Seafood feast in the outskirts of Venice

When summer approaches...

6 MAY 2015,
The Chef of the Restaurant Al Passo, Campalto, Venice
The Chef of the Restaurant Al Passo, Campalto, Venice

When summer approaches for some reason I tend to develop a sort of addiction for the magical world of seafood. Perhaps because of its unique balance between lightness and intensity of flavour, it really is the perfect treat on a sunny day.

Being from the outskirts of Venice you can imagine that the lagoon and the Adriatic sea in general offer a great variety of exquisite seafood. When I come back home, my mission is to always try out as many “fish restaurants” as possible as I find that these sort of establishments cannot hide behind great cooking techniques, it is all about quality. Even more so in Italy where seafood dishes are conceived with a rather “simple” approach as it is the product that needs to do the talking and quite frankly I could not agree more. As you can imagine the area of Venice and its outskirts are full of tiny family run restaurants so competition is quite high but for me there is one place that is just above the rest.

I remember hearing about this restaurant a few years ago from a friend of a friend that had been there and his review wasn’t certainly enthusiastic. He thought the food was ok but the problem was the price: way too expensive for what it was. In actual fact we did hear from a few people that this place was quite pricey but most of them told us that it was definitely worth a try. In my mind, I am normally more than happy to spend money for a good restaurant but I expect not only good ingredients but also exceptional execution and creativity: something along the lines of a Michelin star restaurant. In this case the restaurant was meant to be very simple in the cooking but the “materia prima” (ingredients) were meant to be outstanding.

So after a bit of persuasion, my friend I finally decided to give it a try. We arrived in the village of Campalto, right on the doorsteps of Venice. We parked the car and we walked into the restaurant. The first impression was quite surprising. The décor was reminiscent of an old fishing boat with nets and bits of boat hanging from the wall. The table setup was simple yet very authentic. What stroke me the most was the attention to detail and the professionalism the waiters had which was quite in contrast with the general atmosphere of the restaurant.

When the owner approached us, I figured it was him, he welcomed us warmly however I almost got the feeling that he wanted to find out how we got there. This restaurant in fact has no website, and is only open a few days a week only in the evening for most part of the year.We said that we heard and read great things about it and that we were ready for a seafood extravaganza. The owner smiled and started telling us more about the philosophy of his place and his belief for quality seafood in general. I find that when you go to a great restaurant for the first time and the owner is so charismatic and knowledgeable the best thing to do is to sit back and let him entertain you with what he thinks is right. And that is exactly what we did. We kicked off with a “welcome from the kitchen”, a small plate with a bed of creamy polenta topped off with a tomato stew of calamari. What a great way to start a meal.

I often judge the quality of a restaurant by the type of wine list. I know that it might sound limiting but I find that the more the list contains small artisanal growers the more likely is the owner to put the same amount of research in the quality of its food. We chose a fantastic Trebbiano D’Abruzzo from Valentini, one of Italy’s finest white wines. An incredibly persistent wine with salty like nuances and a fantastic depth. The ideal companion to a seafood feast.

The first serving of food was entirely dedicated to a local speciality: raw fish and seafood. This is where a seafood restaurant holds the core of its quality. Naked ingredients where the chef’s ability is to say –less is more. Tuna with a local ricotta, a selection of mini tartar and prawns. This was truly extraordinary, something unlike I had ever tried before. The fish was so fresh, it melted in your mouth like butter yet the taste was delicate and intense at the same time. It felt like if your tongue was stroked by silk, an instant feeling of wellbeing.

After this sensational moment my friend and I looked at each other in the eyes. We could not believe what we had just witnessed but we were actually excited because this was only the beginning. As a pasta dish, they brought us a seafood risotto with Go, a tiny thorny fish found mainly in the Venetian lagoon. Again a beautifully elegant, rich and delicate risotto. I normally prefer meat or cheese based risotto but this really had hit the spot.

Last but not least as a main course we had a fritto misto, another typical local dish. Soft shell crab, calamari, cuttlefish and other delicious little lagoon fishes: delicious! The batter was light and not overpowering which is a sign of a great skill from the chef as normally fried batters can cover the taste of the delicate fish. The soft shell crab, locally called Moeche with an almost sweet like taste was something out of this world. To conclude our meal on a high we went for a selection of homemade fruit sorbet accompanied by local biscuits which worked as the ideal palate cleanser.

What a phenomenal meal it was, coming and eating here is the equivalent of spending a few hours in the middle of the sea fishing for the best seafood. I was won over, even when the bill came. In fact, even if it wasn’t properly cheap, considering the stellar quality we received I was expecting to pay more. People always ask what your favourite food is and I always say it really depends on your mood and occasion. Well, if it’s a sunny day in summer, you know where to find me for lunch!