Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Corte della Pazienza, Venice, June 14, 2011—
TODAY, IN CONTRADISTINCTION, we ate first-rate food in a first-rate restaurant, and were again left a little less than enthusiastic. We were at Al Ponte del Diavolo on Torcello, a restaurant we've liked a lot in the past, but which seems increasingly fussy and over-refined. I can't really fault it for that; it's keeping up with the times; it hasn't gone nutty with sous-vide or foam or anything like that — it just seems that such perfection is a little irrelevant to its bucolic situation.
Oh well. After the amuses-geules, which involved raw fish, scallops I think, olive oil, nice salt, almonds, and some kind of sprouts, served impeccably in silver baby-spoons, I went on to an absolutely delicious tartare of branzino, the sea-bass that's virtually the national fish of the Venetian Republic.
This was utterly delicious, whether dressed with its balsamic vinaigrette or not: fresh, sweet, salty, crunchy, soft; a collision of sensations on the tongue, further enlived by little black seedy things that accentuated a Japanese affect. Again, impeccable.IMG_0728.jpgNext, bigoli, again idiomatic Venetian, very lightly dressed with inkfish-blessed olive oil, and featuring a very generous quantity of the tiniest squid you'll ever see, none any bigger than my little fingernail, tender and succulent and only very slightly resistant to the bite.

I'm making this lunch sound like one of the most splendid meals of the year, and in retrospect it was. Only the dessert was not quite up to the rest: in my case, a semifreddo so hard as to be difficult to deal with, ornamented with a cape gooseberry, a drizzle of chocolate, spots of fruit purée and the like.

Had the previous courses been only very good instead of utterly delicious, the dessert would have been a knockout. Everything here, including the breads, is made on premise with first-rate ingredients by people who know what they're doing and who have the time and latitude to do it well. The service, too, is attentive and discreet.

So why were we underwhelmed? I think it was mostly the sudden shift of mentality, after nearly a month of trattorias. Of course the price is a problem: the prices are not unreasonable, given the labor and ingredients and skill; but they are not negligible. So we won't be back on this trip, and who knows if we'll ever get back again: but it was a memorable meal, and I have no regrets at all concerning it.
Ribolla gialla, Collio, 2010
• Osteria Al Ponte del Diavolo, Fondamenta Borgognoni, 10\11, 30012 Torcello, Venezia; 041 730 401


Curtis Faville said...

One is hard put to explain your reaction here.

Is this some kind of reverse snobbery?

When I was teaching, I took special delight in rewarding the efforts of very good students, even when it was perfectly clear that they hadn't spend half the effort in completing a task, as their less qualified contemporaries. it seemed to me the perfect demonstration of fairness and impartiality.

Perhaps you've grown too accustomed to the best, and have begun to assign a certain cachet to "peasant" or "indigenous" or "riparian" fare, out of proportion to its actual manifestation.

Whatever. Or perhaps your crusade to experience the utmost in gastronomic possibility has finally exceeded your first intentions--? Is aspiration to the highest echelon just a sad show of pretense?

Anyway, nice to see this place is still functioning. We should all be grateful when a good restaurant stays afloat. Here, the margin seems increasingly slim, and even the best of intentions may flounder on inadequate resources.

Charles Shere said...

Too much here to respond to quickly: I'll get to you when I can. I was as surprised as you.

Charles Shere said...

To your first paragraph: if it's clear what's being graded — result, not effort — no problem. Though just being that "good" implies a degree of preparation focus and discipline not always apparent (especially to the co-students getting lesser grades!): cf. Whistler: "No: for the lifetime of preparation" (or words to that effect).

To your second: you may have something here; I may have begun over-valuing plain excellence at the expense of worked excellence. I prefer Romanesque to Baroque, Modernist to postModern.

To your third, ignoring the last six words: yes, there's an implicit irony in any pursuit of knowledge, any desire to extend experience. Consideration, analysis of the new gains, develops intellectual tools and methods of increasingly finer grain; this tends toward triviality, pointlessness (excuse the unintended pun), which is itself baroque. I'm painfully aware of this; it
is sad; but I hope it's merely inevitable, not pretentious.

To your fourth paragraph, amen!

Charles Shere said...

In fact, not me, but Curtis Faville said, and I post it here because I accidentally deleted it before approving it — well, anyway:

Night before last, we had our first dinner at Eve's, a narrow, but stylish little French-American place on the south side of University Avenue between Bonita and Milvia in Berkeley.

The interior design was cool. The seats were a bit cramped. The kitchen occupied the back third of the place.

The fare was typical '80's pretentious, with tiny portions, little droplets of sauce, sprinkled artistically around the very white, largish, plates. The white wine was very nice--and not over-chilled. The dishes were skimpy, but the tastes were very subtle, not too piquant. Presentation seemed 65% of the deal. ($141 tab for two before tip)

Afterward, not feeling particularly "sated" we thought casually about how we'd rate such a place today. It's been in existence for about two years, and the couple (both cooks) who started it, saved for several years, then spent their "residential down-payment" for a home, to start the restaurant.

It reminded me a little of Cinq--a place in Corte Madera--now closed--which was very tiny and very stylish. But even there, the portions were generous, and one didn't have the impression of being snookered.

Very good restaurants may have a certain short life, the result of a young chef or couple or partnership experimenting early in their career(s), then moving on or giving up the idea after a scuttled attempt.

Thank god for them. They're the lifeblood of gastronomy!