one afternoon. Which means there is more than one on the board. Which is really cool.

Another cool new find was brought to my attention by the watercolorist Italo Chiarion. In the tiny, uber busy Campiello Corner there is a wine bar called Mai Tardi that is run by the couple who used to own Ostaria Boccadoro. The Campiello is a thoroughfare between Rialto and both the train station and the S.S. Giovanni & Paolo area – a crossroads – and the two bars there were never anything special. Until now! Mai Tardi seems unassuming from the outside, but I really like Donatella and Enrico, the couple who own it. Enrico has completed his Italian Sommelier program and he has some really good, interesting wines on his list, plus a good house wine. They offer flights and a weekly bottle special (when I was there, a 1999 Amarone for 35 Euro.) The bar itself is tiny, but the outdoor tables are perfect for hanging out and watching the constant stream of locals and tourists on their way wherever. The awning outside says “Enobar.” Cannaregio 5600, in the Campiello just past Salizzada San Grisostomo (coming from Rialto.)

There is a huge, new and fairly upscale bar and restaurant called Dogana on top of the Billa supermarket on Strada Nova. I went up and checked it out but did not stay to drink anything. It looks like it will be pretty popular when warm weather comes. Drinks and cocktails are pricey, but wine by the glass is reasonable enough. It is super close to La Cantina Wine Bar and we all know where my loyalties lie. But, will be interesting to watch. The entrance is just to the left of the supermarket, near Campo San Felice and the bar is open until 1:30 A.M.

My friend Amelia, who owns Corte 1321, the most awesome B & B in Venice, set us all up for a couple of dinners at the Circolo La Buona Forchetta down the street from her B & B. Both nights, we sat down and chef/owner Marinella Iop proceeded to send out course after course – some traditional, some eclectic. We had an avocado and tomato salad topped some roulades of smoked salmon and goat cheese, perfectly cooked schie (tiny shrimp) with hot, bubbling polenta right out of the pot, shrimp with onions and vinegar… the best thing I ate there was this incredible soup – a clear broth with slices of fresh asparagus and prawns and small chunks of parmesan cheese, and an occasional blast of cayenne. On the soup night, we were too full to eat a secondo, so Marinella sent out three different salads, then cheese and fruit, then cookies. So much for being full. The house wine is OK. San Polo 1295 (near San Aponal). You must reserve. 339-650-2086 (and she doesn’t speak English so break that phrase book out.)

All of us ate one night at Al Garanghelo – first Jonathan, Colleen and Colleen’s friend Ruth did, then me, Bob and Margaret. When we walked in we didn’t realize that the table we were waiting for was occupied by friends, so that was kind of cool. Anyhow this is a really low-key, traditional osteria near the fish market. The owner is very friendly, and also likes a bit of wine himself as far as I can tell. We all ate well and very cheaply here. Awesome lasagna (almost tasted like it had chorizo in it, the meat sauce was so rich) and the pasta with shrimp and hot pepper flakes was something I would not have thought of but was really tasty. For the secondi Jonathan thought his Fegato all Veneziana (liver with onions) was excellent, even if the accompanying polenta was a bit boring (we all got spoiled at the Circolo) and the fried calamari was also good, though I was awfully full by the time it came around. House wine was good, and the price unbelievable – about 20 Euro per person for way more food than we could comfortably eat. Of course we ate it anyway. Calle dei Botteri 1570 in San Polo. There aren’t many tables… but there is a really long bar, always a plus in my book. You might want to reserve. 041-721721. Their website is straight out of 1994.

Not new, but new for me: Vini da Gigio. I was totally blown away by this place. I think I need to preface this by saying that when I lived in Venice, I had a very small budget, so pricier places were out of my league, and even when I go back now I tend to go for places like Al Garanghelo. The crazy thing is, Vini da Gigio is not that expensive and when I lived there I could have treated myself once in a while. Oh well, live and learn. Anyhow. Bob, Margaret and I ate here because Nan said we had to. Thanks god for Nan! I will never forget the meal we had. We started with a basic antipasto of grilled vegatables that was perfect in it’s simplicity and prepared us for the next course. We split two primi between the three of us – gnocchi with pesto and shrimp, and ravioli stuffed with arugula and cheese and topped a Taleggio cheese sauce. Those ravioli – mi dio. They were like little ethereal puffs of goodness. I would like to write about them in sexual terms, but I don’t want to offend anybody. Plus the sauce was so awesome that I wanted to bathe in it. We all had a secondo – fegato alla veneziana for me, lamb for Margaret, and duck for Bob. All three were winners, especially Margaret’s – ever had deep fried lamb? Well, it is pretty damned good. We also had a bottle of Brunello which drove the price of the meal up – but all this stuff, including a 65 Euro bottle of wine plus a 10 Euro mezzo of Soave, cost only 169 Euro. Pretty amazing. House wine was way reasonable. I’m a believer. Cannaregio 3628, off the Strada Nova and again, near Campo San Felice. You must reserve at 041-528-5140.

