The Taverna San Trovaso has been a mainstay of Venetian dining for a great many years, with a faithful following that includes Yours Truly. When I was an intern in Venice (many years ago), this restaurant served as a home from home for our group of foreign students. Its warming atmosphere exuded from everything – the staff, the rustic decor and, naturally, from the food . Nowadays, whenever giving recommendations to people travelling to Venice, I always include the Taverna on a list of fool-proof dining venues.
The Taverna has borne witness to various personal milestones. We went there for dinner on my first night as a Guggenheim intern. We blew out birthday candles when friends turned a year bolder. We counselled each other there when artistic pretentiousness at the museum reached saturation point. The night before I left, this was only one place I wanted to comiserate with the comrades being left behind and, in the interim, my fellow-interns and I came to know the various cousins who worked there as wait-staff and their aunt and uncles who were in charge. As the family’s English was minimal, it was at the Taverna that we became more confident in spoken Italian; there was no other way of communicating with the staff. This was the unexpected bonus of eating there so often.
The Taverna was also the source of a great deal of education about what does and does not work in a traditional Italian kitchen. It was here that I first tried spaghetti alle vongole which is now my ‘must eat’ when visiting Italy. The San Trovaso benchmark is to toss the spaghetti with white wine, oil and parsley, adding steamed fresh clams still in their shells. As Ma Epicurienne says: in many establishments, the clams are often not served in their shells so you don’t have to be Columbo to work out that they’ve come from a jar. If the clam sauce includes tomatoes, the taste of the clams will be so well masked by the tomatoes that you might as well eat a plain spaghetti pomodoro. Avoid, avoid, avoid. It was also here that I made a classic clanger by asking for parmesan for my spaghetti alle vongole one evening. The waiter’s jaw dropped as he shook his head vigorously, explaining that food from the sea should never, but never take parmesan cheese.
Following an early dinner on a Taverna night, sometimes our waiter friends would join us for a beer or two in Campo di Santa Margherita. On other occasions we’d bump into them in their football uniforms, just back from a game on the mainland. Today, it is scary to see that those young, energetic waiters are now grown men with thinning hair, but one of the nicest aspects of them is the fact that even more than a decade later, they still remember me and my fellow interns. Given how popular their restaurant is and how many people they must deal with on a daily, monthly, yearly basis, that really is quite a feat.
If you need to recharge following a morning’s Bellini-gazing, you’ll find the Taverna San Trovaso just behind the Academmia Gallery. The prices are really reasonable (given that this is Venice), and the food has that comforting sense of having been prepared by Mamma in a big family kitchen where copper pans and ropes of garlic hang on the walls. The house wine is extremely pleasant, inexpensive and devoid of that vinegary tang that spoils so many of its rivals house varieties. If you’re on a budget, there really is no need to go for the more expensive options. How much more need I say to convince you?
On my most recent visit to the Taverna, Monsieur was with me, having been dragged across Venice in the rain. Thrilled to be back I decided to try their seppie di neri, the squid ink pasta that is so famed in Italy. It arrived. It was black. I didn’t think twice as I began to eat. My waiter friends came to chat. I was smiling, a lot, with teeth… and then Monsieur reminded me of what I’d been eating:
“Darling, I love you, even when you have black teeth,” he said. I cringed as I looked into a pocket mirror, confirming that my teeth looked a bit too Dickensian for anyone’s liking. Oh well. We’ll just have to put that down as yet another on the list of fond Taverna San Trovaso memories and remind our friends that seppie di neri should go on the list of foods to avoid when on a date. That is, if you think you might like a kiss or two later…
Spaghetti alle vongole, seppie di neri, scalopine al limone.
The pizzas are tasty with that perfect pizza oven crust and cheap!