Only a few days ago Tiziano Scarpa in an interview on La Nuova said that today’s Venice is not the one of Venice is a Fish anymore; although this is somehow true, if I had to choose one sentence to keep from that book (which I still consider beautifully written and among my favourites) it would be that “the only possible itinerary in Venice is at random”, as random is the way I manage this blog, with no editorial schedule (or almost) but letting myself be led by events and by the city itself.
So it was that this Saturday we randomly decided to go to Giudecca.
We took an early boat from San Zaccaria, aware that most collateral exhibitions open at 11 am, and got off at Palanca to enjoy a walk. While crossing the Ponte Longo we looked at the terrace of L’Altanella, the oldest restaurant on the island started back in 1889 by Nane Stradella. I don’t know if you can see the young boy with the green t-shirt looking at us, but his name is Enrico, the son of the current owner (Nane's grandson), and he happens to be one of my students (from October to May I teach in a private school) so, again, we randomly decided to have lunch there.
It was my first time at L’Altanella, my husband had told me many times to go but so far we never seemed to have the chance. I liked it from the moment I stepped in, a traditional old style trattoria, with dark wooden furniture, a beautiful marble counter, copper pots on the walls and the sort of paintings that made me feel as if I were in a 1950s Venice. The welcoming was warm and professional, as our hospitality tradition wants, according to which the guest must always feel at ease but well looked after.
I forgot to mention that Altanella is the diminutive of the word altana (traditional Venetian wooden terrace), in fact we ate outside in their "garden on water" under the shade offered by the leafy branches! Oh my, it was perfect: white tablecloths, linen napkins and the view of the Ponte Longo. We drank some red house wine while waiting and listened to the host describe the menu. The list of delicacies was not too long, which for me is a guarantee of freshness.
Vittorio started with a mix of saor with eel, sardines and big scale sand smelts from the lagoon. The fish had been floured, fried and marinated with sautéed onions and vinegar and the eel was made lighter by a leaf of laurel. Very very good, especially the eel which was soft and meaty.
My starter was a mix of marinated fish that included salmon, red mullet and sardines, tasty and fresh. I am particularly fond of marinated fish, I find it so easy to make that the only thing one has to do is buy high quality ingredients and that’s it! The flavour was good, with a delicate acid note and a pleasant aftertaste.
Instead of a first course, I had a second starter, it was just too tempting: octopus salad with burrata and taggiasche olives… oh yum! The octopus had first been boiled and then slightly grilled in the pan so that it was crunchy outside and with a tender heart and the burrata was simply mouthwatering. Something simple that anyone can easily prepare at home, honest food, a combination of few FRESH ingredients and a sapient use of herbs, in other words, how I like it.
Vittorio’s dish was much more lavish! He told the host to do what he wanted and he was brought a plate of black homemade gnocchi with squid ink and dressed with the seppie in nero sauce… Incredible! Vittorio almost cried because as soon as he tasted the sauce his memory was brought back to his childhood and to his grandmother Arpalice (what a name!). These gnocchi tasted so good that, not now, but as soon as it will get cooler I will definitely re-propose them at home!
To give you an idea, Vittorio was so enthusiastic that after he had finished he ordered seppie in nero with polenta as second course! The squids were tender like butter and simply melted in the mouth! It was then that the couple sitting at the next table started talking to us, the man started by saying the he was from Bologna and he was happy that he had chosen the same things a Venetian like my husband did. We started chatting and we discovered that they have been going to L’Altanella for 30 years: whenever they can they take a train, get off at Santa Lucia Station and go directly to Giudecca. I found them so charming and sweet and I have to confess that their passion for my city really touched me.
Anyway, forgetting about romanticisms and going back to food, we ended with a barrique grappa, so round and easy to drink that I will never buy it for my house! We must have stayed at the restaurant for more than two hours when we finally decided to get up and continue with our day. Enrico’s mother had invited us many times and insisted in offering us this wonderful lunch, but if you are wondering about the prices, starters and first course range from 10 to 18 euros and second courses around 20/22 euros, so I’d say its’ mid range and that the value for money is excellent.
Before leaving I noticed a small picture with an old advertisement of Birra Venezia, the beer that used to be produced in the ex brewery on the island.
Enrico's father also gave us a postcard with an old photograph depicting the view from the Ponte Longo at the beginning go the XX century. Different, but not that much after all...like the restaurant itself, which now may seem a little bit fancier but is still strongly attached to its roots.