I first visited Venice in the late eighties. I thought it was interesting, but found it a bit scruffy and smelly, which I told my wife every time she asked if we could visit Venice. Watching the Stanley Tucci episodes of Searching for Italy on CNN reignited my wife’s pleas, and so we worked in a weekend visit off the back of our tour of Croatia.
I gave in when I learned of the Venetian tradition of giro de ombre, or a bacaro crawl, which equates to the Spanish tapeo. It involves a tour of establishments called bacari, where small plates of food (cicchetti) are served accompanied by a glass of wine.
Tapas in Madrid and Barcelona
We lived in Madrid and Barcelona for an extended period of time and put together a series of favorite tapa restaurants that would delight not only visitors, but ourselves. We curated a series of bars that were known for a particular dish and would embark on the tapeo which could last several hours of sampling dishes paired with wines. When I found out we could do the same in Venice, I was all in and decided our weekend would be a Moveable Feast. My wife countered that we would include visits to churches to view incredible art as a balance to the giro de ombre circuit.
The first realization was that we would need to cover serious territory over the weekend, and as such, purchased a 48-hour pass for the river boat system, called the Vaporetti. This pass will get you pretty much anywhere around Venice. So, I mapped out a boating/walking tour that would cover a great many of the bacari that we hoped to visit.
Being based in the Cannaregio district meant we would start at La Cantina, which faces the main pedestrian passage of the neighborhood, Strada Nova, and is great for people watching. Here we sampled our first baccala mantecato, or creamy salted cod, a traditional Venetian dish that is deliciously mouthwatering. We paired our cicchetti with a Vivia, which is a blended white wine usually consisting of Vermentino and Viognier.
Our next stop was a five-minute walk from the Strada Nova - the very popular Vino Vero, which fronts the rio della Misericordia. This was our favorite of the bacari because of the enthusiasm of the servers and the wide variety of wines and cicchetti. Both times we visited the tables in front were completely full and indoors was standing room only. One of the servers strongly recommended the Anisos white, which was a blend of Nosiola, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc grapes.
Church art in Venice
A word about the church visits that accompanied the giro de ombre circuit. One does not have to pay dearly to see art by Italian masters in Venice. The San Sebastian church in the Dorsoduro district has impressive paintings by Veronese, Tintoretto and Titian. The Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari is the largest church in Venice and features Titian and Bellini. There are also treasures to be found in the Basilica de Santa Maria della Salute.
We visited several other bacari during our giro de ombre, finishing with an establishment that featured in the CNN Tucci episode relating to Venice. Bar All’Arco is already famous as a result, and for good reason. It is situated in the market district on the west side of the Rialto Bridge and has a convivial atmosphere that caters to the vendors of the market area – in other words they serve the neighborhood.