Viaggio in Italia, pt. 1

 
 fig. a: cinephilia

fig. a: cinephilia

Like so many others before us, it was film that brought us to Italy.  In this case, however, it wasn’t the vicarious pleasures of films set in Italy (like Contempt or Journey to Italy, a.k.a., Viaggio in Italia), but, rather, the direct and immediate pleasures of an Italian film festival.  

This was no typical film festival, either—it was the 35th edition of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival—so there was no Godard (or Rossellini) on offer—just hundreds of gorgeous, meticulously restored silent films from around the world, spanning the period from the early 1890s to the mid-1930s.

And as far as we were concerned, this was a trip that was long overdue.  I'd been wanting to attend Pordenone since I first heard about the festival in the mid-1990s, when I was a young grad student.  And Michelle and I had been wanting to make a journey to Italy for years and years—almost as long as we’ve known each other.  Hell, Michelle had never, ever been to Italy, and I'd only ever been once, in my early 20s, for a grand total of four days.  So we were both thrilled to finally get a chance to go to Italy together.  We'd "only" be there for ten days, and most of that time we'd be anchored to a single city, but ten days anywhere in Italy was a godsend.

If you’re not familiar with it, Pordenone is located about an hour by train from Venice in the Northeastern province of Friuli Venezia Giulia, so we flew into Marco Polo.  I had a feeling Day 1 would be our one and only opportunity to visit the majesty (and insanity) of "the Queen of the Adriatic," so we hopped on a bus immediately upon arrival and made a bee-line for Venice's centro storico.  

 fig. b: Venezia

fig. b: Venezia

The wonders and curiosities of Venice are well known--it is, after all, one of the cities that gave birth to tourism in the first place--but Venetian cuisine often gets a bad rap precisely because of the abundance of generic, tourist-oriented establishments that you'd expect for such an attraction.  However, the region that surrounds Venice--the Veneto--is hardly a slouch when it comes to food and wine, and we’d heard that there actually was plenty of great eating and drinking in Venice, if you knew where to look, so we took a look around.

 fig. c: gondola scene

fig. c: gondola scene

 fig. d: that was then

fig. d: that was then

 fig. e: this is now

fig. e: this is now

 fig. f: palimpsestic

fig. f: palimpsestic

We were in search of wine and cichetti—the Veneto’s contribution to the small plates cuisine so typical of wine bars in the Mediterranean region—preferably in one of Venice’s traditional bacari, no-nonsense snack bars where tasty treats are served alongside local wines, spritzes, and other aperitivos.  In our delirium, 11:00 am on a Sunday seemed like a great time for copious amounts of cichetti and wine—we'd just flown in from North American and we wanted to hit the ground running—but apparently Venice’s bacari owners see things differently. All the ones we were interested in checking out were closed for domenica santa.

Luckily, we’d made plans to visit a restaurant that was actually open on Sunday afternoons—one that was not a bacaro in any traditional sense, but one that prided itself on its Venetian flavours, on the quality of its ingredients, on the artistry of its execution, on the calibre of its natural wine list, and on its bacaro-like conviviality.  Your basic win, win, win, win situation.  We'd been tipped off to CoVino by our friend Geneviève, who wrote a great article on Venetian bacaros, cichetterias, and other wine-friendly restaurants in Venice for EnRoute a couple of years ago (you can find the article here), and it truly was an outstanding tip.

Fresh off our red-eye flight from Toronto, and having been walking the stone and marble passageways and contending with the ever-growing crowds of Venice for hours already, we showed up at CoVino a little worse for wear, but we settled into our table shortly after noon, the local “pet nat” prosecco began to flow, and not long afterwards a succession of plates began to arrive. 

CoVino is a tiny establishment, with roughly 20 seats, so it’s an incredibly intimate experience. Andrea Lorenzon tripled as our maître d’, our sommelier, and our waiter, while the open-format kitchen just beyond our table was manned by Dimitri Gris and his assistant.  CoVino is a tightly run ship, and it showed in the cuisine--the dishes were impeccable:  fresh and flavourful, perfectly conceived, beautiful to the eye.

Our rather extravagant lunch consisted of the following:

crudo of shrimp manti dressed with micro-greens and a bergamot oil mist that was actually administered from a tiny atomizer

poached sea bream with bagna cauda, boiled potatoes, and cavolo nero--glorious!

spaghetti alla bottarga, which couldn't haven't been simpler, but also couldn't have been more perfect--Michelle devoured this one

salade composée with the most beautiful local mixed greens, edible flowers, pomegranate seeds, figs, and grapes--a truly gorgeous salad

and a lovely and incredibly generous cheese plate to finish

Of course, as their name suggests, CoVino is a wine establishment, and it was here, one glass of prosecco into our meal, that Michelle began to understand what a magical mystery tour this trip was going to be.  CoVino had an astounding selection of wine, and these beauties were priced to move.

This was only the beginning—we were only hours into our Italian adventure—but already CoVino had set the bar incredibly high.

Should you find yourself in Venice:

CoVino, 3829 Calle del Pestrin, Castello, Venice 30122 (tel:  +39 041 241 2705)

(For obvious reasons, CoVino is a very hot ticket, so reservations are a must.)

aj