We found a really cool little bar after eating at La Zucca one night. The best thing about the bar is the comfy seating area in an adjoining room. There aren’t too many bars open late in Santa Croce, so if you find yourself wandering around after a meal at La Zucca or Il Refolo check it out: Sweet Revenge, Santa Croce 1539 on the Calle delle Tentor that heads back to San Polo – not the Calle delle Tentor that La Zucca is on. They serve up a nice sized grappa and are open until 1:00 A.M.

That’s enough for now. Gotta eat.

My Last Day

Tuesday, April 4th, 2006

It is my last day. I have that sad feeling in my stomach. I do not know when I will be able to come back, so I don’t want to go.

It is almost noon on a perfect, clear day, and I am alone for the first time in days. I want to sit outside in Campo San Giacomo dell Orio and drink Prosecco, then go and eat a pizza. Or, I want to hit all my favorite bars one last time for a tramezzino here, a cichetto or two there…. how can you beat sitting outside in Venice, on a day like this? If I could only make the sad feeling go away.

It is always good to get home to Ocean Beach though, and I know that Bob and Margaret and I are going to drive Brian crazy every day at The Vine, talking about everything we ate and drank. Like the rucola ravioli with Taleggio sauce at Vini da Gigio or the pumpkin flan at La Zucca. Or the Refosco we had at the Maitardi bar when we got stuck in there for hours because of rain.

Every time I come here, I give another piece of myself to Venice, and Venice gives another piece of herself to me. There is something so comforting in knowing her well, but then, not knowing her at all, because she is always changing, but also staying the same. Does that make any sense?

So, onward, to the first glass of Soave, and the last sixteen hours. Tomorrow I will be home.

Vino, Vino and now, more Vino

Friday, March 31st, 2006

Man, time is going so fast. I cannot believe we have already been here a week. Colleen is running out of time, and I can tell she is bummed. Jonathan went to the airport last night and his Easyjet flight was cancelled, with no one around to rebook anything, or even explain anything. So he is back in Venice and staying with us in our apartment until Saturday. I guess it doesn’t suck getting stuck in Venice, especially when there is a couch to crash on.

Yesterday I met Nan who wrote the book “Italy, Instructions for Use” at La Cantina. A bunch of other people came around and it was a typical La Cantina evening – in other words, AWESOME. Before Nan came Colleen and her friend Ruth and Jonathan and I all showed up, and they all ordered off the chalkboard but I told Andrea to bring me whatever, so he shows up at our table with a double magnum and a decanter. Everyone cracked up, because it is pretty clear that a) I am the wino in the group and b) my reputation precedes me.

We also ate at da Alberto for lunch and as usual, I have this question to ask: why go anywhere else? This is my main problem here – I would rather make sure my old favorites are holding up rather than checking out all these new places which seem to all have carbon copy menus and too-high prices. And after the stress of Jonathan missing his flight last night, and coming around to our apartment at 9 or so, I was like, hey, let’s go to Casa Mia for a pizza! It’s really close! So we went there and it seriously is like three feet away from our front door. Me and Jonathan split one with radicchio di Treviso and salami which is laid on top of the pizza after baking (my favorite) and one with braesola and rucola. I totally pounded it. I don’t know how I am NOT going to go back to Casa Mia. But I have to break free of the ties that bind me.

This afternoon my friends Bob & Margaret arrive. They are part of The Vine Posse and so basically, the next three days are going to be wine bar steroid action. They will help me in my research, for sure. To get us started I am going out to the airport to get them, then we will take the Alilaguna to San Marco, have a nice bottle of wine on there, and they can arrive as they should: on the water, approaching the Doge’s Palace, disembarking on the Riva, and walking straight into Piazza San Marco. Then we will walk to Amelia’s B & B, where they are staying (Corte 1321 in San Polo.)

