Doge is my co-pilot

img_3972Like most people I had preconceived ideas of what to expect from Venice.  Inundated throughout my life with pictures and posters depicting the place, listening to friend’s descriptions of it and even taking in the Vegas version at the Venetian.  I have been to several places at other spots on the planet that describe themselves as the Venice of Alsace (Colmar) and the Venice of Belgium (Bruges). Nothing, however, can prepare you for VENICE.


Venice is a floating city in the middle of a lagoon. One that was created by the original tribe called the Veneti as a refuge from rape and pillage by invading Longobard barbarians from the north. Venice rose to prominence as a result of cornering the salt trade.  Before the advent of refrigeration salt was the only means to preserve perishable proteins and vegetables. Their strategic position near the mouth of the Po, Trentino and Alto Adige rivers gave them eazy control on the flow of salt throughout Italy.  The riches accumulated from this market allowed them to create a maritime force unequaled in the Mediterranean. It wasn’t long after, that they went after the spice trade and more specifically black pepper.  These little rough edged black pearls were the motivation for Christopher Columbus’ odyssea to the New World whose discovery led to the eventual decline of the Venetian empire.  The Venetians reigned as a republic ruled by the elected Doge (Duke) from the 7th to 18th Century.  Napoleon Bonaparte rolled into the city and took it over in 1797. A thousand years of domination over the salt and spice trades, deep involvement in each of the Crusades and toppling of Constantinople in the 4th crusade provided the bounty and opulence that adorns the facades of some of the city’s favorite landmarks.

What remains today is still awe inspiring.  It is in slow decay and were it not for the investment of some of the world’s richest philanthropists would probably crumble from the wear and tear of nature and tourism.

Tourism is such a factor that few locals actually reside in the center of the city, preferring to commute in from the mainland to cater to the vast number of visitors each day.  Signs saying “No Gran Navi” no cruise ships are everywhere and it is clearly the cause celebre of the locals who I can imagine have a love hate relationship with their source of income.  The very essence of what makes this a top bucket list location for tourist all over the world is threatened by the very industry that allows it to exist.  They have created but not implemented a tourist tax that doesn’t seem to address the daily influx of mainland tourist as well as the cruise ship tourist that descend and clog the fine arteries of this unique floating city.

Most people arrive at Marco Polo airport and can choose several options to get to one of the Six Sestieri (neighborhoods) that compose the city.  There is a terrestrial umbilical cord that connects to the islands that busses and trains can access. From that terminus you can jump on the painfully slow Vaporetto (boat taxi) that will drop you off at stops along the grand canal.  There is also the Alilaguna boats that can take you to the center and drop you and your luggage at a convenient dock close to your lodging.  Or if you have the funds to pay for a water taxi you can take that option and they can navigate through the canals and dock right outside your hotel.

No matter how you get there you will quickly understand that the rest of your time on the islands is going to be walking and scaling the 400 plus bridges that connect each of them. The labyrinthine streets will quickly disorient you and were it not for arrows pointing you to different landmarks, would send you in rotating pattern of frustration as you collide with the rest of the tourist trying to figure out the same thing.  Of course Google can get you through even the most treacherous pathway and land you safely at your destination.

The San Marco Sestieri is ground zero for tourism.  All the top Hotels and the landmark restaurants (like Harry’s bar) are in this area. I would highly recommend taking in the principle tourist sites before 10 am.  Visit the Doge’s palace or “Palazzo Ducale” which includes the Bridge of Sighs to the prison and then visit the Basilica.  Take the view from the Campanile either early morning or late afternoon to avoid lines.  Once you have taken in these must see sites try to meander out of the San Marco area.  You will find areas like the Carneregio that will open up into wider arteries and provide a welcome reprieve from the tourist clogged finer veins closer to San Marco.  Get lost.  It’s not hard to do and it will force you to pay attention to your surroundings.  If you get super exhausted then jumping on a vaporetto can bring you back home. If you are mobility impaired in any way, you have literally entered hell on earth.

The Rialto Bridge, San Marco, Accademia and the La Ferrovia (train Station) are the four main landmarks that seem to dominate the arrow signage at the corner of most streets. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t see one of these directional signs at the corner of each street.  Look both ways down the street you are getting on and most likely you will see it at a nearby junction.  Campo’s are squares or open areas that serve as a neighborhood gathering place and usually feature a well. One of my favorites is the Campo St. Fantin where Teatro La Fenice is located.

