A Culinary Tour of Italy
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When you visit Venice, the "Queen of the Adriatic," the lagoon will inevitably flavor the sights, sounds, and tastes of your sojourn—a promising incentive, since fish and seafood from Venetian waters are likely the sweetest in Italy. To find the freshest catch, head to the bustling Rialto Market—where fishermen and cooks have converged for nearly a millennium. A must for any fish- and food-lover's itinerary, it boasts stands lined with superfresh soft-shelled crabs, mounds of still-moving gray shrimp, as well as seasonal regional vegetables (squash, wild mushrooms, artichokes, red radicchio, and white peaches). Arrive early for the freshest produce and to sample some authentic culinary history.
After working up an appetite, finish your tour of the market with a stop at Vini da Pinto, a bacaro (Venetian wine and snack bar) for cichetti (the Venetian version of tapas). Order a glass of wine and crostini of whipped cod, prosciutto, bresaola, or mortadella. Your best bet for dinner is Al Covo, where chef-owner Cesare Benelli's dishes are prepared simply, with great respect for ingredients that come straight from the shallow Adriatic and the Venetian lagoon. Cesare's wife, Diane, handles the desserts—deeply flavored chocolate cake or pear tart with grappa sauce. A highly personal wine list complements all of their creations. It's strong, with unknown gems from all over Italy.
Don't forget to purchase a souvenir of your meal and your Italian holiday from Cesare. He sells some of the fine products he uses in the restaurant—balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, rice for risotto, and cornmeal for polenta. Risotto is at its very best in Veneto, never a sticky glob. It's soupy—al dente kernels of vialone nano or carnaroli rice in a starchy sauce, usually enriched with Parmigiano. Inland provinces grow rice and golden yellow or white vitreous corn. Ground as polenta, it's found on many regional plates—a grilled rectangle or a little puddle that's soft and creamy, but in fact creamless.
If the prospect of perfect polenta draws you towards Veneto's interior, try to time your visit so it coincides with VinItaly, the wine fair that showcases products from thousands of Italian wineries for five days each spring (April 7-10). Tickets are expensive at 35 euros, but it's a worthwhile price for anyone interested in Italian wine. Keep your eyes open for Veneto whites such as Prosecco and Soave, and Valpolicella and Amarone reds. It's almost impossible to find a hotel room—look for a place in Venice, Mestre, Padua, or Vicenza, and commute by train.
Vini da Pinto
San Polo 367, Rialto
Campiello della Pescaria