The weather has been great – didn’t need the rainboots after all, so I think I will use them as cookie storage on the way home. You can get a lot of packs of cookies into a pair of rainboots. Nan says I must eat at Vini da Gigio, so we do that Sunday night; tonight will be some pub cichetti action, and tomorrow everyone will eat together somewhere. Thinking about it is making me hungry, so I am off to meet the others for lunch……

Sun and Soave

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Last night’s 5 star lounge tour was so fun! Colleen – who is Super Crafty, made these cool little decorated books to carry around and to “rate” the bars. We rated – one through five – on stuff like crowd, music, vibe… we started at Harry’s Bar and it is no secret that I love, love, love Harry’s. We got there early enough to score some seats at the bar, almost everything scored a five except the crowd, mostly because of one dude who screamed into his cell phone “I AM DRINKING AT HARRY’S BAR, BROTHER!” What a doofus. We got prosecco, of course, because it is only seven euro (up from six on the last visit.) We wanted to save our big bucks for the next stop.

The next stop was the Cipriani. We took the private launch out, and the captain was oh, so cool. He let a little girl sit in his seat and helped her to drive us across the lagoon. Alas, when we got to the Cipriani, NO BARS WERE OPEN. Hello-ey, if you were spending a thousand bucks a night on a room, wouldn’t this be just a little bit of a drag? I guess they don’t open the bars until April. So we got back on the boat right away, to the amazement of the captain. “Where are you going?” He said. “To the DANIELI!” I said.

It is really cool going across in that boat. Much better than a vaporetto, I must say.

So. The Danieli! Fantastico… it is like drinking inside of a palace. Actually, it IS drinking inside of a palace. Marble columns, red fabric on the walls. About four guys came around to get our drink order before we were finally ready. The drinks came with a dish of almonds, hazelnuts and spicy little crackers. A guy that looked almost exactly like Chris, the husband of slowtalk moderator Kim, played guitar backed by a cheesy electronic accompaniment. I highly recommend going to the Danieli for an overpriced drink. The only crazy thing was the bathroom – it was totally thrashed, empty toilet paper rolls everywhere, water all over the floor, no paper towels. It was so shockingly bad that I took some pictures with a paper coaster with “The Luxury Collection” propped up against one of the toilet paper rolls. But all in all this was definitely our favorite spot.

Walking on to the Gritti Palace, a mist had settled and it was COLD. It has been so pleasant that I did not think to dress very warmly, and it was that mist that goes inside your skin. So getting to the nice, warm Gritti Palace was a relief. Their bar is not nearly as sumptuous and fanciful as the Danieli, but the deck outside must be great when it is not totally wet and cold. The bar was made of carved, Istrian marble and the bar guys were really cute (though no wheres near as hot as those dudes at Harry’s.) Since it is called the Longhi bar, they have Longhi reproductions all over, which is pretty cool. Also way too many of those horrid Murano chandeliers. I would go back, but only to sit outside on the Grand Canal. Jonathan said, yeah but you can do the same thing at the Accademia Pizzeria, right? Right, but – HORRORS – they are doing something on the canal there and the entire patio is ripped out. I don’t know what they are going to do at the Pizzeria, how can a business survive if you take away the dining room? I am going down there to talk to them about it. Venice without the Accademia Pizzeria? Hopefully not for long…

After the Gritti we were starving (one cannot exist on hazelnuts alone) so we went to Casin dei Nobili for a pizza. I am happy to say that places are starting to stay open later here. There also seems to be a lot of street drinking and partying way into the night… is is becoming a six month Carnivale again?

Last night, a huge wind whipped up and banged the shutters around and it was kind of insane. I thought for sure I would wake up to stormy weather, but instead, blue skies and no jacket required. I even saw some tourist in a dress in Piazza San Marco this morning.

So far, a tramezzino con gamberetti e radicchio and a glass of Soave… now on to the next bar that needs to be checked. I sort of love it.