Eating in Venice.  On my first visit, I have to admit to being disappointed at the food I ate.  Expensive and poor value to cost ratio.  You are on a lagoon and just a thin land mass away from the Adriatic, so seafood is always a player.  070524ff-f160-4cdb-ae86-c5324d515cc0You are also not far from the Delta of the River Po and in prime arborio rice growing area.  The Venetian chefs are known to favor the Vialone Nano variety of Arborio and like to cook their risotto “al onda” or wavy.  This is almost to soup consistency and certainly not something that can take a shape. So seafood and risotto are served everywhere.  You will of course find pasta dishes, though this not what the Venetian are known for and more in place to placate the tourist.  One classic pasta dish is “Pasta i Fagioli” which is more like a bean and pasta soup. Fegato alla Veneziana is basically liver and onions and is a dish I usually love though not done to my satisfaction at the one restaurant I tried it at. Risi e Bisi which is a risotto and spring pea dish is a classic.

Another great food tradition of Venice takes place in the early evening and is known as Cicchetti and is close in concept to Tapas.  There are many Cicchetti restaurants near the Rialto Bridge in the San Polo district but can also be found in other Sestiere of Venice.  Many different fritters made with vegetables, seafood and mushrooms, Sarde in Saor (sardines marinating in a sweet and sour sauce) and Baccala Mantecato (a salt cod purée served on baguette or polenta) are among the local favorites. Inexpensive wines are featured with some even on tap.  Groups of people meet up and the festive food and wine gathering crawls to the next destination until people are satiated or seek out more filling options in a sit down restaurant.

Wines of the area are tasty and mostly inexpensive. The main wine making region is closer to Verona.  This is where Valpolicella is made.  This is a red wine made from a blend of three red grape varietals Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara.  It goes great with most of the above dishes as it has a good backbone of acidity balanced with fruit.  There are other wines that are made with these varietals that take it to a higher level.  Amarone is the King and is made in great years and harvested at peak of sugar content and allowed to dry to evaporate the water.  The raisins are then vinified in typical fashion. The raisin quality of this wine is very unique and pairs with few dishes except for winter stews and wild game dishes.  In between is a wine which I absolutely love which is known as Ripasso. img_3886 It is made in several different ways but is usually a by product of taking the spent grapes from the making of Amarone and fermenting it with Valpolicella.  What you get is a watered down version of Amarone.  Great notes of dried raisin with a backbone of acid.  Soave is the regional white wine and is made with the Garganega grape in the adjacent region to Valpolicella.  Regions to the north and east of Venice also produce excellent reasonably priced wines.  Look to Alto Adige in the Dolomite region of Italy and to Friuli in the mountains to the northeast of Venice for French Varietals translated to Italian.  Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero, Chardonnay are all excellent in this area.  Tokay Friulano, a hat tip to Hungarian Tokaj, is a great aperitif wine from Friuli. Of course no day in Venice (especially a hot one) would be complete without a  cocktail made with Prosecco, an inexpensive mass produced sparkling wine made from the Glera grape.  The Bellini created at Harry’s Bar is a cocktail of Prosecco and Peach juice.  I have enjoyed a few Aperol Spritzes in my time, which is prosecco and aperol (an orange bitter liqueur).  You might be tempted to have one of these at St Marks square or even Harry’s Bar, but know that you will pay considerably more than if you venture even just a few meters from either of these locations.

On my last trip to Venice with my son, I did eat at an amazing restaurant that all but redeemed my previous disappointment in the local cuisine. Local is a restaurant in the San Marco Sestiere not too far from the Square that really impressed me. Chef Matteo Tagliapietra résumé which includes stints at Noma in Copenhagen stunned us with his tasting menu.  We sat at the bar with a front row seat to the action in the open and high tech kitchen.  The front of the house staff was stellar with a great sense of humor. The wines they chose to pair with the dishes were top notch. After I complimented Chef Matteo on the best risotto that I have ever eaten, he came out of the kitchen and gifted me a kilo of it.  He uses a reserva carnaroli arborio that is grown in Lombardia, not the traditional Vialone Nano most Venetian chefs favor.  We returned home satiated to catch the full moon beaming down on St Mark’s Square.

I would also like to give a shout out to a Cicchetti restaurant that impressed us Cantina do Spade.   Very close to the Rialto Bridge and close to many other Cicchetti bars.  The Cicchettis were fresh and everyone of them tasty. Many of the traditional ones mentioned previously.  Refreshing white wine on tap and a bustling scene of merriment exploding out onto the alley.

There is just so much to discover in Venice and I have provided but a taste.

Sins of a Chef


Pardon me father for I have sinned.  It has been 7 years since my last post.  A lot has happened since then and it is not worth your time to have the missing volumes recounted in detail. Suffice to say my path has been challenging and the learning never ceases.  Of course, as the almighty you already know all this.

A new love has entered my life and her name is: Italy.  Oh, I have been studying her from afar and extolling the tantalizing details of her abundant regions.  Cooking her favorite dishes and tasting her delicious wines has been a lifelong pursuit.  I’ve been introduced to her in previous years, visiting Portofino and closing in to smell her intoxicating perfume at the white Truffle festival in Alba or on another occasion to Torino to marvel at her best features at the Slow Food Salon del Gusto.  I could sense her timeless charm and the depth of her culture. I knew I would return and get to know her better. 

