What’s new in the Venice restaurant scene this summer? The past. At Oro, chef Davide Bisetto is giving culinary classics a light and beautiful twist. Petra Dokken waxes lyrical about her meal.
VENICE – Jade green water sparkles under a pink sky. There’s a softness in the air as the swallows’ calls fill the dusk with magical golden clouds. I am dining alfresco on Rio San Giorgio at Oro, the new restaurant at Hotel Cipriani in Venice.
The legendary Cip is a world of its own, with immaculate service. As in, a fresh towel waiting when you get out of the warm, Olympic-sized pool (wrapping yourself in that towel feels so lovely after a good swim). The staff all know your name. The housekeeper lines your shoes in perfect order. This is luxury, Italian style.
Oro continues that theme with a menu that reinterprets the gastronomic traditions of Venice. Michelin-starred executive chef Davide Bisetto creates light, colorful dishes. I am surprised and happy that the food is not too elaborate, that it is true to the ingredients and (dare I say it?) simple. Greens from a nearby island, vegetables from the hotel’s own kitchen garden, fish and seafood from the lagoon.
We start with a tasty aperitif made with Casamigos tequila, cucumber, and ginger. A waiter wearing a bow tie with dark, slicked-back hair shows us to our table set with crisp white tablecloths and shiny silver cutlery. The terrace has some fifteen tables; the vibe is supple and intimate. A couple is celebrating an anniversary. Another table is having a family reunion. I’m dining with my father. Three older ladies are chatting the night away.
Our maître’d is notably proud of the menu and of the restaurant, telling us in charming, broken English, that “oro” means “that all is good” — or at least that’s what I understand. (“Oro” means gold, too.) His joy is contagious; it makes us happy and hungry. We decide to do the full tasting menu. “Perfect,” he says.
Our waiter brings rosemary focaccia and lets us choose our own oil. I picked a super local extra virgin. What a delight to soak the warm bread in the bowl and let the oil drip down my fingers. This is so very Italian — fine dining that’s easy, casual, and relaxed. It’s about the food. It’s about the conversations. The staff jokes and laughs with us.
The sommelier wheels over a wine cart filled with local and national beauties. I love light Italian whites and choose a lime-colored pinot grigio just as our starters are served. Red prawn and spider crab au natural, pink grapefruit aspic, citrus, Sant’Erasmus cucumber sorbet, and tomato water Bloody Mary. All those shades of pink are a feast for the eyes; the flavors are so fresh on the palate. There is perfectly balanced acidity in the grapefruit and Bloody Mary. Not complicated, just genius.
My pasta arrives, a thin tagliatelle with lobster and garlic oil. They are well known flavors, but not at all heavy. My father takes a bite of his tortellini filled with veal shank and Ubriaco cheese, raises his amarone, and pronounces it simply “delicious.”
The main course is served: sea bass drenched in Marostica extra virgin olive oil with a garden of lagoon vegetables. It’s beautiful. The waiter tells me that layout of the plate represents the Venetian lagoon itself. The wild fish is an island among finely cut vegetables on a mirror of jet-black squid ink.
As the evening turns to midnight, the sky has transformed into a dark haze. So typical for this hot place dominated by water and infused with myth.
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