Launch Date

Tuesday, March 28th, 2006

Sono qui. I cannot believe it has taken me so long to get into an internet place, because we have been pretty much running since we got here. The slowtrav party on Friday was awesome and kept both of us awake (both of us had severe cases of the lag, me because there was a friggen high school tour on my flight who seemed to think a transatlantic flight was an all-night party/place to rehearse the Star Spangled Banner.) It was great to meet Laurie and Sharon and everyone else (10 of us?) Saturday we ran all over, did a bit of a pub crawl with Laurie and her husband and dad, then ate at Boccadoro with Holly, also from the slowtalk board. Boccadoro has a new chef and a waiter from Liverpool. It was a good but all of us were kind of shocked that Holly got charged eleven euro for a plate of pasta with tomato sauce. Venice is changing even more rapidly than before. There are new wine bars and hip looking restaurants everywhere now. I am going to try to concentrate on the new bars, because they are MANY. The days of the fifty cent ombra are over – it is all about the three Euro glasses of Soave, now. Good in a way, but bad in a way. Bad for the Venetians, for sure.

It is weird to be here, mostly because it feels like I have never left. Even with all these new trendy wine bars. It is like I had a long sleep, and woke up to more mirrors and neon.

Sunday we went to Ravenna to look at all the mosaics. I loved the town and the mosaics – well, I cannot even describe how colorful and visually striking they are. I want to run out and buy a bunch of books about Ravenna and the lives of Justinian and Theodora now. We had a good meal there and ate so much we were forced to drink some grappa after to feel better. Cool little road trip, and now I have a lot of work to do.

Last night I hooked up with my friend David (he works at the Wine House in L.A.) and some of his friends and we did another pub crawl, but this one was four bars and an insane amount of wine. But this is what I love about Venice – there is no driving, and for some reason you never feel too bad the next day. Jonathan from slowtalk arrived from London and I hooked up with him and Colleen for a really late pizza. Diavolo con radicchio. YUM.

Tonight we are doing the five star lounge tour – Colleen hooked up this idea. Meeting Jonathan at Harry’s Bar, then taking the private launch out to the bar at the Cipriani, then on to the Danieli and the Gritti. Yikes! It is 4:15 and I gotta get home to put my Armani on (yeah right). Well at least make myself a little more presentable.

Time is moving way too fast, but it always does, in Venice.

The Gondolier’s Call

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

Last night, walking home from The Vine, a plane flew over and once again I got to thinking about noise. My life is full of noise here. The wild parrots are back after their winter wherever. Every morning they scream and yell at each other in the most obnoxious manner possible. I feel tremendous guilt whenever I have to kill a spider, but I want to annihilate those parrots. OB is under the flight path, so we start hearing jets very early, and the jets go all day long. My next door neighbor starts clomping around like an elephant about 6:00 A.M. and my other neighbor walks by my bedroom window in heels every morning at 5:30. This is the reason I am always up at 6:30 A.M. It sucks.

So, since I am leaving for Venice tomorrow, I started thinking about Venice noise. Life starts early there, too. Maybe not quite AS early, but early. It’ll be very quiet, then the garbage men, who come every day, will ring every bell in every apartment until someone buzzes them it. The shopkeepers will start to raise the inpenetrable metal gates that guard every window, every door through the night. A thousand espresso machines start whirring. Then the heels start up and down the calli, and the Ciaoing begins. Somehow, it is better to wake up this way.

On this trip Colleen and I are staying in Campo San Apostoli. It’s a campo I know well, and I can see every nook and cranny in my mind right now, while sitting halfway across the world with a bunch of parrots screeching outside my window. Campo San Apostoli is not a great campo for hanging out in, like Campo Santa Margherita or Campo San Giacomo dell Orio. It is a thoroughfare for the hordes that come every day to the train station and the car park and make their way to Piazza San Marco. The hordes walk right past the campo without ever seeing it. Some people stop at the little cafe there, and I like that cafe, except for the guy who runs it is kind of nasty. I call him Little Hitler. Inside the cafe, there is a guy who works making the sandwiches and coffee, and if you are lucky he will wait on you. He is tall and skinny and pimply, almost German looking, and I use to have a little crush on him. I call him Punk Rock Boy. Little Hitler’s sounds are generally yelling at tourists who sit down at his tables with cones of gelato they bought on Strada Nova. The sounds of Punk Rock Boy are sweet and mostly in my imagination.

There is a pizzeria in Campo San Apostoli, but I never ate there – only tourists do. Why eat there when two of the best pizzerias are tucked behind the campo, less than a minute’s walk away? There is a tiny hardware store with walls stacked floor to ceiling with whatever you could possibly need for the repair of your 500 year old house. There is a photography shop, a pet shop, and an alimentari. There are a gazillion dogs yapping and kids playing. There is a lot of graffiti. But if you don’t look left coming from the train station, you won’t see, or hear, any of this. You’ll only see the sottoportego that leads you into the tourist heart of Venice, only hear the gondolier’s call. Gondola… gondola….

