Venice Restaurant Review:
by Durant Imboden
Every tourist's fantasy is to discover a neighborhood restaurant where visitors are received as warmly as the locals who stop in every night. It's unlikely that such an establishment exists, but Osteria Vivaldi--near the Campo San Polo--comes close enough to earn the title of "Venice's Friendliest Restaurant."
Step inside Vivaldi, and you'll encounter a handsome L-shaped wood bar where the proprietor (a gentleman of middle years) is likely to be polishing glasses or pouring wine. Two younger men--a son and a nephew, both personable and fluent in English--help with the bar chores and serve meals to customers at a dozen or so tables. Dark wood wainscoting, antique clocks, knick-knacks, and an array of wine bottles create the ambience of a cozy wine bar that's trendy without being coy.
Wine is available by the bottle, carafe, or glass. (The house white goes down easily.) You can also get food at the bar, but it would be a shame to pass up the chance for lunch or dinner at one of the tables along the wall or in the tiny back room. Prices are moderate by Venice standards--not cheap, not not stratospheric, either.
To start your meal, there's no better choice than the tagliolini Vivaldi. The black noodles--subtly flavored with cuttlefish ink--are tossed with chunks of tomato, fish, shrimp, and chopped parsely. For a secondo (main course), the baccal� is worth trying if you've never had creamed salt cod with polenta, but other meat and seafood entr�es are also on the menu. There's a nice selection of desserts, including a pleasant cr�me caramel.
Good food, great people
To me, Osteria Vivaldi's most remarkable characteristic is the staff's kindness to tourists. On the night I was there, the owner's son and nephew were exceptionally patient with a young Japanese couple who spoke no Italian and little English. Later, I was offered a grappa on the house, and one of the young men came over to say good-bye and shake my hand as I left the restaurant. It's a "feel-good" kind of place, and I recommend it highly.
How to reach the restaurant
Osteria Vivaldi is located on the Calle della Madonnetta in San Polo. You can reach it from the Rialto vaporetto platforms or, more conveniently, from the No. 1 vaporetto's San Silvestro stop (shown as a tiny dot in the broken line on the map below). These directions should help you find the restaurant:
From Rialto: Cross the bridge to the San Polo side, turn left, and walk along the canal until you're forced to jog right. Head inland, past the San Silvestro church, until you reach the Campo San Aponal. Go left down the Calle di Mezzo, which becomes the Calle di Meloni and then the Calle della Madonnetta.
From San Silvestro: Head straight inland to the Campo San Aponal. Go left down the Calle di Mezzo, which becomes the Calle di Meloni and then the Calle della Madonnetta. (If you hit the Campo San Polo, you've gone too far.)
From Campo San Polo: Head for the lower end of the square and look for the Calle della Madonnetta, which is in the corner of the campo opposite the San Polo church.
Reader comment (summer, 2011):"I was looking up information on Osteria Vivaldi for a friend who is shortly going to Venice and found your article.
"I stayed with my family in Venice last December in a rented flat just around the corner from this restaurant and decided to give it a go. My expectations were low as the day before I had gone to a well reviewed restaurant just near the market which sold us overpriced, overcooked, not fresh fish. A big disappointment and inexcusable given the fantastic produce on sale about 100 meters away.
"Anyway Osteria Vivaldi was great. I won't go into details because they were almost exactly as reported by you. I enjoyed dinner there so much that I went back for another a couple of days later.
"Thanks for the review. It makes a pleasant change from the ones which make you think: 'Have I come to the right place?'"
- Clive Scott, Namibia