Gourmet tales and travel tips
Dario Spezzamonte is the wine-loving half of the Estro concept, an Italian restaurant bringing a touch of modernity to the lagoon.
There are plenty of treasures hiding on the many mysterious little alleys in the Dorsoduro area of Venice. One such hotspot waiting to be discovered (if you figure out the local address system) is ESTRO – a perfect place to grab a bite to eat at any time of day and also a heaven for lovers of fine wines. And that’s exactly what Dario can guide you through; but he took a bit of his time to show us around his city as well:
ESTRO comes highly recommended, what do you think makes you unique in the culinary scene in Venice? What makes you a “must-visit” for a tourist?
Estro is a very different place by Venetian standards, we want to show that Venice is an actual city that can live in the present; that’s why we have chosen a more contemporary style for Estro. We focus on fresh, high quality products, we prepare ourselves most of the food we serve, from the buns of our burgers to our cured meats (salami, soppressa, porchetta, etc.), we buy vegetables and fruits from local growers and we select our cheeses from small producers that work with raw milk in the traditional way.
We also have the largest Natural Wine cellar in town with more than 600 labels from all around the world, all available by the glass.
How would you define authentic Venetian cuisine? And how is it reflected in your kitchen?
Traditional cuisine in Venice is a bit abused nowadays by dozens of restaurants that claims to serve traditional food but they don’t, since they are neither Venice-related nor do they know anything about what traditional cuisine is. We like to prepare and serve those traditional dishes that are not that popular anymore but belong to our past more than many others! Starting with Bar Food, we often prepare snacks with beef’s “Fifth Quarter”, such as “Spienza” (spleen), “Barbussi” (throat) or “Rumegal” (stomach).
From the kitchen, depending on the season, you can find a good choice of tasty traditional dishes; from the well-known “Bigoli in Salsa” (whole wheat spaghetti with anchovies and onions sauce) to the less known but fabulous “Gnocchi col Castrà” (Potatoes Gnocchi with mutton sauce) or “Sopa Coada” (sort of pie with pigeon’s meat) or the “Bisato su l’Ara” (oven baked eel with bay leaves).
What local dishes we absolutely have to try when visiting Venice?
The most important thing is to choose the right place rather than the dish itself! Once you think you’ve found it, I have to go for the “Moeche”, fried soft shells local crabs, nothing gets fresher than that!
Any tips on ordering the best Italian wines?
DON’T look for “quality control denominations” such as the DOC and the DOCG, they don’t assure you quality at all! Look for small producers that work organic and have fun trying new things! Get over the Chianti and the Pinot Grigio for god’s sake!
From the perspective of a family business, are the large crowds of tourists a curse or a blessing for Venice?
Definitely a curse. The issue is so big that we could talk about it for weeks. The only thing I want to say is that large crowds never raise the quality level of supply and demand.
Your restaurant features décor made by local artists, what are the most unique features we should look for when visiting? Are there any artisan ateliers in particular that you would recommend to us?
I personally think that the most amazing works of art that we have the honour to display are the paintings of Luigi Divari, one of the most expert fishermen around, a person that holds an incredibly deep knowledge of the Venetian Lagoon.
Once we step out of your restaurant, what should we visit in the area?
The area around here is full of treasures; not to be missed the outstanding Frari Church, one of the most beautiful in town, the museum of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, and Ca’ Rezzonico, historical Venetian palace.
Venice doesn’t seem like biggest party town around, what are your tips for enjoying a night to remember?
Start early and don’t expect to see the sun rise; have a couple of glasses of wine, decide if you are in the mood for a proper dinner or just a quick bite, try to figure out what the locals do, give up looking for clubs or late night bars, there are none.
As local insiders, can you show us through your favourite places in Venice? Where can we find…
The best coffee in town: Best coffee in town is without a doubt the Torrefazione Marchi in Cannaregio.
The best souvenirs: Best souvenir is a Murano glass vase or goblet, watch out for the fakes and remember that Murano Glass is an ancient and unique technique, it’s a proper form of art, so be ready to invest some money.
The best date spot: Best date spot is the Ristorante Riviera near the Zattere, classy place with an amazing view.
The most photogenic place in Venice: I personally love all the area around the Madonna della Salute church, very picturesque.
The city’s best kept secret: I’m afraid there are no more secrets to discover in a city as small as Venice. City’s best kept secret is the huge business on people that believe they can still discover secrets (they can’t) and are ready to spend a lot of money on it.
The three things we must see/try while in Venice are:
A visit to the Rialto Market for a picture of real Venetian life. Climb up the Scala Contarini del Bovolo for an amazing view. Rent a boat and take a tour around the lagoon.
And to end on a fun note: if you had to make a choice, would you rather give up food or wine?
I would rather give up my wife (if I had one)!
Ladies, you’ve been warned. But don’t let that stop you from a delicious dinner at ESTRO next time you’re in town. And while you’re around, have a look at Dario’s recommendations for things to do in Venice – from sightseeing to supper.