A Culinary Adventure in Italy's Northeast


Faith Willinger

To try a recipe for grappa cinnamon sauce adapted from Venice's Al Covo, click here.

I'm wild about Venice and it was a perfect place to meet restaurateur friends, chef Cathy Whims and David West from Nostrana, in Portland, Oregon, who flew into the city's appropriately named airport for a week of enological and culinary adventures. We were joined by my faithful sidekick, indefatigable navigator Vito Santoro. We stayed at the Hotel Wildner, modestly priced, conveniently located (close to the S. Zaccaria vaporetto stop) although my wine-tasting pal Luca Fullin, who runs the hotel's restaurant, wasn't around. We went for a stroll, then a glass of wine at the cozy bar of the Hotel Metropole with snacks prepared by hot-shot creative chef Corrado Fasolato of the hotel's restaurant, MET. I checked out his menu—very difficult to read (red print on shiny black), with complex creations that seemed a bit over the top to my taste, although the snacks were delicious.


Faith Willinger

I rarely visit Venice without dining at Al Covo. Chef Cesare Benelli and his wife Diane Rankin's restaurant is worth a voyage for seafood lovers interested in wine. The autumn bounty from the Venetian lagoon captures a special moment. Cesare's style is minimalist, highlighting the excellence of local ingredients, Venetian culinary haiku.

Our dinner began with marinated anchovies, one of my favorite dishes in the world, flanked by home-cured strips of eggplant. Rare and strictly seasonal mazanete (female soft shell crab with semi-soft shell) topped a loose polenta-like potato puree, followed by simply sautéed caperozzoli—true, wild Venetian clams, Tapes decussates (look for two separated siphons on each clam, unlike the attached siphons of the cultivated clam, Tapes semidecussatus or philippinarum). Who could resist Cesare's perfect fritto misto, starring moeche (soft-shelled crabs), canoce (mantis shrimp), anchovies, squid rings, polenta, potato threads? No sauce or lemon required, just a tiny bowl of sea salt on the side.

We drank the ultimate terroir wine of Venice, Rosso Gneca (Gneca, dialect for Giudecca), an easy-going natural red made with traditional grapes from a Giudecca vineyard. Diane's desserts were tempting, worth the calories, and she gave me the recipe for her grappa cinnamon sauce, which tops a pear and prune tart but would go well with many desserts. As we left, Cesare handed me a page of notes on the Carso area of Friuli-Venezia Giulia from a friend who was familiar with the area. It was our next stop.

Recipe: Diane's Grappa Cinnamon Sauce