Thursday, June 28, 2012

Antiche Carampane

Not so crowded
Venice near the Rialto mercado on the evening we arrived was like a Disneyland - picturesque and crowded, with souvenir vendors and flocks of young people crowding the nearby campi drinking bright orange spritzes from plastic glasses. We escaped through a narrow alley and searched for a quieter refuge.

At Antiche Carampane, the outdoor tables were empty, a promising sign. We entered the small dark front room of the little trattoria, and asked for a table outside. No, we were told; they were all reserved. Indoors?

Si. We were ushered into a tiny dining room, crammed with white-clothed tables, and seated. Though only one other table was occupied, during the five minutes we read the menu, four other groups were seated. By the time our bottle of Soave arrived, the room was full.

Jet-lagged and dazed, we had small appetites, so no three course meal for us. Instead, we shared an appetizer course billed as carpaccio of market fresh fish, and two other appetizer of each person's choice.

Before it arrived, the waitress came through with a tray, placing before each diner a small corno of brown paper, overflowing with tiny fried shrimps.

My photo doesn't do it justice, being too dark, and taken surreptitiously, fearful of offending other diners. Each little shrimp was no more than an inch long. They were still hot from the oil, and crunched in one bite, heads, legs and all.

The tables were so crammed together, we couldn't help sharing our amazement at such a delicacy with the couple next to us - and a lively conversation ensued throughout the meal. Jean-Claude and his wife Jalene were from Singapore. While we were beginning our trip, they were at the end of their European vacation.

The carpaccio arrived - thin slices of raw amberjack, branzino, and John Dory - two pale-fleshed, the other more rosy-tinged - were arrayed around the platter, crowned by two shrimp, their shells removed but their heads still on. The whole plate was drizzled with a green-gold olive oil, a sprinkle of parsley, and graced with jewel-like pomegranate arils.

The whole plate was so beautiful I wished I'd taken a photo, but still inhibited, I let the chance pass. Spurred by the tasty little shrimp, we fell upon the fish at once, alternately dunking each slice in the creamy garlic sauce or the dollop of fierce green wasabi served on the side.

Our next plates arrived.  As Jean-Claude showed no hesitation at pulling out his I-phone to snap at Jalene's amazing first course of scallops and razor clams, I felt comfortable enough to take better pictures of these.

[The Man I Love] had ordered a salad of crisp vegetables and lobster meat.

I had ordered langoustines served in the traditional Venetian sweet-and-sour style, with sauteed onions. The little crustaceans were battered and fried, then molded into a timbale with the meltingly soft-cooked onions. Each forkful held a crispy crunch and a vinegary-sweet tang.

At the next table Jalene's first course of scallops and razor clams was exquisite. The scallops were tiny, but served on the pretty shells. The clams were very small, the shells as slim as a ballpoint pen.  She offered us each a taste, one slender shell with a plump clam inside. The juice and intense flavor of clam filled the mouth. Such wonderful food!

Jalene saved three scallop shells beside her plate, guarding them from the waitress when she came to clear. She likes to keep souvenirs of her travels in scrapbooks, she said, and with that in mind, I brought back my razor clam shell.

Here it is, with a 20 penny piece, to show you how tiny and delicate these tasty little mollusks were.

Americans aren't always used to such close quarters with strangers in restaurants, but for us it was a great introduction to this friendly city, and meeting new friends enriches our experience. As we finished our meal and jet-lag overtook us, we exchanged email addresses with Jean-Claude and Jalene. Who knows? In a small town like Venice, we'll probably run into them again.

Antiche Carampane has an amazing heritage - the neighborhood is where the authorities decreed the prostitution trade should be located in the year 1421 AD. The city housed the prostitutes in property formerly owned by the Rampini family, which the city repossessed. In later years, the rules were relaxed and newcomers to the business plied their trade elsewhere, but the older ladies stayed put. Thus, the area became known as Carampene - and the name of the restaurant, Antiche Carampene, means, literally,  the House of Old Whores.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Looks wonderful.

My dad used to bring us kids souvenirs from his road trips (he was a journalist, so these were frequent).

We treasured them.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Surprising that Pasta Puttanesca isn't a house specialty...

Bunyetta said...

Glennis, you missed your vocation as a food writer... i am drooling.