La Marangona

Friday, August 19th, 2005

Yesterday at exactly 3:00 P.M. my phone rang. The caller ID had a Georgia number, so I figured it to be a work related call.

On the other end, a woman’s voice said “Shannon? Listen” and then, La Marangona! The bell that rings in the Campanile in Venice at midnight. My favorite bell in the universe.

I was trying to figure out why a Georgia number would be calling me from Venice to let me hear the Marangona. It was a little perplexing. It turned out to be Nan McElroy, who lives in Venice and wrote a book called “Italy, Instructions for Use.” She CALLED me just so I could hear the bells and I don’t even KNOW her. Is that cool or what?

Next time I will be more prepared and less surprised, and I’ll just listen. It could get addicting.

Nan writes a blog about her experiences as a resident, and you can listen to La Marangona here.

It made me homesick for Venice listening to La Marangona. But instead, I am headed for Baja this weekend for the Vendimia and a lot of wine-soaked experiences involving priests and bullfighters. Be sure to check in Monday and I’ll report back what I can remember.

Running, to Rialto

Friday, April 1st, 2005

I have been running all over the past few days. I think I have circled the islands 1,375 times since Sunday.

It has been beautiful here, I have met some really cool people, and hung out in some great new bars. Tomorrow I am going to Rome and I think while I am there, there will be a historic event.

I am running again. Six days was not enough…

Moon Over Miracoli

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

It is always so good to get back to Venice. It is, in so many ways, where I belong.

I say this after not living here for almost three years now. One must keep these little tidbits in mind, before getting one’s panties all in a twist about possibly moving back.

I got in Saturday night, just barely after a five minute sprint across the Frankfurt airport, and immediately went out to eat a pizza at Casa Mia and then go have a glass of wine at my favorite wine bar, La Cantina. By the time I did all that, it was already 11:30 P.M. So I went to the Piazza to hear the midnight Marangona, the bell that rings in the Campanile, the bell that I measure all my Venice time by.

I thought Easter would be a quiet day, with all the bars and restaurants closed. Boy was I wrong. It was PACKED here, and all the restaurants, all the bars, were open, even the places that are normally closed on Sunday. Osteria da Alberto was open. It is my favorite place (besides La Zucca) and I absolutely love the guy who works behind the bar. I went in and asked, in my most pleading voice, if I could please, pretty please have a table, but they were completo. They are always completo. There was a flea market in Santa Maria Nova, so I went and checked out the stalls there, then skulked back in to Osteria da Alberto. “OK then,” I told Favorite Barman. “Cichetti solo, alla banca.” It’s almost better, anyway, standing at the bar there. I had the best plate of cichetti, roasted potatoes so soft they practically melted in my mouth, peas with pancetta, some frittata, and some little marinated peppers stuffed with anchovies and capers. Favorite Barman commented on how good my Italian was. I wish I knew how to say “dude, you must be totally insane, because my Italian truly sucks.” Maybe Alice Twain can hook me up here.

From there I went into San Marco, and sat in the window in Il Cavatappi for the longest time, staring at the gazillion tourists streaming by. Nap time, then Easter dinner, with friends. The Maltese wine was not a hit, but I kind of liked it. I got home just before the bell rang.

I thought Sunday was uber-crowded. Yesterday was like Sunday on steroids. Speaking of Alice Twain, yesterday I got to meet her, and hang out with her and her boyfriend Luca, for the day. When I walked from my apartment near San Giovanni & Paolo to the train station (a thirty minute walk on a main thoroughfare) it was like a wall of people, all the way… thousands and thousands of people headed to San Marco and Rialto. I have never seen Venice so crowded. Not even during the Carnivale.

So when I met Silvia/Alice and Luca, I took them over the Scalzi Bridge, where we might have a chance to breathe. And sure enough, for most of the day, we walked around without total tourist annihilation. I took them to Campo Santa Margherita, down to La Salute, then back up through San Polo (where we did run into some tourist hell). We spent a good part of the day sitting in the cafes of Santa Margherita. It was sunny and warm there. Silvia gave me a beautiful scarf of purple and light blue wool that she made herself. They were fun to be with and we had a great Pasquetta just wandering around.

