In addition to Venice proper, there are a number of large islands in the lagoon, some well-known, others less so. Perhaps the best known is Murano, famous for its glass making. Another is Burano, famous for lace making for hundreds and hundreds of years. In fact, the first Venetian settlements after the collapse of ancient Rome were on some of these outlying islands, with Venice proper being settled later. The outlying islands are easy to reach by public water bus from the north of Venice proper, which offers a gorgeous, expansive view which is a wonderful contrast to the claustrophobic nature of much of Venice.
I decided to visit Burano, both for a quiet respite from busy Venice and also because one of its restaurants, al gatto nero, was recommended by both Katie Parla and Luca of alle testiere. Like alle testiere, al gatto nero is a restaurant dedicated to preserving Venice’s traditional dishes and agricultural and fishing practices in a sustainable way. The movement to preserve these traditions is known as “Native Venice”, and it is very much connected to the outlying islands which are so essential a part of traditional Venetian cooking, not the least because several of the islands produce much of the produce for Venice and its islands, especially the island of Sant’Erasmo, famous for the quality of its vegetables, supposedly because of the saline nature of the soil, which puzzles me. I would love to see a soil test someday!
After a 40 minute water bus ride from Venice, I disembarked one stop before Burano on the island of Mazzorbo, which is very quiet but is now home to an exciting restaurant/hotel/winery called Venissa. Venissa has resurrected wine production on Mazzorbo and although its production is only in its early stages (one or two vintages I believe), this will be an exciting one to watch. Within its walled property, Venissa grows grapes and vegetables. Just outside the walls, there is a wooden foot bridge from Mazzorbo to Burano.
I was hoping for a quiet respite on Burano from Venice’s intense tourism, but sadly I did not find it. Although there were locals everywhere (many of them quite elderly), Burano has been in guide books long enough that it has been discovered, on this day mostly by Chinese and Japanese tourists, traveling in packs and taking videos of themselves with their iPhones attached to long, golf-club like rods. Sigh. Crushingly, there was no shortage of junky snack shops selling hotdogs, crappy pizza, and coca-cola. Sigh.
But my meal at al gatto nero was excellent. I didn’t experience the same level of mastery as I did at alle testiere, but it was still excellent and I’m so happy to support any institution devoted to sustainable, local agriculture.