In the past in Venice there was Tiziano Vecellio, who from the mountains brought wood and new life to Venetian painting to satisfy foreign Kings; today, instead, there is Katia, who brings the produce of her hometown to satisfy our picky palates. Katia and her fiancé Andrea, in fact, manage one of the best wine bars in the whole of Venice, and this is Cantina Arnaldi.
Located in the Santa Croce district, it is only a few metres from the Ponte Vinanti (know by Venetians as chewing gum bridge ... I had to check the name on a map!), recognisable because it has a barrel and a small table outside. Cantina Arnaldi has a special atmosphere: it's small and intimate, with wooden furniture, minimal paintings, both fresh and dried flowers, but mostly, two friendly and knowledgeable owners. It opened a couple of years ago and is frequented mainly by locals, during the day it's quite quiet, while from 7 pm on neighbours and friends stop for an ombra and a chat after their day of work and the place becomes buzzing with life.
Personally, I love it and believe that if you are passionate about wine you should definitely add Cantina Arnaldi to your to-visit places: the selection is more than just interesting and includes a considerable range of natural, biodynamic and more traditional wines. Excellent beer and liquors too. Andrea loves to discuss what's in the glass and if you tell him what kind of flavour you are looking for, he will know how to please you. While I was there he was "playing" with a friend, making him try three different whites without telling him what they were but analysing them first and revealing name and type only after detailed discussions. How nice! I love these games of senses...challenging and fun, they oblige you to focus on your feelings and sensations and to reflect on what you are putting into your tummy with no pre-concepts! A sort of training...
With regard to food... lovely! A couple of homemade warm dishes like aubergines parmigiana, smoked chicken and three varieties of baccalà, then sarde in saor and selections of mouthwatering cured meats and cheese. The salami, in particular, is made by her aunt and tastes like nothing you have ever tried before (my husband calls it "the drug"). On the right of the counter, there is a small display window with nibbles, sandwiches and an inviting assortment of crostini (bread with savoury toppings).
Cantina Arnaldi is ideal also if you want something light but tasty. In general, I find that while men don't mind eating fatty foods whenever they can, we women would often rather something fresh, flavoursome, easy-to-digest but, at the same time, filling, and Katia's salads meet all these requirements. Simple, with seasonal greens and fruit, a light olive oil dressing and a lot of taste. The smoked chicken salad is served with some leafy greens and a balsamic condiment, the tuna salad features some very good quality tinned tuna, while the Greek salad is so colourful that it would brighten even the darkest winter day!
That was what I had and it came with tomatoes, lettuce, red onion, peppers, cucumber, black olives and feta cheese. So good... and the feta was delicious, really from Greece (as it should be!), only with sheep's milk, completely white in colour and with those tiny holes on the surface that guarantee quality. As always, it was the small details that made further difference: the bread served hot, the crunchy crostini, the way they set the table and looked after me. What I needed, a soothing and cushioning lunch at a friends' place!
The prices too are excellent, to give you an idea, the dishes range between 9 to 12 euros (and trust me, this is great value for money) and the wines offered by the glass are always rotating, so for us habitual clients it's a great way to discover new products and learn more about different types of crops and harvesting methods and new virtuous producers. We could say that, in a way, Cantina Arnaldi partners or networks with a couple of other bars/eateries that order natural and organic wines and these are Adriatico Mar, Osteria Trefanti and Estro (by the way, all close by! a sort of triangle of temptation). In fact, the above mentioned chewing gum bridge separates Katia and Andrea from two of these wine-bars, very dangerous (that bridge also separates the district of Santa Croce from the one of Dorsoduro)!
Katia and Andrea are genuinely nice and know how to deal with people, they are talkative if you want them to be or leave you total privacy if that is what you want... with them you can really talk about anything, from books and movies to travels and food; the clientele in general is nice, even after a certain hour (it is one of the few places that closes at 2am in Venice) the mood is always pleasant and the tone never too high: Katia has trained us not to disturb the neighbours and has been very clear about the fact that if we don't behave properly she closes early! Those who come here are not looking for a blast, but for quality drinks, nibbles and good company! In other words, it's not a place for teenagers but more for conscious drinkers, of any age!
So, if you appreciate good quality wine and want to savour the local produce of the Veneto hinterland, Cantina Arnaldi is an excellent option for you. Keep in mind that it is quite small, therefore if you are a biggish group and want to do some serious food tasting, I suggest giving them a ring (note: everything is daily made and express and it's just two of them doing all the work, so do let them know in advance!!!!).
If you ask me, this is one of the very best wine bars in town: truly authentic, with honest and super flavoursome produce, where tradition is combined with a contemporary interpretation on wine and even the simplest things become exquisite. Highly recommended!
Address: Santa Croce, 35, 30135 Venice
Phone: +39 041 718989
Opening hours: 11 am - 2 am
Closed on Wedsnesday
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