My Venice Love Affair- Touring an Italian Fish Market
So we are back at Vermont bed and breakfast after an amazing spring break – three weeks in Europe. We spent our last three days in Venice, a place that I was so excited to see, but had heard was filled with restaurants that are mostly over-priced tourist traps. Determined to eat well, I read a lot about the Venice restaurant scene. A name that kept popping up was Loris Manna, better known as “Lolo,” owner of Al Fontego dei Pescatori restaurant. Lolo has over twenty-seven years experience in the mongering of fish, and served as President of the Rialto Fish Market for over nine years … where he still has a vendor operation.
With the help of our host in Venice, we were lucky enough to arrange a tour of the Rialto fish market with Lolo. He doesn’t charge anything for the tour. His whole mission is to educate visitors to the bounty of food that Venice farmer’s markets have to offer. He doesn’t require that you dine with him. Upon meeting him, I just about had to beg to eat in the restaurant – showed him my notes of dishes that he’s known for. He smiled, really seemed to appreciate that I had done a little homework. Finally allowed to have dinner with him, he still demanded that we would only pay for wine and water if we did not enjoy our meal at his restaurant. Such is the hospitality that we enjoyed in Venice.
I was completely blown away by what I saw at the markets. Superbly fresh fish, mostly from the waters just around Venice. (This came as a complete shock to both David and me. We have been somewhat unimpressed with the selection and quality of fish available in the Mediterranean both on this and other vacations in the past.) Lolo is passionate about terroir and quality of ingredients, using only native fish and produce in his restaurant. He pointed out the difference between Maine lobster and his native lobster. The local lobster cost more than twice as much as Maine lobster (46 Euros per kilo, versus 20 for the Maine lobster). His philosophy is simple – only buy the best. If you cannot afford the local lobster, then do not buy any lobster. Make frittata instead, use local zucchini and eggs of course.
The shrimp was a revelation. He picked one up, pulled off the shell and handed it to me. I smelled it and agreed that it was indeed fresh. He said “yes, fresh, don’t smell it, eat it.” Now, I am a lover of sashimi and sushi, but raw shrimp with no seasoning at all scared me a little bit. Deep breath, get ready, eat shrimp. WOW, that is all that I can say. Sweet, delicate texture, clean taste of the ocean. I have never had a piece of seafood that was so beautiful. David, not a raw fish fan, was also handed a shrimp. I had a hard time keeping a straight face knowing his personal aversion to the raw. Surprise, he too agreed that it was wonderful. Hmmm. So much for our pre-conceived notions. More on this later, but Lolo’s restaurant was full of these kinds of wonderful surprises.
The produce from the neighboring vegetable market was equally impressive. Lolo pointed out that the best artichokes are the ones on the left in the photo. They cost nearly twice as much as the others, and according to Lolo are the only ones worth using. The others are from an area considered less desirable in terms of the quality of produce that is grown there. It really amazed me that everything being sold at the market was grown locally, and that it was all just so beautiful. And Lolo’s definition of local really redefined local.
After we concluded the tour, Lolo invited us to his local bacari, All’ Arco, for a glass of wine. It was tiny, unassuming, full of Venetians. Just the kind of place that you hope to find, tucked into a tiny alley, no water view, people mostly standing because there are just a few seats to be had. Glasses of Prosecco and wine flowed freely, and the price was shockingly cheap – just 2 Euros per glass. Lolo knew the people standing outside, and was happy to introduce us to them – the one on the left is a vendor in the produce market, the one on the right is a currently unemployed chef, self-described as “loco”. We felt as though we had made friends in just a few minutes, such a warm and welcoming bunch.
The company wasn’t the only great thing at All’ Arco. The bar’s counter was filled with a stunning array of snacks called cicchetti, all costing just 1.5 Euros each. We happily snacked on cicchetti and drank prosecco, feeling as though we had somehow stumbled into a fairytale. Luckily the day didn’t end there, check back another day to see about our dinner at Al Fontego that evening.
We would happy to share more great stories with of our trip on your next visit to the Village Inn of Woodstock! See you soon!