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Ai Cugnai: Stay away
Venice is a great food town. The problem is, most tourists don't go anywhere that a Venetian would eat. The food around San Marco is almost uniformly horrible, and from that, comes Venice's reputation of lousy food. It's true for that neighborhood, and for places around Ponte Rialto. Restaurants in these two major tourists areas know that everyone who walks in is just there for the day off of a cruise ship, or on some other "blitz" Italy vacation, and are never coming back. They just serve up the lowest denominator of what a a tourist would eat. Some even think they are eating italian food, but no italian would think of eating there. To get a great meal I recommend the following. Don't ask the hotel concierge. Don't eat anywhere near San Marco or Rialto. This restaurant is not near them, but is on the tourist path to the Guggenheim.
Do eat in a Venetian neighborhood where venetians live and eat, and the food has to be good enough to compete, and make customers come back. The more languages the menu is in, the worst the food. It means they might as well just call it tourist pasta. Don't eat where a street barker invites you in. Good restaurants don't do that. Don't eat at restaurant that offers a tourist menu. No Italian would think of entering such a place to eat. Don't eat at a restaurant if they serve pizza. They know Americans want pizza. Pizza is from Naples. Go there, or to Rome to eat a pizza. There's never been pizza in Venice, and venetians don't eat it. In fact, the wood burning, very hot ovens needed to make pizza were banned from Venice centuries ago because they were a fire risk. Venetians have no history of making pizza, don't eat it, and are just putting something together for the tourists who are going to ask for it. The pizza in Naples, Rome, is divine. The pizza in Venice is worse than what you can get at home. Don't eat in a venetian restaurant that offers lasagna. Venetians don't eat that. It means it's just a tourist restaurant, and the cook, who is not a chef at these types of places, is just putting together what they think Americans are going to order.
Don't go to a place that has lasagna on the menu, as it is surely just another tourist trap with bad food. They don't know or care about making lasagna in Venice because no venetian would order it. The only people who will are day tripping tourists who are never coming back. There is great food in Venice, but not in the tourist areas. It's like eating a meal at a restaurant in Time Square, and then concluding that there's no good restaurants in New York City
Favorite Dish: I live in Venice about a third of the year, and don't go to places with a "menu turistica" written in four languages.
Ai Cugnai: Lovely restaurant with nice cuisine
While mostly catering to tourists, ai Cugnai is a great spot to experience Italian home cooking. Fine dining this is not, but the staff are a very friendly lot and the atmosphere is warm and non-intimidating. The menu comes in 4 languages. Their zuppa di pesce is simply wonderful.
Trattoria ai Cugnai: A good, reasonable dinner
Had a decent dinner here for a fair price.
Venice in my opinion is not a premier "food" town, more for walking, sightseeing, etc. but this place wasn't bad at all. It was small and it tasted almost like home cooking.
Less expensive than average for Venice.
Closed on Mondays and it is almost always crowded by the dinner hour.
Favorite Dish: Any of the std seafood or meat pasta dishes; (even spaghetti bolognese was very good for a town that specializes in seafood).
House wines were good, and any of the pastas with seafood looked really good as well.
Ai Cugnai: Ai Cugnai
The absolute fun - run by three sisters, you queue to get seated and take pot luck whether it is a table for two or eight. Service is quick and the food good. Very popular with all types of visitors.
Favorite Dish: Fegato alla Veneziana
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