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A mouth-watering stop in Venice

By Ondine Cohane | China Daily/Agencies | Updated: 2013-03-11 10:53
A mouth-watering stop in Venice

A meringue dessert at Acquastanca. Provided to China Daily

If beautiful Murano glass is a strong draw to the Venetian Lagoon island, camera-snapping groups clogging the canals, and the cookie-cutter restaurants hoping to sell them a pizza along the way, can have the opposite effect. But thanks to a culinary newcomer, there's a reason to return.

Opened last April by Giovanna Arcangeli - a Murano native who planned events at the legendary Harry's Bar for a decade and knows a thing or two about preserving a cultured calm in the midst of a touristy enclave - Acquastanca is a refuge from all that.

"We wanted to create a place where guests would be able to relax and enjoy good food in a warm, quiet atmosphere with locals," Arcangeli says.

During a recent lunchtime visit, local businessmen taking a stand-up break at the bar were sipping Soave from the Veneto and snacking on cichetti, Venetian snacks like crispy prawns and octopus salad; a group of Venetians and a fashionable Italian mother and her teenage daughter occupied the few wood tables by the canal.

Housed in a former bakery, the restaurant is stylish but not overdone: With wood beam ceilings, brick walls and resin floors, the setting is intimate but modern.

Caterina Nason, the chef and Arcangeli's sister-in-law, focuses on simple preparations of seafood, appropriate for a lagoon restaurant.

Highlights include a buttery and perfectly briny spaghetti alle vongole; crispy orata (sea bream), baked in the oven with potatoes; baccala with polenta; and tagliolini with squid.

One of Nason's strengths is her house-made desserts, so save room for daily selections like lemon-meringue cake, tiramisu and coffee coviglia (a coffee semifreddo). And there's a wine list with a nice selection culled mainly from the nearby regions of Veneto, Friuli and Trentino Alto Adige.

Acquastanca serves as a sort of hideaway for groups like that table of Venetians - not too fancy but with good, local food, where you can stop in from breakfast to dinner for an espresso or a full meal.

It has been a successful undertaking mostly because it's a homegrown but sophisticated vision in a city that often feels overpackaged.

And if you want to really fit in, ask for an ombra - a little sip of white wine from traditional vendors with little carts in the ombra, or shade, to keep it cool.

Acquastanca, Fondamenta Manin 48, Murano, Venice; 39-041-319-5125. An average meal for two, without drinks or tip, is about 30 euros (about $39).

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