It is pretty funny, Alice wanted to come to Venice to see the “new” bridge that connects Piazzale Roma and Ferrovia. I was looking but I didn’t see any bridge! It might have occurred to me sooner that there is no way they are going to be able to build a bridge over the Grand Canal that fast. Eventually we saw a sign and a rendering of the bridge that isn’t built that Alice Twain came to see.

Last night I went to Trattoria da Alvise for dinner, on the Fondamenta Nove. Ruth wrote this one up for the book, so I went in to check and make sure it was still good. I ate some salad and fried calamari and they had a really nice house Cabernet Franc. They had a copy of “Chow!” on their bookshelf. I wanted to out myself so bad… but I didn’t, because that would defeat the book’s purpose, right? There is a new hotel on the Fondamenta… it looks really nice, with rooms looking out over the Northern Lagoon.

After dinner I went to the Tortuga Pub, a bar where there are no tourists, ever, to make sure the music selection was as I remember it. I remember the Tortuga used to be so smoky that I would have to stick my head out the window from time to time, to suck some air in, but I endured this because where else do they play Queens of the Stone Age in Venice? But now, with the new no smoking law, we get to breathe again! It is totally awesome, let me tell you.

The pub was playing U2 (old stuff, not new drivel) but there was a birthday party for a 16-year-old in the other room and a DJ started spinning some fine Italian rap. 16-year-olds on Guinness plus bad music equals I think I will finish my wine and go. But then I started talking to this British couple (his very first words were, “you are not a George Bush supporter, are you?” I kid you not) and we ended up drinking and talking for several hours; I am meeting them at La Cantina in an hour or so.

I love walking home from the Fondamenta Nove at night. My apartment this week is very close to where I used to live, and this is a walk I know well. The mists, the canals, the calli where if you stick out both elbows you hit both walls. In the day there were thousands, at midnight, I cross paths with two, maybe three people. The only sounds are soft, tiny waves breaking and the click of heels in an echo chamber. The Marangona is ringing, in the distance. It is a city of ghosts, my ghost, other ghosts, shrouded in a veil of midnight fog.

My Da Fiore

Saturday, October 2nd, 2004

So, I am back from my research trip to Venice. I ate, drank and walked for ten days. It was a fantastic trip, and one of the highlights was the discovery of one of my new favorite places on the entire planet. That place is Il Refolo.

I am a pizza junkie. I really am. The first three nights I ate pizza and probably, all in all, I ate something like eight pizzas in ten days. I can’t even imagine the number of pizzas I’ve eaten in my lifetime. Probably over a thousand pizzas. Maybe even more.

I had sincere intentions to eat at some of the more well-known, expensive restaurants of Venice on this last trip, like Alle Testiere and Al Paradiso. But I didn’t, until the last night when I went to Cantinone Storico in Dorsoduro. Since Ruth goes to all these places I think I will leave those to her, because seriously, I am a cheapskate. Or maybe, I am just value oriented. Plus I am relatively poor since I spend all my money going places all the time. If I am going to blow 18 Euro on a plate of pasta, it had better be pretty orgasmic pasta. But usually it is just pasta, like you would get for 10 Euro somewhere else. Anything over 18 Euro had better have gold flakes sprinkled on the top.

Anyway, back to Il Refolo. Before I left for Venice I entertained thoughts of taking myself to Da Fiore, Venice’s “best” restaurant. After all, I can write it off, now. So I looked at their website and noticed they have another place, Il Refolo, run by the son, Damiano Martin. Well of course I never made a reservation at Da Fiore (I’ll save that should I ever get me a sugar daddy) but on my second night, I found myself walking to Il Refolo.

Il Refolo is behind the church of San Giacomo dell’ Orio, with a bunch of outdoor tables next to a canal. I walked up and asked for a table, and one of the servers went and fetched Damiano Martin who told me he’d seat me in a minute. Damiano Martin, who owns the place. He sat me and asked me if I wanted an aperitif, so I ordered a Spritz. It came out and it was a fairly large Spritz, one that would take me at least twenty minutes to drink. I didn’t want to order food and have it come out while I was having my Spritz. One server came to take my order, I told her, uno momento, then Damiano Martin came and tried to take my order. I told him I really wanted to finish my Spritz first.

“I tell you what,” he says. “I’ll let no one bother you until you are finished with your Spritz.”

OK – this guy doesn’t know me, but he KNOWS me. I am already in love with him, and his place. This is what great service is all about.

