THE ART OF ITALIAN DINING
I have probably been to Venice 10 times since my first trip in the early 90’s. But here’s an irony: ever since I started this blog, going on two years ago, I haven’t been able to visit the city. And yes, i spend 3 months a year back in my beautiful country, living in Florence which is only 2 hours by train from this improbable city.
It was a curse.
Circumstances have conspired to scuttle plans again and again. Remember how the lead character in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), kept getting stuck in Bedford Falls just as he was getting ready to see the world? Like that.
Of course moving to the States seven years ago has changed the logistics a little, too. As in doubling airfare, inspiring an abject horror of long flights, and changing my view of canals from “quaint and beautiful” to “quaint and beautiful latent the flood of tourists”.
However, since a fire brought down the Fenice opera house 10 years ago,Venice has suffered from crumbling palazzos, rising tides and its worst publicity since Napolean rode through town.
But that’s all changing.
In fact, the great influx of artists, actors and creative people, the opening of amazing new local restaurants and the refurbishing of hotels, design and modernism is making tourists and Italians paddling back.
The city that everyone said was sinking is in fact on the rise.
Now, the curse has been lifted. The heavens have aligned and I was able to, after a short visit to Milan visiting a few old friends, feel again the beauty and splendor of this city with its old charming buildings and, luckily for me, a very interesting ‘Biennale di Venezia’ and ‘Venice Film Festival’ to check out.
But there is also, a deeper and more honest, reason why I like to go to Venice that being the ability of making the best Spritzs I have ever tasted. Their ‘National Drink’, as I like to call it, it’s a must for residents and tourists alike for which it takes on a very interesting meaning.
In fact the Venetian Spritz is not, shall we say, an “important” thing. Drink. Whatever. It’s red, for crying out loud, and composed of any unassuming white wine, sparkling water, and your choice of mixer: Aperol, Select, or bitter (Campari, SanBitter or even the herby Cynar). Although the first Spritzes filtered down from Austria and were made with white wine and seltzer only, the newer, flashier red version is a Campari creation that has become a Venetian (and Veneto) habit: It is not just a drink, but a way of life.
A way of life that I have been always embracing even if not from Venice.
That appealing shade of florescent orangish-red, however, makes the Spritz extraordinarily entertaining; when you witness late afternoon Venetian sunlight angling through the glass, firing it the color of icy embers, ti viene la voglia – it just makes you want one.
It would seem obvious, then, that you should order at least one Spritz during your stay, if for no other reason than to stare in compagnia, to hang out and blend in. It’s even safe to “try this at home” (although I must to warn you: it won’t be the same).
Thanks in no small part to furious commercial efforts on the part of Campari (who also produce Aperol and Cynar, fancy that), this unpretentious, borderline silly libation is aiming to be the National Drink of Italy. But the Spritz (or ‘Spriss’ in Venessiàn) will always be best enjoyed on its home turf, perhaps Al Chioscchetto on the Zattere, as the sun retreats and the Giudecca Canal sloshes vigorously before you, while everyone at surrounding tables sips theirs, chattering away, catching up with a friend they’ve connected with by chance or by appointment, in who-knows what language. Maybe there’s live music; maybe not.
The Spritz fa il suo effetto (has its effect) on most everyone who tries it; and the result is una marea of requests for the recipe; and although I’d rather recommend a good wine, it just makes sense to post it once and for all. Evvia.
My favorite Venetian Spritz recipe is stamped on a canvas at the famous ‘Harry’s Bar’ (which you should absolutely pay a visit to..)
ONE FINAL NOTE: Don’t forget, when ordering your Spritz, you must specify the mixer. For example, “Spritz con Aperol,” “Spritz with Select” (pronounced SELect), etc. If you don’t, you’ll be asked which you prefer.
* Aperol (made by Campari) has now decided a Spritz is made by combining it with Prosecco, which is convenient in that it supports Prosecco production and can reduce the number of Spritz ingredients to two (or creates a too-fizzy concoction). The hold-outs among us prefer the original, and to enjoy our Prosecco in purezza, by itself.