OSTERIA CERA AND NOTES ON VENICE (Alle Testiere, Mascaron, Da Fiore, Antiche Carampane and Venissa)
Osteria Cera is about 20 minutes from the Venice airport (in Campagna Lupia), and it is heads and shoulders above the quality you find in Venice. It is not only better than other Venetian seafood restaurants, but it is a great seafood restaurant. I should say that our meal there in late March of 2012 was even better than the February meals at LORENZO and ROMANO. The only seafood restaurant in Italy which may be at least on par with OSTERIA CERA is LA PINETA in Marina di Bibbona. I consider La Pineta to be one of the world’s best seafood temples.
Osteria Cera is not cheap. There are two menus: 140 and 150 Euro. We chose the expensive menu and also added fresh scampi to the menu.
Chef Lionello Cera excels in raw fish. Italians are at least as adept in handling and presenting raw fish as the Japanese, and the raw fish platter in Osteria Cera was a highlight of the meal. It is called “colori del mare” and is composed of 12 pieces. Each piece is handled differently and paired with different ingredients which are judiciously handled: wild sea bass with caviar and dill; sword fish with capers, eggplant, sun dried tomato, parsley; mackerel with burrata cheese and corn… The olive oil which is served is Furgentini from Avola Giorgio farm in Sicilia. Outstanding. The bread basket is excellent too.
The tasting menu has one pasta dish: “cappesante, cacio pepe, cozze”. But before the cacio pepe, they served us another seafood pasta with large juicy prawns, fresh baby calamari, triglie (rouget), and pistachios from Sicily. Cappesante (scallops) were barely cooked and their roes were still attached, proving their impeccable quality. The two vegetables from their garden, green beans and radicchio, also exploded with taste. The overall balance and composition of the two pasta dishes made a statement. One cannot easily subtract one ingredient or add another without impacting the overall balance and quality of these dishes. Great Italian pasta is rare, and is a gustatory experience.
Cassopipa is basically a fish/shellfish soup. It is a slowly simmered fish soup. Our ration consisted of mantis shrimp, baby scampi, mussels, clams and John Dory. It has a rich broth with tomato, garlic, ginger, bay leaf, an orange slice, red onion and capers. The broth was particularly noteworthy, and different components of the dish were not overcooked, as is usually the case with fish soups.
The risotto was outstanding. “Risotto della laguna ed erbette” is not a dish to miss. It had mantis shrimp (canocchie), outstanding baby calamari, mussels, and herbs. The chef used cooking juices to bind the carnaroli risotto. Barely noticeable candied lemon peels imparted a zesty component to the risotto.
I liked the fish soup and got it again in a ravioli dish: “Ravioli di zuppa di pesce”. I like those ravioli filled with fish stock (my favorite is Colatura di Alici with burrata at ALL’ENOTECA in Canale, Piemonte), and Cera’s version was flavored with tarragon.
Next we had the scampi, which was not on the tasting menu. We had two big scampi from the Adriatic (Ancona), cooked in salt crust with thyme. The chef baked them whole and did not lose the juice. They were alive when cooked. Outstanding. I cannot think of a better more satisfactory langoustine-scampi preparation. At 120 Euro a kg, the price was better than what I found in Madrid (170 to 200 Euro in O’Pazo and Sanxenxo), the quality was as good as Galician scampi (cigalas), but the cooking in Cera was superior.
The only dish I did not care for too much was the last course: fish of the day. It was wild sea bass simmered slowly with outstanding olive oil, sage, clams, herbs, hazelnut pieces and crusted with toasted sesame seeds. The seabass (branzino) may have been wild, but it tasted like farmed sea bass. My best guess is that most branzino is now eating the foodstuff that is given to farmed fish (branzino flock near the farms to devour what is intended for the farmed fish), or quite a few fish escape from the farms and are caught right afterwards and are sold as “wild”. At any rate, it is very difficult to find truely wild seabass nowdays. Farmed sea bass is raised to just get fat, and the meat is quite bland.
