Getting Down to the Nitty Gritti (Palace)

As a wedding gift, my brother Mark and his wife Lori gave us a spectacular afternoon in Venice.

The Gritti Palace, as seen from the Canal Grande - photo: Mark Sammons
Their gift was a luncheon at the Club del Doge Ristorante in the Gritti Palace, with wines for each course. Not having been to the Gritti Palace, we looked online to see where we were headed and found perhaps the most beautiful palace hotel in Venice.

When the day came, we arrived at the Club del Doge around 1:00pm; we were the only two people there. (The dining room eventually filled.) They gave us the choice of any table in the place. We, of course, chose the table with the French doors looking across the terrace onto the Grand Canal. We had hoped for outdoor-dining weather, but the weather gods had a different plan.

The walls of the sumptuous dining room were lined with hand-woven fabric by Bevilacqua in rich gold, ochre, and brown tones. The tables were set with crisp white linens, bordered with grayish-blue that matched the house porcelain.

The three-and-one-half-hour meal opened with an amuse-bouche - three slices of beautifully-cooked beef with arugula, a sliver of cheese, and a small bunch of currants. It bode well for the rest of the meal.

Our first courses: I had grilled king prawns and octopus on a bed of lettuce, with a side of grilled leeks and peperonata. I have never had shrimp so sweet, or octopus so tender. Mark had the plate of four cicchetti. (If you missed my post last week on cicchetti, you can find it here.) Mark's four were: gamberoni in saor (a take on sarde in saor – in this instance shrimp and onions marinated in a vinegar-based sauce), a salad of baby shrimp, a green salad (actually dark red), and baccalà mantecato - creamed cod, usually served on toast but, in this case, on the local specialty of grilled polenta.

For our main course, we again chose differently. I opted for a pasta called spinosini (similar to angel hair) with lemon, butter, and prosciutto topped with grated smoky mozzarella. The waiter said it was light but, with all that butter, I didn't really need to eat for the rest of the day (but of course I did)! The pasta was tossed in a butter/lemon sauce, then placed in a prosciutto-lined bowl, topped with more prosciutto, and topped again with grated smoky mozzarella. Mark chose the traditional Venetian specialty of liver and onions. It was excellent, much less sauced than in other restaurants we had had it, and very appealing on that raw, autumnal day.

For dolce, I opted for the fresh fruit plate - perfectly ripe apples, peaches, plums, mango, papaya, passion fruit, kiwi, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, and one groundcherry. The platter in front of me was practically overflowing with vibrant color and flavor. Mark had the cheese and dried fruit plate - six cheeses in varying states of ripeness, and all unfamiliar to us. His plate included a fresh fig, grapes, fig jam, some sultanas, and one perfect walnut.

The wines were also quite good. The white from Vicenza in the Veneto, was similar to a sauvignon blanc, but less fruit-forward. The red, also from the Veneto, was a Masi Campofiorin. I feel as though I have seen Masi wines in the States, so I will look for it. It was an amazing, full-bodied red, but not too tannic. It went really well with both our meals.

The wine pouring station - photo: Mark Sammons
As if our desserts were not enough, they presented us with a plate of cookies - very Italian in style, not too sweet, and just the right touch after a big meal.

A walk down the hotel hall (of fame) adjacent to the restaurant had us gazing at signed photos of the illuminati who had stayed there - from Gregory Peck, Rod Steiger, Marlon Brando, Natalie Wood, Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, and Lauren Bacall, to Branjolie, Michael Jordan, Tom Cruise, and Nicole Kidman. It seemed that pretty much every stage and screen artist from the last couple of generations has stayed or dined there. To add some lustre to the display, we autographed our menu for them to post with our photos... look for it next time you are there!

View of the Canal Grande from the Club del Doge terrace - photo Mark Sammons
Thanks, Mark and Lori, for this unbelievably special experience in Venezia!

~ David

Spinosini al burro, limone e prosciutto

12 slices prosciutto
8 tablespoons European butter**
zest of 2 organic lemons
12 ounces spinosini (or angel hair)
2 ounces smoked mozzarella
freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Line 4 pasta bowls or soup plates with half the prosciutto (2 slices per bowl).

Melt the butter in a large skillet and add lemon zest. Keep warm on low heat.

Generously salt the boiling water and add spinosini. As it cooks in 3-4 minutes, watch it carefully. Reserve 1 cup pasta water.

Drain pasta and place immediately in the butter and lemon. Toss to coat and add reserved pasta water little by little, if needed, to get a good consistency. It should not stick together. Divide among the 4 prosciutto-lined bowls.

Top with the remaining slices of prosciutto and coarsely grate with smoked mozzarella. Finish with a grind or two of black pepper.

Serves 4.

** European-made butters have higher butterfat and much less water, not to mention a superior taste! My favorite brands generally available in the States are Président and Celles sur Belle (French), Jana Valley (Czech) and Kerrygold (Irish).

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