If any place in the world calls to me, it is Italy. I am a self-proclaimed “Italophile”, a word meaning quite specifically: “friendly to or favoring what is Italian.” This very fact led to me hosting my wedding in the country that I adore. For my honeymoon, we drove from Tuscany to Venice, seeking the new culinary happenings that I had heard was taking place in the City of Water.
Admittedly, there’s no denying that Venice has become a worldwide tourist destination. The cruise ships love it, and so do large tour groups and global visitors who make the pilgrimage to see St. Mark’s Square. With all of those issues, the city has gone to the great lengths of putting sanctions on tourism coming in and out of this amazing place, in an effort to reduce the pressure on the city itself.
For the die-hard culinary adventure seekers, the really innovative meals are mostly happening just outside of the city walls, at the JW Marriott Venice and the San Clemente Palace Kempinski, both of which boast fine dining restaurants and a variety of unique culinary experiences that are worth the short boat ride over there. However, inside the city limits, one old favorite also captured, or re-captured, my heart as well.
Located on a private island that is reachable from St. Mark’s square via a water shuttle, is Dopolavoro Dining room at the JW Marriott. This Michelin-starred restaurant is operated by the talented chef Giancarlo Perbellini and takes guests on a truly indelible journey from the moment you enter the beautiful sleek building that dates back to 1923.
Upon entrance, guests are escorted to the bar where they are offered either a specialty cocktail by the bartender or a choice of one of the guest’s favorite drinks paired alongside a nibble from the kitchen, just to whet your appetite. The actual word ‘dopolavoro’ means ‘after work’ in Italian, so naturally the beginning of your meal signifies a relaxed aperitivo that sets the stage for what’s to come.
Next, enters a thoughtful tasting menu of your choice (with three, five or eight courses to choose from) as well as wine pairings to match. Even the three pairing options that we went with were more than enough food and a real opportunity to see the chef at work. He integrated seasonal and local vegetables and proteins into each and every perfectly executed dish. The service was also outstanding, on point without being overdone. We enjoyed every minute of our experience.
San Clemente Palace Kempinski, a Leading Hotel of the World, is located on another private island of San Clemente which can be reached via shuttle or private water taxi, just a mere few minutes from the JW Marriott. Overlooking the lagoon is the water-front Acquerello restaurant that showcases Venetian and overall Italian dishes. With Chef Giorgio Schifferegger.at the helm, we were in great hands from the moment we sat down at our picturesque table, just in time to watch the romantic sun set.
The restaurant boasts two seasonal tasting menus as well as some a la carte menu items. My husband and I chose from the a la carte menu, that included dishes such as, the il foie gras melba containing, a pickled peach filled with decadent foie gras topped with cocoa beans and crumbs. We also tried the outstanding il fungo e il midollo which was a dish comprised of porcini mushrooms cooked en papillote style served with creamy, baked bone marrow from the Veneto region. All of the vegetables used on property are hand-selected by the chef that are requested and grown on neighboring Venetian Islands solely for their restaurants.
The main star of the evening was il maialino which was the suckling pig shoulder from the Veneto region, accompanied by potato terrine and crispy sage. For our choice of libations, we were in the hands of the knowledgeable sommelier who made sure we had a bottle of Italian sparkling wine alongside an Italian full-bodied red that would stand up to dishes like the suckling pig. The meal was executed flawlessly from beginning to end with an air of Italian hospitality and European charm that guests of Venice have come to expect.
For those who want to be where the action is and steps from St. Mark’s Square, a restaurant that is iconic and still relevant after all these years is Harry’s Bar Cipriani. This institution was named a national landmark in 2001 by the Italian Ministry for Cultural Affairs and still has a line out the door with tourists who are there to try their famous Bellini.
While the Bellini is everything you would hope for and more, it would behoove guests to make a reservation for a meal at Harry’s, most specifically on the second floor. Harry’s menu takes you on a tour of Italy, not just serving Venetian fare, and provides guests with, some of the country’s most delicious mortadella and mozzarella around. A plate of simple meat and cheese is perfection paired with that impeccably blended Bellini. If that isn’t enough, try their classic veal Milanese with a squeeze of lemon for good measure.
After your afternoon delight at Harry’s, a must-visit spot is Antonia Sautter’s costume shop that will simply amaze all who walk into it. Sautter herself is an accomplished costumer who creates the most incredible ensembles for events, balls, theatrical productions and the like. For a glimpse into her world, it’s worth stopping by her shop to peruse the handbags, accessories and home decor that is unique to the true spirit of Venice the floating city.
All meals, except for the one at Harry's, were provided at no cost to the writer.