The time was ripe and late in 2018 the opportunity I had been waiting for landed in my lap. An audition to be a tour captain for a travel company focusing on Italy.  My real estate agent, who helped us find our present home had worked for them for 8 years, he looked like he had the ideal job – a job I could love.

A training trip with him to their best selling tour across Italy was set up for March 2019.  I was going to get to know her first hand and this time I would take in all her glory.

The tour would take me through Venice and Florence and the countryside of Tuscany; into the Eternal City of Rome and concluding in the magical city of Sorrento.

What an introduction.  I was smitten and lustful for more.


Blinded by produce at the Union Square Farmers Market

On my last day in the City, I decided to head downtown and catch the farmer’s market in Union Square.  I was blown away by the quality of the produce. It reminded me of France and it gave me hope for the direction of food in our country.  Great cooking is mostly about great product and this is on par. Continue reading

Basking in the glow of Mario’s orange clogs

A fresh leg of Iberico ham being trimmed

After Katsuya’s Pop Up, I watched the last few minutes of Jordan Khan decorating a tree limb with food elements on the main stage while being accompanied by a five string ensemble.  Very bizarre and yet totally mesmerizing.  Continue reading

Savoring a Pop Up Izakaya performance by Katsuya Fukushima

Mushimono: Bacon Chawanmushi with sweet corn

Today’s Pop Up was with Katsuya Fukushima.  I was especially interested in this Pop Up as we are both Academie de Cuisine graduates.  I chatted a bit with him before going into the dining tent and it turns out that we also shared the Jeff Buben experience as our first chef to work for coming out of Culinary School.  Continue reading

Starchefs ICC 2012 – Thinning out the herd

Fresh Fish presentation by True World Foods

I arrived at the congress shortly before they opened the doors to the public.  Upon entry I noticed that they had changed the way they conduct the private seminars and classes on the floor of the products fair.  Continue reading

Starchefs ICC 2012 – Jordan Khan Pop Up

First course

New to the ICC line up this year were pop ups and food carts.  I signed up for two pop ups and the first one featured Jordan Khan. Jordan made quite an impression on the audience the first time he came to the ICC two years ago.  Continue reading

Starchefs ICC 2012 – Back to the Future

I knew I would run into the man of steel here

Once again my annual pilgrimage to NYC for the Starchefs International Chefs Congress came through at the last-minute.  I was selected as a judge for the Somm Slam a few weeks before the conference and quickly made plans to get to NYC.  Continue reading

Michelin list of Restaurants in the Department of the Vaucluse (84)


Avignon (Photo credit: LucaXino)

Here is Michelin’s list of restaurants in my old stomping grounds of the Vaucluse a department that includes the town of Avignon and other cities of gastronomic interest .  Click on the link below to see the PDF with all the listings.  It was shocking to see that la Mirande lost its one Star status.


2012 list of 3 Star Michelin restaurants in France

Every year every 2 star chef prays to the Michelin Gods and hopes they will be able to join this elite group of restaurateurs.  They also pray they will not be demoted from 3 to 2.

This year only one was promoted to the ranks of the best on earth.  The number in parenthesis represents the department (county) that the restaurant is located in. i.e. the last entry is Georges Blanc in the town of Vonnas which is in the department of l’Ain which starts with the letter A or 1st letter in the alphabet. If you are driving through France you can also see the department number as the last 2 digits on each license plate.

MICHELIN guide France 2012

N : new stars in 2012

26 o of which 1 new

Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey

Town (departement) Establishement
Baerenthal / Untermuhlthal (57) L’Arnsbourg
Chagny (71) Maison Lameloise
Eugénie-les-Bains (40) Michel Guérard
Fontjoncouse (11) Auberge du Vieux Puits
Illhaeusern (68) Auberge de l’Ill
Joigny (89) La Côte St-Jacques
Laguiole (12) Bras
Lyon (69) Paul Bocuse
Marseille (13) Le Petit Nice
Megève (74) Flocons de Sel N
Monte-Carlo (Principauté de Monaco) Le Louis XV-Alain Ducasse
Paris 1er Le Meurice
Paris 4e L’Ambroisie
Paris 7e Arpège
Paris 8e Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée
Paris 8e Epicure
Paris 8e Ledoyen
Paris 8e Pierre Gagnaire
Paris 16e Astrance
Paris 16e Le Pré Catelan
Paris 17e Guy Savoy
Roanne (42) Troisgros
Saint-Bonnet-le-Froid (43) Régis et Jacques Marcon
Saulieu (21) Le Relais Bernard Loiseau
Valence (26) Pic
Vonnas (01) Georges Blanc