Alle Testiere – Venice

May 24, 2007

Everyone’s dream is the little seven-table restaurant with great fresh ingredients bought every day and prepared by a talented local chef with the simple culinary traditions of the area. That’s what Alle Testiere sounds like in many articles and food blogs, including Gastroville, one of the most discerning, which declares it, along with Da Fiore, one of the two best restaurants in Venice and “one of the very best Italian seafood places.” So it was with high hopes that Linda and I went there the evening of May 17, 2007. Having reserved well in advance, we were promptly seated at the only empty table, next to the espresso machine.  A glass of prosecco arrived and Luca, who runs the dining room, told us what the starters of the day were. It was a fairly conventional list; (the grilled sardines sounded good;) but it did not include moeche, or the local soft shell crabs, so we asked. Yes, he said they were available. At his suggestion we ordered a bottle of 2004 Friuliano Tocai – Borgo del Tiglio, a pleasant white wine from the Friuli district northeast of Venice.

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We each had four of the moeche to start, lightly coated and fried, served with a citrusy salad in the middle of the plate. Unfortunately the very acidic dressing had run out of the salad into three of my four crabs and destroyed the delicate taste. The one remaining was okay, but not up to the ones we had the evening before or the evening after. Linda’s four crabs were okay, but she did not touch her salad.

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My pasta was gnocchi with calamari. The gnocchi were very small, too small to have the expected lightness. The peppery, tomatoey seafood stock was so rich and salty I could not taste the calamari.

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Linda’s pasta was spaghetti fruitti di mare. What this meant was that the spaghetti had a light coating of the same seafood stock that I had and a few small clams were added.

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My main course was a substantial chunk of what started as good fresh red tuna. The cuisine was what one would expect for a chunk of venison in the Black Forest. There was a heavy brown sauce with balsamic vinegar, juniper berries, carrots, celery and raspberries, yes raspberries. I am not making this up. Yecchh.

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Linda had a branzino, or the local sea bass, which was presented to her whole and then filleted and served with a sort of caponata. It was okay, but nothing special.

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We finished with a panna cotta and a chestnut mousse. 

We have had worse meals in Europe, but we have never had one which fell so far below expectations. I have no idea what has happened as this restaurant has obviously charmed many knowledgeable eaters. Maybe Alle Testiere just had a bad day. Maybe they didn’t like the way the hotel made our reservation or we made a bad impression. Maybe they have just decided to cash in on their fame; they are definitely on a two-shift dinner schedule. The clientele is of many nationalities, but we didn’t hear any speaking Italian. Maybe it is as Yogi said: that it is so crowded that no one goes there anymore. 

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