Venice, Italy

July 2006

I’m not sure what led us to Hostaria da Franz in the first place.  Maybe it was the brief mention in one of the guide books.  Maybe it was the photograph on their website of the owner/maitre d’ standing next to Nick Cage?  How bad could it be if Nick agreed to be photographed?

Venice is difficult to navigate under normal circumstances.  Alleyways lead to hidden campos and streets that you think are through streets often end with you staring at a canal with no bridge in sight.  Consequently, it was a good 30 minute walk from our hotel to find Franz   Finally, after much guessing which alleyway to walk down, we finally got a glimpse of what might be a restaurant in the distance – a few tables covered with tablecloths on a quiet sidewalk next to a canal.

This was Hostaria da Franz.  There’s no menu.  Maurizio, the son of the original owner, welcomes you with a glass of Prosecco and recites the menu of what’s fresh that day.  This made me every nervous.  I had visions of a bill with triple digits per dish. So let me cut to the chase.  When all was said and done we had four courses (each), two glasses of Prosecco and a bottle of Soave and the bill was under 200 euros. 

Lynn had a very retro starter — fresh crab meat stuffed in a tomato.  I opted for the classic Venetian dish of sarde in saor — fresh grilled sardines with onions and golden raisins on a bed of polenta.  It was delicious.  Between our next course of homemade spaghetti with langoustines and chili flakes for me and pappardelle with scallops for Lynn, we watched a few small boats go by on the canal carrying packages, building materials, paint cans, cases of bottled water and sometimes the occasional teenage boy with the appropriately beautiful girlfriend lounging seductively in the back. 

After the pasta, Lynn and I both had thinly sliced swordfish, simply grilled with a sprinkling of capers and olive oil.  I think this is what most of the chefs on Food Network try to teach people to do for “simple summer cooking.”  It really doesn’t get any better than that.

Hostaria da Franz was the first time I had ever eaten tiramisu.  Truly.  It was just one of those “Italian” desserts that I had never tried since it was inevitably on every Italian-American menu stateside and usually the versions I saw had lots of ladyfingers, pudding and whipped cream out of a can.  Franz’s tiramisù was spongecake-like with layers of fresh cream between each layer, dripping with liquor and sprinkled with bittersweet chocolate shavings on top.

July 2007

So we went back a second time nearly a year from the day.  This time the restaurant seemed a tad more crowded.  It was as hot as ever in Venice but our canal-side table provided us with some relief.  Truth be told, I was a tad tired that evening.  I ordered the same grilled sardines on a bed of polenta I’d had the summer before.  Lynn opted for the grilled octopus.  We moved on to our pasta dishes: homemade pasta with fresh anchovies and homemade pasta with baby oysters.  Lynn went with the perfectly grilled monk fish as an entrée; I went with the turbot lightly grilled with some veggies.  We had a bottle of Italian Pinot Nero (as semi-professional wine drinkers we have never prescribed to the white wine with fish rule) – and surprise, surprise – the bill was actually 30 Euros less than the summer before.  Ok, so we didn’t have the tiramisù; Hosteria da Franz was still as good as ever.


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