Even though itís on a well-lit (for Santa Croce) street, Osteria La Zucca isnít the easiest restaurant to find (although it turns out that, coming in from the Grand Canal, the path is fairly direct; of course, we wonít learn this until after dinner). There are a few outdoor tables, but when we ask if we can have one, weíre told that theyíre reserved for regulars. Fair enough. Instead, weíre wedged into the restaurantís tight but homey interior, in a back room that might be reserved for non-native speakers (on one side is a cute young French couple, on the other a solo English woman who seems to be either reviewing the restaurant or working on a book). Just an armís length away, red wine and spirits bake on warm shelves that extend right up to the ceiling.
I start with an incredible vegetable torte lush with creamy fonduta, followed by a rustic but brilliant veal terrine. Theresaís first course, selected from a short and focused list of primi, is a plate of tagliatelle with pumpkin and spicy pecorino that somehow seems Sicilian, and is a little bit dull; my tagliatelle with gorgonzola and pistachio is much more exciting, and better as well.
My second course, however, is a disaster: leathery pork with limp cipollini onions, both grossly overcooked. Theresaís osso bucco is similarly overcooked (and you have to work to do that), with its marrow desiccated down to a gristly thread, and served over plain, undercooked rice. A side of leeks (at least, I think theyíre leeks; knowing Italyís agricultural bounty, they could well be something entirely different) and pumpkin in a cheese-based sauce seems more French than Italian, and isnít at all what Iím in the mood for (though this is my fault, not the restaurantís; it is tasty).
The service is good, but no more than that (itís a busy place, with limited staff), and our waiter handles the linguistic transitions between nearby tables with ease. The Venetians have such a facility for language, though I suppose said facility is necessary when your entire existence is based on tourism. And as for the wine list? Itís pretty lousy, and note above the comments on storage conditions (I donít get to see where they keep the whites). My bottle is deliberately selected because itís on one of the lowest shelves, and thus less likely to have been subjected to the worst abuses of heat.
Thankfully, the restaurant is moderately inexpensive and a good overall value (especially for Venice), and I think with more careful ordering Ė in other words, do not get anything with meat in it, except perhaps for that veal terrine Ė one can increase their chances of receiving a memorable meal. Iím relatively satisfied, though Theresa (with a lower success rate) is not, and in truth neither of us is particularly moved to return. (10/07)
Copyright © Thor Iverson