Monday, April 30, 2007

Venice, Gato Nero Part 1

I’ve just returned from Venice and I must say that the food and wine there was so outstanding that I’ve decided to blog about it twice. Today’s blog is about my favorite restaurant; the next one will be about favorite dishes in various restaurants.

Gato Nero is a fish restaurant on the island of Burano, known for it lace and its brightly colored buildings, a 30-minute ride from Venice by water taxi.

When we arrived at the restaurant, which is not on the main canal, I could tell that I was in for a major experience. It’s a small place, simple and pure, with great style. We sat outside which is a pleasure as there are no cars and little noise of any kind.

I decided to relax and leave our meal and our wines up to the chef. That turned out to be an excellent idea. We started with a creamy white polenta topped with amazing shrimp (gamberetti) and a drizzle of olive oil. The whole thing melted in your mouth but every texture was distinct and perfect. The charming plates were designed by the chef, Ruggero. When he came to our table he explained his methods and his approach to ingredients and I decided that his was the standard by which I would judge the same food at other restaurants during my stay. I did but none matched the freshness or quality of Ruggero’s.

For a second course we had granseola, spider crabmeat tossed with coral, drizzled lightly with olive oil and served in the shell. We drank a 2005 Gewürztraminer from Hofstatter with both courses and the fruit of the wine was almost perfumed but went well with the sweetness of the crab.

We then had risotto di Go made with a stock from Go, a local fish. Ruggero spent 15 minutes explaining how to make the stock. It was the best risotto I’ve ever had--not fishy, but sweet with chunks of gamberetti in it. The texture of the rice was perfect.

Then they brought a plate of cooked seafood at room temperature that we were instructed to eat counter clockwise from the lightest to the strongest flavor. I can’t remember all of it but the snapper pate stood out as did the Carocche, a gray prawn of some sort. With these last two courses we drank a 2006 Tocai Friulano from Livio Felluga which is one of my favorite white wines from that region, crisp, fresh and magical with the food.

Finally, when I thought I couldn’t possibly eat one more thing Ruggero brought out a whole sea bass, (Branzino) caught that morning on a hook (something he was very proud of) that he had cooked in a salt crust.. That fish was the best fish I’ve ever had. It was chewy yet tender, sweet and minerally with nothing on it but a drizzle of olive oil.

Before I left I asked Ruggero about the secret to his cooking, and he replied that you must start with premier ingredients and stay true to Venetian tradition with the best olive oil, garlic and salt-- not any salt but salt from Trapani. I left Gato Nero changed and ruined; I don’t think I can ever eat fish anywhere else again……

Al Gato Nero
Fdm. Giudecca, 88 Burano


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