Do Forni Restaurant Venice, Italy
It goes by trattoria on the printed menu but Do Forni is really a first-class ristorante. Located near San Marco piazza, this elegant dining establishment has entertained notables from General Norman Schwarzkopf to Diana Spencer to the former president of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi. And while Do Forni bills itself somewhat gloriously as il ristorante di Venezia (“The” restaurant of Venice) it also tries hard to live up to its name.
One’s first impression of a thirty-six year-old family-run restaurant might be that its owners may have become tired of the business and can now afford to rest on their laurels while coasting to the finish line We wondered if “tried and true” recipes that had seen better days might be trotted out to us. Sometimes offering the “classics” can be a way for restauranteurs to hold back from exercising their more creative gifts. Not so at Do Forni. The father-son ownership team of Eligio and Diego Paties has worked hard to earn its place in Venice’s pantheon of fine restaurants.
Our waiter recommended a trio of hors d’oeuvres for our family of three. The first was scampi and scallops on a bed of rice, seasoned with an oil, lemon, salt and pepper dressing. The next was entitled “The Doge’s Hors D’Oeuvres,” consisting of spider crab, shrimp and mantis shrimp—an aristocratic triumph. To accompany these items, while considering that much of our dinner would consist of fish courses, we nevertheless opted for a light red wine. Our waiter suggested the 2006 Blauberger Pino Nero, a fine choice. As we enjoyed the presentation of the appetizer course and sampled our first bites, we learned that the white shrimp we tasted was found only in the northernmost waters of the Adriatic, due to its particular water temperature. Here was one of the evening’s unique specialties—a Venetian wonder. In addition, our waiter suggested a plate of thinly sliced San Daniele raw ham for our teenage son. We laughed as our server brought him what he termed“ American champagne,” a small bottle of Coke, to wash down the appetizer and following courses.
Next came the pasta course. We enjoyed immensely owner Eligio’s fresh tagliolini, made with scampi and asparagus tips. And as any healthy American teenager would hope to find in a fine Italian restaurant, ribbon noodles alla Bolognese suited our son’s appetite perfectly. For our main course we chose to share the mixed grill of fish while our carnivorous kid enjoyed a marvelous sirloin steak accompanied by roasted potatoes. Our mixed grill (minimum 2 persons) consisted of delicious portions of sea bass, grilled sole, monkfish and giant scampi, all cooked to perfection.
At this point during our five-star meal, our waiter came by our table to answer some of our questions. We wondered if Do Forni served many soups, to which the answer is, “of course.” It was then we heard about another specialty—squid cooked in its own ink, served with two polenta cakes. Now this I just had to try! While everyone else around me declined to share this surprise dish, I went ahead and devoured it with gusto. For me it was the hit of the evening. Though it may not appear on the menu, and should you visit Do Forni, make sure you ask for this unbelievably marvelous house specialty.
For dessert I requested the wild strawberries—oh so tiny but fresh and sweet. These were not the pumped-full-of chemicals variety that look better than they taste. These were hand-picked, organically grown strawberries of uncommon flavor. My wife was delighted by her tiramisu, creatively presented with an outline of a fork that had been dusted with cocoa powder. We also shared my son’s order of owner Diego’s crepes served with Grand Marnier flavoring and vanilla ice cream. And, as if we hadn’t been served enough food to stretch our waistbands, our hosts generously brought forth yet another presentation, this one a complimentary tray of fresh fruit consisting of pineapple, cherries, grapes, blood oranges and kiwi.
In all, it was a feast befitting a member of the Venetian aristocracy, a meal made all the more memorable by the comfortable ambience, exquisite service and extraordinary selection of superb culinary delights.
And, finally, this elegant establishment is also host to an international exhibition of graphic arts, reaching back over twenty-two years. Since 1986, The Do Forni has given recognition to graphic artists from Italy, Spain, France, the former Yugoslavia, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, the U.S., China, and several other countries by awarding the Premio do Forni, an international award of distinction. This year’s recipient is Sir Peter Blake from the UK, whose works adorn several walls throughout the restaurant. And, in a nearby hallway are found the first editions of prints from each of the winning artists from the previous years since this award began. Thus, in the City of the Arts one may dine in the grand tradition of the “Ristoranti dell’ arte,” the Do Forni, truly an Italian classic.