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.Next, 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