Tales of a wandering lesbian

Giving thanks in Venice

I spent most of today in Venice, wandering around the city (more on that later – this is a food post).  After a full day of strolling, showering and napping, I decided to splurge on a big Thanksgiving dinner.  I leafed through the couple of guidebooks I have with me and settled on one:  Ristoteca Oniga.


I was hoping to find a pumpkin ravioli on the menu (especially since they are known for their homemade ravioli, and it’s the season for zucca).  What’s more, this place is right next to a gellateria owned by the same people.  I’d missed my gelato today, so this was going to be a great way to make up for it.

The evening was a series of triumphs for me.  I was able to find the restaurant on the first try (sounds easier than it is), ask, in Italian, if it was possible for me to eat, get a seat, and order three courses.  The menu, which was all in Italian, offered a set vegetarian option, along with the other meaty options, which gave me hope that I would find a nice meal. Rather than go for the set menu, I pawed through the pages to see what I could find.  I settled on a lasagna with ricotta and zucca (pumpkin) for my primi, and a plate of cheeses, fruit and honey for my secondi.

Usually I just order a pasta and maybe dessert, but tonight being Thanksgiving I thought it only fitting to eat myself into a stupor.  I wasn’t disappointed.

First came a basket of bread and crunchy snacky bread-like things which I munched conservatively with my very own bottle of acqua naturale.


I think I got the last table in the house.  Already at 8:00 the place was packed.  Maybe it was because of the rain that folks had come out early to eat, or maybe it was that a lot of Americans were in town.   As I waited for my food, just about every staff member walked by my table to smile at me.  I got smiles from many women making their way to the restroom in the back of the restaurant.  It’s common to see solo travelers grabbing a slice of pizza or a pannini in a bar, but I haven’t seen a ton of singles eating at sit down places.  Everyone tonight seemed eager to send me a little love, and it was appreciated.  I haven’t missed too many Thanksgiving dinners with my family.  This afternoon I was able to Skype with them a bit and see most everyone:  my mom and dad, grandparents, aunt, sister and my soon-to-be-born niece or nephew.  It’s strange to be away from home today, but I’m in Venice, so it pretty much makes up for it.

So I waited, and people smiled.  And then came the lasagna.

Lasagna ricotta e zucca

It was unlike any lasagna I’ve ever had, and it was good.  I’m talkin’ real good, people.  The noodles were green, so I’m guessing they were spinach.  They were tender and lovely.  Between the five pasta layers, was pumpkin puree, standing in for the usual tomato sauce.  And ricotta.  Great lumps of ricotta stood on top, slightly crusty from the oven.  The flavors were simple and delicate and the dish went down easy.  Which was good, because there was so much more to come.

When the cheese plate arrived, I giggled out loud.  The plate was an absolute delight to look at.

Cheese, fruit, honey Oniga

It was happy and abundant – and interesting!  I was able to identify the very mild and very fresh pecorino, the excellent parmigano regiano, and the gorgonzola, but there was a cheese with blue spots, black splotches, and veins of mold.  That one was interesting.

Along with the cheese was a honey that had hints of mint, and an assortment of fruit and fruit salsas.  There were strawberries and pear slices, persimmon puree and something that seemed like a spiced applesauce.  And cranberries!  I jumped when I put them in my mouth.  Cranberries!  On Thanksgiving!  In Venice!  I wanted to find all the other Americans in the place and tell them that there were cranberries.  But I held back, content to mix and match the combinations of fruit and cheese and honey, noting the best pairings and devouring every morsel.

I had planned to stop in for gelato before meandering back to my hotel.  But, when I heard the English-speaking table next to me ordering dessert, all thoughts of gelato went out of the door.  There was chestnut cream with persimmon puree and there was a pumpkin cake, recommended by the grinning waitress.

So I ordered a caffe and pumpkin cake and I waited.  Cake isn’t really the word to describe the beautiful dolce that appeared before me.

Pumpkin Dolce Onigi

This was more of the wonderful pumpkin puree, seasoned, sweetened, mixed with pine nuts and currants, sandwiched between thin, flaky pastry, dusted with powdered sugar and drizzled with honey.  I was sad to miss out on my mom’s pumpkin pie, but I supposed I could make do with this – just for tonight.

Overfull, I polished off the bottle of water, tried not to lick my plate and headed out into the night for the second half of the day’s wanderings.  I left dinner proud of myself for venturing out, and immensely thankful for everything that has brought me to this point.  And thankful for the friendly faces that greeted this pilgrim in a foreign land.

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November 27, 2009   7 Comments