Cera also gives importance to desserts, and both desserts were very good. The first was a meringue with passion fruit, white chocolate, and sage. The second was pistachio granita, almond mousse, almonds, and cocoa crumbles. If I understood correctly, they bring the granita from Café Sicilia in Ragusa, Sicilia.
The wine list is also satistactory and a bottle of champagne goes a long way and is a very good match with the food. (We had Billecart Salmon brut.) We also tried 2008 Livio Felluga “Terre Alte”. A blend of pinot bianco, sauvignon and friulano, I can attest that this wine always achieves a certain level. It is quite aromatic, fruity, reasonably elegant and sexy. The apple-pear-apricot fruits are ripe, but not jammy, and the finish is quite long with nutty notes. It was a good match with the fish soup containing ginger and garlic. Ideally I thought that, besides champagne, a fine Chablis would be a good match for Cera’s cuisine.
Our last visit to VENICE was in 2008. Memories mostly held, and we ‘discovered’ a new place. Here is a very brief summary.
1. OSTERIA ALLE TESTIERE
It is still good, and is my first choice in Venice. Luca is a great host, and he has a great nose for good wine. It has fresh market-based cuisine with some nice twists. This time Luca made me discover two intriguing wines: 2009 Kante from Vitovska grape (a very straight and angular wine with a metallic-mineral-vegetal finish and a very good match with shellfish) and 2010 Manzoni Bianco, a blend of Riesling and Pinot Bianco from Trentino (a successful example of a bio wine, reasonably complex and with good acid-fruit balance). All the shellfish was excellent (canestrelli, capesante, moeche, moscardini, baby scampi). Homemade ravioli with ricotta and pumpkin, topped by mezzancolle, was very good, and the rombo filet, with white wine, capers, sage, and rosemary, was light and satisfactory. Highly Recommended.
2. AL MASCARON
This restaurant is also recommended for fresh, market-based produce and shellfish. The vegetables are very good, but overcooked. Make sure you try moeche fritti and classic bigoli in salsa. The house wine in carafe is OK, but they have some bottles, which are not bad if you ask for them. Try this place to see what Venetians really eat when they go out.
3. ANTICHE CARAMPANE
I like this unassuming osteria with Venetian classics. Try the Venetian mixed appetizer, scampi in saor, cuttlefish in its own ink, and white polenta. Say no to whole fish if it is branzino, because it looked farmed. The wine list is also good and fairly priced. I opted for a very fresh, screw cap Nikolaihof Riesling. Try this place. It will not disappoint.
4. DA FIORE.
This restaurant still has a Michelin star. I don’t want to say too much about this restaurant, because I have respect for their historical achievements. In the ‘90s it was a great seafood restaurant. In the early 2000s it was still very good, and in 2008 we had a good meal which lacked spark. Now they seem to have lost passion and interest. I guess restaurants are like people. Maybe it is time to retire…..
This one is just the opposite of Da Fiore. It is a restaurant in its youth. Passion and love are apparent in the cooking. The tasting menu is composed of all the dishes on the menu in smaller portions, and the quality is very high. Dishes are refined, focused, and bursting with flavor. I still savor their slow cooked farm egg with wild asparagus and summer truffles, the pink and creamy fegato (veal liver) which was served as the amuse, the cappeletti with excellent ricotta, raw gamberetti and lettuce salsa, fusilli cacio e pepe with incredibly tasty garlic shoots from their own garden, and a super “rombo chiodato,” which is turbot with buttons, just like the one we have in Turkey from the Black sea. (The turbot was served on the bone, which is the best part, since the bones contain the gelatin.) The less successful dishes were fritto di Anguilla e Moeca (the soft shell crab was good, but the eel did not have much taste when breaded and fried) and the main dish, veal filet with scampi. The veal was cooked “sous vide” and it tasted like cardboard. Since the chef is young and is cooking a very refined cuisine, my fear is that she may evolve in the wrong direction (molecular gastronomy and sous vide cooking) to garner recognition from international gourmets.
I hope not, because this is a very promising and exciting restaurant. They also have a few rooms if you want to spend the night.