UMAMI MART MATSURI FESTIVAL
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*Dear Martians, please welcome the newest addition to the Umamimart Familia, Jerkey. She is based in LA, and a good friend of Umamimart writer Sarah Nevada and Yoko's cousin (and loyal reader) Tomo. We first met at the San Pedro Fish Market Umamiventure, back in June last year, and she is a huge pizzahead. She'll be sharing her food report from her recent journey through Italy in four parts. Here's the first. Please comment, and enjoy! Love, Kayoko

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After almost two weeks in Italy, one of the highlights of the trip was, of course, the food. Seeing the cuisine differ from region to region, and experiencing the vibrancy of seemingly simple dishes with such elaborate and unexpected underlying flavor, was beyond what I anticipated. I knew I was going to a magical land with mythical goodness, but it wasn’t until I actually experienced it for myself that I had the WOW moments I’ve only ever read about.

In four separate posts I will cover some of my favorite dishes in the regions I visited, starting with Venice.

Lo Spritz (a regional cocktail with Aperol or Campari and soda or Spumante) abound, the cuisine was a blend of regional pastas and Adriatic seafood. Completely starving and unsuccessful in finding the place that Sarah Nevada wrote about, we found a little place off the beaten path with a few outdoor tables and some flatbreads in the window.

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Now, if you told me that you were going to give me a piece of bread covered with potatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms, melted cheese, and a bunch of dried herbs, I would have thought you were giving me a DiGiorno’s. But this was not the case. This was so full of flavor; each bite was an overwhelming knockout punch of salty, smoky, and sweet sensation. And it was big enough for two!

For dinner at Osteria San Marco, we had the first of fifty or so cheese plates (that would be consumed throughout the trip). The one that stood out most was the yellow saffron cheese with peppercorns but my discerning co-pilot informed me that Joan’s on Third carries it. The cheese was also paired with some really incredible homemade jams and compotes.

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Our entrées were house-made pastas, light and delicate, with various cheese shavings and bits of herbs. One was ravioli stuffed with parsley and ricotta, the other was tagliatelle with asparagus and shaved pecorino.

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As a beer drinker, I was very pleased to see the variety of regional beers throughout Italy. Never being much a fan of the boring Peroni we get in the States, I enjoyed both the Venetian beer Birre Venezia...

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...and the Sans Souci, a special lager beer produced by Birre Moretti.

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On our second day in Venice, we set out AGAIN to find the place that Sarah had written about but, for whatever reason, the fates did not want us to get our cicchetti on (cicchetti are like Venetian tapas). Thanks to a certain TV food show host who shall remain nameless, I did know of one cicchetti place to visit, and that was Vini al Bottegon. What looks like a liquor store from the outside, houses a glass case of incredible cicchetti and wines within. Ranging from 1–2 Euros, each item is marked with symbols indicating whether they’re vegetarian, include meat or seafood.

Our cicchetti:

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We started with the zucca (squash), ricotta, e pargmigiano. It may just look like piped squash over ricotta but no, no it wasn’t. Remember back when I said that the cuisine was full of unexpected underlying flavor? This is one of them. Absolutely rich and sweet and salty, I could have eaten 20 more of these.  The next was braised radicchio over fresh farmer’s cheese. Far more mild but still unique in its own right.

There was really only one that keeps me up at night, pining for more, wishing for another bite: the spicy mayonnaise sprinkled with dried flowers.

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At first it’s just very mayonnaisey with the texture of dried flowers. And then it all changes. It turns savory when the mayonnaise is almost gone, and then the herbaceousness of the flowers comes in, followed by a final big hit of heat. Then it’s all over. Truly the most multidimensional thing I have ever eaten.

For our final dinner in Venice, we went to Ristorante Al Covo. Run by a very sweet husband-and-wife team, they focus on the freshest seafood and highest quality ingredients. We started off with a veg plate that had the best caponata I have ever eaten, followed by their “must-have” homemade mozzarella. Rather than a delicate portion, we got these big blocks of mozzarella, all of which I did my best to finish.

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For my main course, a house-made pasta mixed in an emulsion of spider crab roe and lemon, served in the shell of the spider crab itself. Incredible.

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And finally, for dessert, the best thing I have probably ever read on paper: Crème Fritte.

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Deep. Fried. Cream. And this wasn’t just a simple cream, it must have been more of a Chantilly or custard, solid enough to allow for deep-frying. The outside was a thick crust of cinnamon and sugar--it was like the best cream-filled donut you can imagine.

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From cicchetti to Spritz, and deep fried cream to spider crab roe, the exposure to so many new things in just the first leg of my trip was exciting and satisfying.

Next stop: Tuscany.

OSTERIA SAN MARCO
Frezzeria - San Marco 1610
30124 Venezia
T: +39 041 528 52 42

RISTORANTE AL COVO
Castello 3968
30122 Venezia
T: +39 041 5223812

*Jerkey is based in LA and enjoys making pizza.