Some of you may recall that I contributed to the lovely photography book, Dream of Venice, years ago. What you may not remember is the book was a labor of love by JoAnn Locktov, who I have come to know over the past few years after she first contacted me about the gorgeous book.
JoAnn is a frequent visitor to Italy, and especially Venice, and late last year she offered to send me a couple of original pieces she had written about recent trips to the canal city for publication here. Here is the second installment – I hope you’ll enjoy reading these as much as I did.
Grazie mille to JoAnn Locktov for sharing this delicious experience with Italy Explained!
by JoAnn Locktov
It helps to be hungry.
Anticipation is heightened when your stomach is empty. Today I had an errand on the Strada Nuova, which also happens to be where La Cantina is located. I could only take several steps past the front door; the place was swarming with customers. Many seemed to be simply swilling wine. Were they waiting for their lunch or were they were ignorant of the gastronomic possibilities?
My heart sank; there was not an empty table to be seen. The lovely waitress caught my eye.
“For you,” she said, “We have a place.”
She led me to a back table, the best seat in the house. From there, I could watch Francesco create his magic. Hot plate, panini press, meat slicer, and perfectly stacked plates. The tiny area, with barely enough room for the chef to turn around, was where he sautéed, sliced, chopped, and barked orders.
Francesco is a one-man culinary ballet.
He asked what I wanted to eat. Fish, of course. Cotto or crudo? Today a misto, only because I was frozen, and cooked fish would warm me. As would red wine. He recommended the 2009 Grumello because it was an elegant wine, perfect with fish. He set my place, poured me a glass, placed the bottle on the table, and went to work.
La Cantina is a place where you exist in Francesco time. He will prepare your meal as he wishes and when he wishes. It is a place you can only go if eating his food is more important than anything else you might consider accomplishing.
He pulled a branzino from a bucket; it flopped one last time before he set it in a pan. Various crustaceans from the lagoon were served resplendently raw. (There are just some fish that it is sacrilege to ruin with heat.)
I drank the wine and watched.
Eventually it was my turn. Francesco wanted to know how hungry I was. Did I want a plate of fish this big? No, I told him, a plate of fish this big. One gets used to being a glutton in Venice. Beauty is offered in such abundance; you can get drunk on patina alone.
I’m not a food writer. I don’t know all the fancy ways to describe what I eat. But I know how I felt. I felt honored to eat this fish, prepared by this man, in a city that I love. My lunch was resolute, satisfying, delectable, and nurturing.
This is my Venice.
La Cantina on Facebook
Cannaregio 3689, Campo San Felice, 30121 Venezia, Italy
Reservations recommended: +39 041 522 8258
JoAnn Locktov is the founder of Bella Figura Publications, an independent imprint publishing a series of photography books (including Dream of Venice and Dream of Venice Architecture) on Venice as a contemporary living city.