When I arrived in Venice it was crisp and clear. I got myself a vaporetto pass and rode the ‘bus’ killing time until my lunch reservation. I love Venice at this time of year. There’s something cool about riding along the water with a toque and mitts on. You could easily take 5000 photographs because everywhere is just so beautiful.
“Solo uno?” The owner at Vini da Gigio looked a little sad for me.
I don’t mind eating alone in restaurants any more. Maybe it’s because I am getting olllllllllld. In my younger years I was too self-conscious. “People will think I am weird…..” I worried. Know what? People don’t give a hoot.
I was shown to the perfect table for one, in the corner, by the bar – I could see the tiny dining room, the door, the canal out the back window, and if I looked just so I could see some of the action in the miniscule kitchen. You have to reserve here – they are well known for excellent food, and once every table is full – that’s it. I watched tables finish and leave, but when folks came in desperate for a spot – they were turned away. Poor them.
With all the travelling I do for work, I usually have the pleasure of great company for restaurant adventures. But when I don’t, I can’t let it get in the way of a great meal. Besides, I am a top notch eavesdropper, and dining alone helps me focus on my craft.
Cam does not condone my eavesdropping. When he catches me in the act – he always gives me the hairy eyeball and says I am staring. (sometimes eavesdropping requires a little lip reading) My mom and I used to play this game where we both would listen in, then make up a whole story about who the people were and what their deal was on the basis of one or two snippets we could pick up. Then we would kill ourselves laughing, and Hazel would ‘whisper’ some hilarious comment, except she was a horrendous whisper-er, and an awesome shout-er-.
I always have a hard time deciding what to order at Vini da Gigia. Everything is delicious. Cannolicchi (razor clams) for sure – I had them last November here and have dreamt of them since. They had just sold out of soft shell crab, so I opted for fritto misto, and then a small plate of cacio e pepe. And a little red wine….of course.
While I enjoyed my clams, Helen and Stu at the table next to me were providing incredible entertainment. In their early 60’s from Boston, they have been married for years – but (and still) to other people.
Stu, who has had a subscription to Wine Spectator for 20 years, complimented me on my choice of clams.
“Have you had them before? We have them every time we come here. They are a Venetian specialty.” He gazed lovingly into Helen’s eyes and she giggled like a school girl. Venice in November is their special tradition they explained, and went on to commiserate about having to go home and spend Thanksgiving with their actual spouses and children. I was here to eat and eavesdrop – not make friends. I focused on my plate – trying to figure out how they make those razor clams so damn delicious –I think they roast them until they open up and then top them with a mixture of parsley, fine breadcrumbs, butter and garlic. Divine.
Every time I looked toward the back of the restaurant, The Sullens were staring blankly at each other. I never saw them exchange a single word, or crack the slightest smile. If George Clooney pulled up in his boat canal-side, and ran into Vini da Gigia for take-out with his hair on fire, these two still would not be able to think of a single sentence to exchange with each other. Helga hates the way he slouches, and his constant adjusting of his sleeves. Dolf, well, he hates her breathing. He wishes it would just stop. You’ve seen couples like this before. Why do they go out? Why do they go on ‘vacation’? Why don’t they just stay put and passive aggressively hate each other from the comfort of their own home? It seems like a whole lot of expense for naught.
I was going to need more wine.
My fritto misto arrived at the same time as the Professor and Family. Ewan is an art historian (bow tie – dead give-away), with a philanthropic diva wife (big pearl earrings and sensible flats). They were hosting their son, Wallace (a computer programmer) and girlfriend (no ring) to a weekend at their recently restored palazzo. Parents and son spoke flawless Italian, but their English was the thickest Scottish brogue since Fat Bastard. Girlfriend (no need to name as she is not going to last) has probably been dumped as I write – she spoke no Italian, ordered only meat (I guess she did not notice she was in Venice? By the sea?), and refused all offers of wine. Run. Wallace. Run.
I munched on my perfectly crisp fritto misto. My little plate had calamari, teeny tiny cuttlefish, smelts and shrimp scampi that tasted like baby lobster. Like baby lobster. Amazing. Ewan waxed on about wine auctions in London. The three joked in Italian with the waiters and exuded general merriment. Girlfriend stared blankly ahead, wishing she was doing her weekly shop back home at Tesco.
Nonna was at the back with her grandson, giving him serious hell for something. There was a table of 8 Italian men eating and drinking like it was a Saturday night. A super-model was lunching with her Italian stallion husband, and their two perfectly Gucci-Prada clad junior modelettes. Meanwhile, Helen and Stu were in a heated debate about one of his friends “You don’t have to like everyone in my life…” he pouted. “Well, I don’t like your wife.” Got.Caught.Hearing.That….. Cringe.
Thankfully, the cacio e pepe was delivered – and it was so delicious I had to take a break from eavesdropping on all my fellow diners. This is a Roman dish – spaghetti with Pecorino Romano and black pepper. It’s like a grown up version of macaroni and cheese. Even the pasta itself – so al dente, yet not raw tasting – was wonderful. I have never attempted making it – apparently all you need is a little of the pasta cooking water, loads of pecorino, and cracked pepper – creamy goodness ensues.
Vini da Gigio makes incredible desserts, but I took a pass, decided to take leave of my eavesdrop-ees and head back though the winding streets of Venice. My meal per solo uno was delicious, and I was thoroughly entertained. Cam would have been embarrassed (although if I were with him we would actually be speaking to each other!), my mom would have been proud, and I KNOW I had more fun than Helga and Dolf.
Vini da Gigio http://vinidagigio.com/ Be sure to reserve. It’s very close to the Ca D’Oro vaporetto stop.