I study the menu. It’s a pizzeria, but there are some other interesting things on the menu. A couple of pastas, some kind of Irish beef thing, and even a chicken curry. Nothing is over 15 or 16 Euro. The only thing that seems high to me is the wine – 8.50 for a half liter of house – gulp.

There was really no doubt, from the beginning, as to what I would order. They had a pizza, with FIGS. Fresh figs and Prosciutto. How could I not go for it?

There was a large table of Venetians next to me, with a little girl who was kind of a brat. Funny how Italian brats seem less obnoxious than American brats. Nearby, a table with two Italian guys and what appeared to be two Polish hookers (or mail order brides? They were pretty hot.) Candlelight flickered and gondolas glided by and I sipped on red wine and breathed Venice.

Then the pizza came. I still can’t get over how good that pizza was. How totally sensuous and absorbing it was. The first few bites were surprising, because it seemed the figs had lost some of their sweetness by being cooked. But as I ate (and became more and more enraptured) the figs started to vary in sweetness and texture so that each bite was different. Squishy, sweet; salt and crunch. I even broke my rule of always eating the crust – I wasn’t about to waste valuable stomach space on crust when figs were involved.

An Irish couple was eating at the next table. Eventually, we would become friends, but before we did, I watched, and listened, as the Irish girl ate her chicken curry. After each bite she would make a little noise of pleasure. Damiano and his staff were all running around, making sure everyone was happy, replacing candles, pouring wine. Four star service in a pizzeria. I didn’t want to go, so I ordered a Sgroppino.

I was very curious about Damiano Martin. With his pedigree, why open a pizzeria? In one of the least touristy areas of Venice? Because he wanted to do something for the Venetians? Because he loves pizza? Eventually I called him over because I wanted to ask him, Why?

He told me. He wanted a traditional pizzeria, but also to have some interesting things on the menu. He just wanted to have a good restaurant. He spoke with no pretense and he was so young and sweet that I wanted to stand up and kiss him right there. He grows the figs, for the pizza, in his backyard. That pizza, a pizza I, THE pizza freak, will never forget.

A few nights later I went back – Il Refolo is definitely going in the 2nd edition of Chow! Venice, so I have to investigate further. Alle Testiere can wait for Ruth to come back in December. It was a Saturday night, and the place was full. I asked for a table, and Damiano, again there overseeing everything, told me to wait a minute. Then he and a waiter rolled a table out of the inside dining room and set it up.

This time I tried a lasagna special with blueberries on top, and a salad. It was a good, basic lasagna – the blueberries added an interesting twist. While it was a tasty meal, it was nothing like that fig pizza. The service was again exceptional, with Damiano Martin running around doing just about everything, backed by a smiling staff.

I went one more time. Two nights before I left, I brought my friends Cheryl and Sue with me. We started with a bowl of a smooth pumpkin soup with pieces of fresh porcini mushroom in it. Three women and a bowl of soup – we managed to share equally, but it was tough. I got whatever was in the bottom of the bowl onto a piece of bread. Sue ordered the chicken curry and Cheryl and I ordered the fig and prosciutto pizza. The chicken curry was something like half a chicken with a good, spicy green curry sauce and basmati rice on the side. Accompanying it was an intensely hot yogurt sauce. As in, mangiafuoco hot. The kind of dish someone who lives in Venice and is sick of pizza would die for. And the pizza? Cheryl kept saying, “this is the BEST pizza I have ever had.” I wanted Sgroppino again, and Sue and Cheryl both got Panna Cotta. At Il Refolo, you can have your Panna Cotta with strawberries, chocolate sauce, vanilla sauce, Zabaglione, Frutto di Bosco – Sue got the Zabaglione, Cheryl the Frutta di Bosco – all kinds of berries, including the hugest blackberry I have ever seen. Cheryl kept saying, “this is the BEST Panna Cotta I have ever had.”

On average, each meal was somewhere around 25 Euro a person – this with everything you could possibly want. The night after this, I ate with Sue at Cantinone Storico where we had one antipasto to split, two plates of risotto, and a crap bottle of wine for 50 Euro per person. And the service? LAME. (Homie tried to tell me bresaola was the same as prosciutto. Dickhead.)

So, I guess I am a convert. Not to the four-star Da Fiore, but to Il Refolo, where the service is four-star, where the fig pizza is a slice of heaven, and where Damiano Martin will fix that, if it slips.