Story Time: The Man in Blue
The sun seemed especially intense on our last day in the city of islands.
Our time in Venice had been lovely so far; our hotel adequately old and rickety, all of the shop windows appropriately bright and colorful, the many alleys and streets were expectedly narrow. Indeed, Venice felt like a big, living and functioning museum. On our last day though, Jill and I were searching for something elusive in a city like Venice: an authentic and genuine dining experience. Overall our meals had been splendid; we ate some of the best cheap pizza that I have ever had from Pizza Al Volo and tried some authentic Venetian dishes, like Sarde in Saor, from Scalinetto, a small restaurant over near the Castello neighborhood. Yes, we had eaten well, but mostly near the touristy areas, and maybe not at restaurants that offered something truly unique.
Il Paradiso Perduto is a pretty typical looking place--good seating out front by a canal, plain wooden seating inside, and glass cases full of various fried finger foods. I had found the place online (described by a blog that I can no longer remember) and it had good reviews on many different websites. Really, there wasn't any one reason to have chosen this place, but since it wasn't close to the Piazza San Marco, or any of the denser tourist areas, I thought maybe it would be a bit more quality-driven. If I remember correctly, it was started by a group of students in the 80's, one of whom still runs it. So the business had been around for a while, and I figured that was a good sign as well.
Neither of us were really sure what we wanted from this place, but we liked what we saw in the glass case so we awkwardly asked a server for a table. She sat us in a corner (which I loved) and gave us some menus. We realized that we had done it wrong and were supposed to talk to the bartender for food from the case rather than plated entrees. Our sever seemed.. annoyed. I went up to the bar, and randomly pointed to various fried goods, which ended up being a lot of food. I also ordered two Spritz al Bitters because why not. Everything was very fresh, the breading was perfect, and the fish was amazing. Most of the food items were consistent with what we had been seeing around the city in bar windows; this place was pretty busy, and with a lot of people coming in and ordering stuff to go, new trays were coming from the kitchen constantly.
Ultimately, we enjoyed our meal, and it was truly worth going, but it wasn't what we had ordered that made this meal so memorable. As we shoved the last morsels of greasy perfection into our gaping maws, we saw the chef come out. He was large, wearing a blue apron and hat, and would be best described as quintessentially Italian. This was the man who had crafted my food, and I approved. He seemed jovial which I appreciated in a chef. Behind him was another chef carting over what appeared to be a massive round of cheese with a pot of steaming pasta. They brought it to a table just behind ours. By now, the restaurant had entered a full blown lunch rush and was quite loud, but as he grabbed the tongs and pulled a massive knot of fresh pasta out, I felt the air change. The chatter dimmed to a murmur, and we all watched, as this king among men dropped the pasta into the round of pecorino cheese. He stirred it, and stirred some more, adding hot water as he went.
So maybe they used a mortar and pestle for the the pepper, but what I said was funnier
Our plates empty, I looked around for a server to give us our check. (Always an ordeal in European restaurants.) But when I looked towards the back of the room it was not a server with whom my eyes locked, it was the man in blue. He was leaving the kitchen with a plate of pasta, and looking right at us. I told Jill to be cool. This pasta probably wasn't for us because we don't deserve nice things. But he was definitely approaching us. Perhaps we had offended him with our gaping maws? I am sure that I speak for Jill when I say our minds and hearts were racing. He quietly arrived at our table... this was awkward. But then he slyly placed a plate of the pasta between us and said "Shhh..."
This may not seem like much but to us it was everything
Now quite full, we sat there and soaked in the atmosphere while talking about how perfect pasta is and how lovely our time in Venice had been. We were content and so again began asking for our bill, but of course, that took a while. They were busy and kept forgetting to bring it. As it happened this was good fortune, because the man had once again emerged from his kitchen, and this time he was handing out freshly fried fish from a massive oven tray. I watched him scrape some onto a man's plate just before he came over and said "Hurry, take what you want!" Jill and I did not need to be told twice. We grabbed several entire fish and a few shrimp. We savored every bite.
First of all, there is no way for fish that has had its skin fried off to look nice. Second, every time we take a photo of our food, we look like assholes, so we don't have very many.
Too full to effectively leave, I ordered an espresso and eventually settled the bill, and we left to wander into the Castello neighborhood. Venice was expectedly Venetian, and really does have a lot of canals, but I think this quirky little restaurant in the residential area is how I will best remember my time there.
The other Venetian tapas we tried, and our takeaway wine
We were there for the Carnival (Mardi Gras) so costumed people were everywhere
This famous bridge was just steps from our hotel