Venetian Wanderings | Episode 8: L'Essentiale

Six months ago, on the 17th of September, I got married. And, since most of my family was coming from Ireland and my husband's from all over Italy, we wanted to have the party in a place with a beautiful view. Yes, this was our priority, we wanted Venice to be part of our special day.

We immediately thought of Hotel Villa Laguna, located on the Lido island, and its Essentiale restaurant and lounge bar. The plan was to have a brief ceremony at the town hall and then hop on some water taxies and enter straight from the hotel's terrace, the reason of our choice!

From there you can see all of Venice. And after rainy days, when the sky clears out, you can even see the mountains! And that's what happened on our wedding day!

Hotel Villa Laguna, photo by Osvaldo Di Pietrantonio

So, after six months we decided to have a sort of first half-year anniversary and treat ourselves to a fine dining experience. And we went back to the crime scene.

The day was a bit foggy and still chilly to eat outdoors, but that wasn't going to stop us. In fact their indoor restaurant has huge windows that offer the same astonishing panorama and is warm and welcoming, elegantly furnished and bright.

We drank our aperitif in the terrace, a Prosecco for me and a Campari spritz for Vito. Then we moved inside. The staff remembered us and made us feel at home. I had written to them beforehand and told them that it was a sort of special occasion, so they arranged everything...and really made our lunch more than amazing.

The chef, Roberto Casti, worked so hard I am truly speechless. I will always be grateful for the passion and care he put into the preparation of every dish. Everything that came out from his kitchen was incredible.

Before the actual meal we were served a welcome starter. The confirmation that "A good beginning makes a good ending".

What you see in the picture below is octopus boiled in red wine and (rigorously homemade) reduced vegetable stock served with marinated red onions and a polenta crisp made with baked corn stone-ground flour from Storo, (a town in Trentino, a region in the North of Italy).

Octopus cooked in red wine, detail

I was already impressed. The sweetness of the onions emanated an inviting perfume that married just perfectly with the one of the octopus. And when I then tasted it, it just melted in my mouth. The onion was so pleasantly flavourful and the octopus was at the same time soft and crunchy.

We also thought that the combination of colours was beautiful and elegant.

The plating speaks for itself. I mean, besides its undeniable beauty, what I see is the dedication and passion of a person who truly loves his job. Every detail is planned and every single ingredient is worked with care.

I had to ask which was the secret of his octopus. Mine is nice, but it has a different texture, it's more homogeneous, while this octopus here was buttery inside but slightly harder in the outside. The chef told me that it is the tannins that give that particular consistency. And I'm sure that his stock (reduced three times!) plays a key role too!

And you see that little polenta crisp? Well, to make it, the polenta is first cooked in a copper pot, then poured onto a baking tray and finally dried in the oven at 80° for about 3/4 hours. Here, they use it to garnish some dishes and to make a lasagna with baccalà mantecato... (a good reason to go back!).

Octopus with marinated red onion

And that was just the beginning.

Our meal continued with a sea-bream tartare served on a datterini tomato and basil emulsion and a crudités of veggies. It was superb. No adjective can convey the freshness of that tomato cream. It was perfectly balanced and refreshing, yet delicate. It didn't cover the flavour of the fish, rather it enhanced it.

Sea-bream tartare with a datterini tomato soup

The sea-bream was caught in the lagoon and I can assure you it was very fresh. Dressed with a mild olive oil and thyme leaves. Light, tasty and herb scented.

Sea-bream tartare

Of course we shared everything. The second starter was a plate of smoked salmon, apple salad, aromatised butter and hot crostini. As always, every single ingredient was special: red apples from Val Venosta, homemade aromatised butter and salmon smoked in-house.

What amazed me was the discretion of the chef and all the kitchen staff. According to them everything was simple, but... no, let me tell you everything was not simple, everything was refined and elaborated.

With regard to the salmon, first some cuts are applied, then it's passed in salt and sugar (not any type of salt, a calibrated salt) and put in between two sheets of parchment paper and foil, vacuumed sealed and left in a refrigerator at -28° for 36 hours. After that, the salmon is defrosted in the fridge for 6/7 hours...

Simple, ah?

in-house smoked salmon and apple salad

The flavour of the salmon was supreme. And the contrast between the crunchiness of the hot bread, the creaminess of the butter and the tenderness of the salmon was perfect, with a final touch of freshness given by the apple and mint salad.

salmon smoked in-house

More food was about to arrive. Two first courses: a pink spiny lobster risotto with basil that, when I think about it, still makes me drool like a baby... Just look at it, how beautifully garnished and how creamy. Flavourful and light.

Lobster risotto at 'Essentiale restaurant, Venice

The bisque was made with the lobster's head and the risotto was creamed with a little bit of butter aromatised with shallot, and a pinch of finely chopped dried tomatoes, parsley and basil. The sweetness of the lobster was calibrated by the delicate scents of the herbs and the acidity of the dried tomatoes.