Traditional fish lunch at Osteria al Mercà on the Lido of Venice
It had been a while since Vittorio and I had a proper traditional Venetian meal and, to be honest with you, we were both craving it. So, to satiate our appetite, a couple of days ago we decided to go to the Lido and try Osteria al Mercà. I had already been a few times, but only in the cicheteria, and was curious to try the restaurant.
Osteria al Mercà is located five minutes on foot from Santa Maria Elisabetta station, in a street named after Enrico Dandolo (my all time favourite Doge, buried in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul). As the name suggests, it's hosted in the building of the old covered market and under the roof it's still possible to see the original marble fish stands. If I'm not mistaken, the restaurant opened in concomitance with the new fish stall, which is just next door and obviously supplies its kitchen! It's divided in two areas, one for drinks and nibbles and one for proper dining.
Before sitting down, we drank an ombra of wine as aperitif. When I glanced at the cicheti window, I was immediately driven toward the so-called francobolli (which literally means stamps), small squared tramezzini. Oh my gosh! I just had to have the eggs and anchovy, so moist and savoury, and so many the memories it brings back.
Once curbed our appetite, we moved to the other side.
The restaurant is bright and with a warm atmosphere, very homey and humble. No brick-walls, but French windows that overlook a street with villas and gardens. We were welcomed by a kind girl, who after seating us and bringing us a drink, gave us time to study the menu. Everything seemed so very inviting that it was difficult to choose. It included all the dishes I think of when I think of Venetian food, from sarde in saor to grilled scallops and sautéed mussels, from tagliolini con la granceola (spider crab) to risotto di pesce, from frittura mista to an assortment of baked/grilled or fried lagoon fish. Pure heaven.
We shared some house red and asked for a crostino with baccalà and a small taste of octopus salad. Then, for the proper starter, we opted for moscardini (baby octopus). Everything was delicious, the stockfish had been creamed exclusively with olive oil (and no milk) and you could really taste the fish, while the octopus was boiled to perfection, nice and tender, served with potatoes, olives and celery. The baby octopus almost melted in the mouth, so soft and garnished with a few drops of oil and some parsley. Exactly what we were looking for, delicious, simple and -most importantly- fresh.
For his main Vito had spaghetti al nero di seppia. Absolutely scrumptious. The sauce enveloped the pasta perfectly and the squid was as soft as butter. As for the portion, it was quite generous, fact I felt very grateful for! Not everyone is into squid ink, but personally I find it delicious. The ink itself doesn't actually have a very strong flavour, it adds colour and the sort of creaminess that turns an ordinary first course into something to die for. The only note, is that we would have liked it spicy, with red chilli (but we understand that not everyone world agree).
As for myself, I had grilled calamari and a side of boiled potatoes. A dish so simple, where the ingredient is so exposed, that it has to be fresh. Well, I liked everything. I didn't count the number of calamari, but they were a lot and I definitely didn't leave hungry. Vito has his share too, and made me notice the difference between a professional grill and our home grill. I know it may sound strange, but I was also particularly impressed by the potatoes...
To end our meal, Vito had a grappa while I asked for a caffè ristretto. We stayed a little longer as we weren't really looking forward to stepping outside. Since last Friday, in fact, the weather is extremely cold and windy, and nothing is as tempting as staying indoors in a heated environment. The wind, which is said to come from nowhere less than Siberia, obliged us to skip our usual walk on the beach, which was a real pity (the picture below was taken in 2017).
Anyway, overall I enjoyed the experience. The staff was nice, the fish fresh and the atmosphere relaxed. The bill was a little bit over what I expected (we spent 35 euros each), but I can't complain. After all, if you want to eat quality local fish, you are going to pay, and compared to other restaurants on other islands of the same category, it definitely has a better value for money.
As you know, I'm particularly fond of the Lido and would recommend a visit to anyone into nature and looking for relaxation. Osteria al Marcà is the right place if you want to get an overview of traditional Venetian cuisine and I'm sure that, whether you'll grab a cicheto standing or sit down for a proper meal, you will love it.
My suggestion is the usual one: head to the island mid morning, enjoy a walk either on the beach shore or along Riviera San Nicolò, then treat yourself to a drink and a pizzetta or cicheto in one of the many cafeterias on the Gran Viale and choose a spot for a meal. In case you need other tips, have a look at my Lido Food Guide page. Hope you'll have fun!
Address: Via E. Dandolo,17B, 30100 Lido di Venezia - (map)
Phone: +39 041 243 1663