Part of the fun of traveling - a LARGE part of the fun - is sampling the local cuisine. In addition to sampling, we like to try to get recipes of dishes we've enjoyed from the various places we've dined. Such was the case when we traveled to Venice.
Our room in the Plaza Hotel was lovely, the bed comfortable, and I flung myself onto it as though I was trying to put out a fire. It was wonderful to be able to rest and relax after all of the walking we'd done and the rather unsettling train ride we'd just experienced. I was exhausted and would have preferred to stay in the room with a bottle of wine, watching “Columbo” in Italian, and getting the first good night sleep in three days, but Jim would hear nothing of it! He wanted an authentic Italian meal and was determined to get it, with me in tow. So, after a short rest, we headed back to the train station from which we'd just come in the dark of night to journey to the banks of Venice's Grand Canal.
Considering the lateness of the hour the place was bustling with people pushing and shoving to get onto a Vaporetto, one of the flat-bottom water taxis, for the ride into Venice. The water was black as night and sloshed hard against the side of the rusted and rocking boat as we forced our way on like cattle to the slaughter. The seats - those that weren't in need of repair - were taken, so we stood, elbow to elbow with the other passengers. It was positively creepy as we headed out into the darkness. Other such "flotillas" passed us, as overloaded as ours, and riding deep in the water.
We went only a short distance before arriving at the first stop. This driver must be new, I thought, as he didn't seem to be slowing down much in preparation for "docking." With that we slammed into the wooden dock, throwing us all to one side of the boat. I was alarmed, but alone in my apprehension; no one seemed to think a thing of this rather abrupt stop! Only a few passengers disembarked, so we were still packed in like sausages. We were on the Voyage of the Damned! Five more organ-jarring incidents like this and we were at our stop in San Marco.
It was difficult to get much of a sense of Venice. It was dark - very dark - with narrow, winding passageways. Most of the shops were not only closed, but also unable to be viewed, sealed up tightly by graffiti-laden heavy metal doors. We wandered for well over a mile before locating a restaurant with a menu we both found suitable. We approached a busy waiter, a look of hopefulness on our faces, but were told, in broken English, "Finished!" so off we went.
I suggested dining on the water so we began to head in what we thought was the right direction. Following the sounds of cheerful diners, we ended up at Antico Caffe Ristorante Al Busso at the foot of the Rialto Bridge on the banks of the Grand Canal.
We were led to a tiny table for two, tightly sandwiched between two others holding raucous parties of six. It was evident we wouldn't be able to squeeze our American bodies into the European-sized seats, so requested another table "inland." Fortunately at that late hour (it was now close to eleven) they were able to accommodate us. (Had it been the light of day I would have seen that some of the tables were actually situated on the top step of those leading down into the Canal. One weight shift in the wrong direction would send the diner right into the drink! Thank goodness we were re-seated a number of tables in!)
Comfortably seated we perused our menus. By this time we were both enormously hungry and, despite the initial troubles in getting here, I was ever so glad we'd come. Jim ordered Spaghetti All Amatriciana, pasta with a light red sauce comprised of onion, bacon, and fresh tomatoes. He enjoyed it tremendously, and while passing a forkful of it over the table, said that we must find this recipe before we leave.
Next came the salad, an interesting and exceptional assortment of greens including arugula, endive, radicchio, and a new-to-me green called “rocket.” Jim, who decided to order a small salad as well, tossed both his and mine separately, utilizing the cruets filled with deep green olive oil and rich burgundy balsamic vinegar placed at center table. The lasagna I'd ordered was served next. It had little meat, but loads of creamy cheese and sliced mushrooms; it was excellent.
Our waiter, a charming, chubby Italian man in his late thirties hustled by to check on us. We told him we were thoroughly enjoying the food and he responded with a smile of pleasure. Jim asked how the amatriciana was prepared and he was only too happy to oblige with his version of the recipe as follows:
“You take onion. Chop, chop, chop.”
“Bacon. Chop, chop, chop.”
“Tomato. Chop, chop, chop.”
“Toss with spaghetti and mwah,” he put his hands to his puckered lips making a loud kissing sound with an equally dramatic gesture.
Essentially that is it, but if you need a recipe with things all measured out for you, Emeril has a good one here.
Unlike American restaurants, the proportions were more suitable to our needs (read: room for dessert!), so at the suggestion of our waiter we ordered a Cassata with Cream to split between the two of us. This food for the Gods consisted of a shortbread crust with a decadently rich chocolate mousse base, topped with a white spumoni-like gelato, and surrounded by huge dollops of whipped cream. One bite of this and I was sorry I'd ever agreed to share!