Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Made in the shade

Cichetti at Cantina do Mori
Let's face it, summer in Venice is hot. And with the sun baking from above and glancing off the water of the canals, hard working people need a little refreshment. "Andar un ombra," they'll say - "Let's go for a little shade."

Un ombra is a small glass of wine, taken during the heat of the day, preferably in a quiet, shady place you can relax. A little corner joint, with a counter and few stools, maybe a couple of small tables outside - as long as it's shady and out of the heat.  And it would be good to serve a few salty snacks, to go with the wine.

These little joints are called bacari - and here in the part of San Polo where we're staying, there are a couple of good ones worth visiting.

Cantini do Mori is one of the oldest and most famous of these little neighborhood joints. More people know about it after Anthony Bourdain featured it on his show. Dark and quiet, we found it on a narrow back calle, off the beaten track. The interior is furnished with dark wood, hanging copper pans, and venerable artifacts.

Cichetti at Cantini do Mori
A glass case holds platters of small snacks - called cichetti. Bites of cheese, slices of ham or salami rolled around spoonfuls of cheese or cornichons, chunks of roasted eggplant with cheese melted on top - these are little bites meant to whet the appetite.

A regular at Cantini do Mori
When we were there, a regular stopped by for a quick bite and a glass of wine. The common practice is to stand at the counter, drink your ombre and scarf down a snack. Then off to your business.

You can get the white-bread rolled sandwiches, or you can get other things, like pickled pearl onions skewered with anchovies, or roast eggplant slices rolled up with a chunk of radicchio and sun-dried tomato.

We like Cantini do Mori for its authenticity, but for a good vibe and great food, we like to go around the corner from Cantini do Mori, to All' Arco, a little corner joint.

We were turned onto All' Arco by our new friend Jean-Claude, and coincidentally, the day we went looking for Cantini do Mori, we happened to run into him and his wife Jalene right there in the Calle. They had just come from All' Arco. Though it was in the process of closing for the evening (due to the football game, we discovered later) he introduced us to the proprietors, and we promised we'd return the next day.

Crostini with baccala mantecato
It was worth the second try. Here, the food is served on crostini. A small toasty slice of bread smeared with baccala mantecato - a creamy mix of reconstitued dried codfish, pureeed and emuslified with a bit of oil and maybe some cream or milk - is a delicious snack that spurs the thirst and adds some precious salt to the system on a hot day.

Or you can have a schmear of mild goat cheese and a dollop of onion chutney. A slice of salami with a quartered cherry tomato and an anchovy fillet is nice, too. Another delicious combination is soft robbiola cheese with fine-chopped porcini mushrooms and garlic. Big dishes of roasted vegetables marinated in olive oil are on view behind the glass case - just ask for a couple spoonfuls.

While we were there, one of the chefs was preparing a bowl of baby octopus to marinate for the next day.

Later in the week, we showed up around lunchtime. The place was crowded, the outdoor tables occupied and the small indoor counters filled with people. We grabbed un ombre and a small plate and found the edge of the counter by the window. An older fellow with a newspaper under his arm came in and ordered a glass of wine. Seconds later, another couple of guys did the same. Soon, they were embroiled in a discussion of the football game, gesturing broadly and laughing, drawing the chefs into the conversation.

From top, crostini with robbiola cheese and mushrooms, ham with taleggio cheese and sun-dried tomato, white bread sandwich with bresaola, and sarde in saor - at All' Arco
The day before we left Venice, we stopped by again for lunch. We had mackerel marinated in vinegar, crostini with salame, a white bread sandwich with bresaola, and prosciutto.

The place was full of a mixture of tourists and locals. The locals were ever so accommodating to the tourists - some of whom didn't really know what they were getting into. Francesco Pinto is the chef, and he's a great guy.

Venice is a friendly city. These guys are worth seeking out. You won't be sorry.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...


Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

Looks heavenly!

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

It's hot here today. Even at 10pm, I am perspiring because it is still 86 degrees outside (and not much cooler inside). So the whole idea of "Andar un ombra" is entirely delightful to me!
And I am loving these travel posts. You truly could be a food and travel writer!