VENICE, ITALY, November 1, 2015 – Vecia Cavana is a wonderfully superb, classic Venetian restaurant in the charming Cannaregio district near Campo Santi Apostali, where the second generation of the Marsilli family bring the true culinary experience of Venice to the table with style, panache, and delightful flair.
Located off the beaten path in a 15th century former gondola boathouse, Vecia Cavana delivers sensational cuisine in truly lovely atmosphere with a staff that is as fabulous as the food itself.
The city of Venice is filled with restaurants and the distinction is to find the ones that capture the heart of Venetian cuisine with authenticity and style, that are a genuine expression of history and cuisine, without the gloss of being overtly touristy.
Vecia Cavana fits the bill and represents the cream of Venetian restaurants, offering diners a simple but classic environment where the food and the atmosphere conveys a genuineness that cannot be conjured or invented.
The restaurant consists of a large entrance room and a second more cozy room where a pianist plays during dinner. The waiter, Angelo Nazareno, is a Venetian legend and the clear master of his domain, effortlessly guiding the evening with charm and ebullient precision.
Enrico Marsilli (below) manages the restaurant on behalf of his family, and he and his wife and mother, the family matriarch, are having dinner in one corner of the main room. Affable and talented, Enrico has a deep respect for family tradition and for the restaurant’s history as one of Venice’s most authentic.
He explains that the restaurant’s formula for success is simple: seek out the freshest ingredients, be at the seafood market first thing in the morning, and use a carefully selected network of farmers and sources from throughout Italy to procure the specialties that transform a restaurant meal into genuine cuisine, as in the following dishes.
Fried and marinated sardines with soft onions Venetian style, sardines in saor, is a revelation, a classic Venetian dish as brilliant as it is unique, with the sardines tender and crunchy, the onions smoldering with taste.
Mussels and clams sautéed in tomato sauce takes a fairly common seafood dish and turns it into a spectacle of taste and sauce, the mussels large and sumptuous, the clams sweet and meaty, the broth like the finest clam chowder ever concocted.
The culinary joy signified by a plate full of empty shells is only exceeded by the delight of sopping up its delicious broth with Italian bread until the last exquisite drop has been consumed.
A special dish of tagliolini and white truffles is a completely otherworldly and rare delight, as white truffle season offers only a short and precious window each year, while the truffles can command an astronomical price − frequently at auction − if they can be found at all.
In this case, Enrico had driven 450 kilometers to the Piedmont district of Italy the week before to a special family source from whom they procure their truffles on an annual basis.
White Truffle, a rare fungus, cannot be grown commercially, but must be found by truffle dogs who wander the forests where the truffles grow, locating their underground catch by scent.
The tagliolini, beautifully flavored with olive oil, arrives steaming in a large bowl. Angelo Nazarino serves it by dividing it onto two plates, the steam still rising, and then layering over it the most generous amount of white truffle imaginable, shaving it onto the pasta in a stream of delicacy that is beautifully overwhelming.
The taste is like heaven, the amount of truffle is phenomenal, its delicate flavor perfectly complementing the tagliolini in a Venetian pasta paradise.
Each bite is a savory encounter with the ultimate white truffle experience, a culinary orgy of rare cuisine delivered in a manner that will remain joyously embedded in the memory for years.
A stunning Amarone Valpolicella from the Veneto district is a wonderful complement to a brilliant meal, the wine being as unique as the truffles in its own way.
Amarone Valpolicella results from a special process where the grapes are left to dry on the vine, harvested late, and then dried some more to concentrate the sugars.
Instead of producing a sweet wine, the process produces a dry red wine of bold character with close to 15% alcohol content, and is a specialty of the Veneto region.
Diego Cembrolla (below) is playing the piano, creating a soothing atmosphere that only comes from the experience of music in an intimate restaurant.
It makes the difference between a meal and a special experience, and combined with the family traditions, the location, the meal and the atmosphere make Vecia Cavana a restaurant to return to again and again.
Orata o Branzino alla griglia, or grilled Branzino, is simply spectacular, deboned tableside by Angelo, and as fresh tender and meaty as can be imagined.
Sole meneuire takes this delicate fish, deboned tableside as well, and shows why this delightful entrée has brightened palates throughout Europe, but nowhere more so than in Venice.
The evening winds down in a swirl of espresso and a dizzying array of homemade desserts, including an amazing series of fruit tarts and an exquisite Venetian tiramisu.
The evening flies by, and eventually it is time to say a fond farewell to our waiter Angelo, the rest of the staff, and the entire Marsilli family in attendance.
Walking out into the Venetian night is a dreamlike experience, the lights of Vecia Cavana disappearing from view as we walk down the darkened narrow calle, incredible memories of an amazing meal swirling in our heads, indelibly fixed in the heart of our mind’s eye.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds @BigAlPeoplesPal