I went from eating Tagliolini con Frutti di Mare last night to Fish ‘n Chips an hour ago. This is because after 88 days I left Italy and returned to Ireland on my way back to the place I started this trip, the United States.
I could wax nostalgic about my departure, but instead I will write about my Last Supper (so to speak) which was in a restaurant called Al Vecio Marangon in Venice with my family and my friend Mario.
Mario told me that when leaving Italy (Rome in particular), you have to leave “a winner” In the early days of my trip, and when just getting to know Mario, I thought about what he might mean, but the answer was unclear? After three pretty intense months I have an answer that satisfies me (as satisfied as it is possible for me to feel at least). To be a winner does not mean to win exactly, but to embrace whatever is thrown at you, and to deal with it, to answer the question being asked of you.
Suffice it to say that according to Mario, as he waved to me from the dock, he was giving me a nod of approval, a defiant thumbs up, and I left Italy satisfied, with a strong desire to return as soon as time would allow.
As for my last dinner in Italy; where should we go, what restaurant would make my departing more meaningful? I decided not to place too much in the notion as that usually turns into a disappointment. Expectations should be low, resulting in almost anything being something to be thankful for. This was the correct way of thinking since we had no idea of where to go, and had no sound recommendations.
Our little band of hungry foreigners decided to go to the part of Venice that was the least touristy, and then go by “feel’. We were experienced travellers and gastronomes, and looked forward to finding that perfect combination of local, mixed with a modern sensibility.
Mario’s advice was when we found that special place, to walk twenty meters passed it to make sure that the treasure did not lie dead ahead. Well, we walked to such an obscure part of the city that it became devoid of restaurants whatsoever. We heard the din of dinner parties in various houses and were tempted to invite ourselves in (I could easily have helped with the cooking!).
We circled back to a busier area and found a few potential places, but then rejected them because the “feel” quality was missing for one person or another. That is until we happened upon al vecio Marangon at Campiello Cento Pietre. It was small with big plate-glass windows. The room was busy, but there was a table that looked like we could squeeze ourselves into. It was my turn to walk in and figure the place out, and I spoke directly to the owner who was as busy as can be, but still stopped still to talk to me.
It was clear that the notion of speaking to me in english was out of the question (which satisfied me, as I always attempt to speak in Italian, no matter how foolish I sound), and that told me that this Italian man felt very Italian indeed. If he wasn’t going to bother with english, then the food had to be authentic also! It was an odd gauge to use, but I turned out to be correct. This was the place for a Last Supper.
There is a thing that Mario does when he goes to restaurants that entertains me to no end. When he sits down, he becomes very quite, looks around, and either says “this place sucks, let’s get out of here” or “I like this place” Luckily for us he declared the latter and we promptly ordered a litre of red wine.
The house was run by the owner and his extremely diligent and ever-smiling wife, who prepared the antipasti and gave the final touches to plates before they left the kitchen. She stood in open view in front of a big glass case of cold meats, olives, greens and a full bar. The kitchen was directly behind her and was compact and steamy.
We all decided to have exactly the same thing, which was the special of the evening; Tagliolini con Frutti di Mare (Thin tagliatelle with fresh sea food in a light miniscule broth). Before that however, we all salivated over a very a fresh seafood and vegetable antipasti plate at the table behind us, and Mario, in a show of monstrous extravagance ordered it for our entire table! It was a taste I will not soon forget; various pickled fish, olives, sautéed spinach with garlic, artichoke hearts, white beans in olive oil, fried polenta, peas, fried calamari, grilled eggplant, mussels, cuttlefish and pickled onions.
We left our Last Supper feeling anything but sad. We were full of food and wine and ready to depart Italy on a very happy note. We meandered back to our hotel only to be accosted by all the people who wanted to say their goodbyes to us. I said farewell with as much dignity as I could muster (yes, there was a little blubbering), before escaping to my room for a moment of quiet and some much-needed sleep.
* This is not the last you will hear about my Italian experience. I have plenty of stories to tell and will post them as I feel the urge*