A star among the many restaurant options at The Venetian, Canaletto is actually a unique one-of-a-kind concept from the good folks at Il Fornaio, the famous restaurant chain that began as a bakery in 1981.
As with so many restaurants in Europe, the windows are filled with a fresh seafood display to entice you with your eyes first, and then your stomach. There's a large, "outdoor" dining area, which lies under the perennial dusk ceiling of St. Mark's. These tables could arguably be the most popular for their proximity to the street scene. Who doesn't like sipping a glass of Prosecco (Italian champagne) while listening to an aria being sung from the balcony above you, or having a harlequin on stilts amuse you with his tomfoolery?
Don't, however, discount the smaller, more intimate dining rooms inside and upstairs. The second level rooms are generally reserved for banquets and larger groups. If you're inquisitive, you might want to pop upstairs to check out the views from above.
Because of the romantic nature of the Venetian and the Grand Canals, it's quite common to see a just-married bride and groom strolling around, either as an in-love pair of swooning doves or with their entourage in tow. Manager Matthew Galli said that it's a near-daily occurrence for Canaletto to host a wedding party--and he takes it as a compliment that the newlyweds would choose his restaurant as the place to share their first meal together.
The menu at Canaletto, currently under the direction of Chef Bruno Amato, has been designed to appeal to all tastes and budgets. It's entirely possible to stop in to share a pizza and a glass of wine, or to indulge yourself in three or four courses and make a night of it.
The menu remains the same throughout the day, with lunch and dinner specials, of course. An easy way to start your meal would be with the crostini, made with polenta that has been topped with provolone cheese and six different toppings, including porcini mushrooms with white truffle oil, spicy sausage and smoked salmon. Or you could also opt for a delicious seafood gratinée of scallops and shrimp baked with artichokes, potatoes and white wine.
For something lighter, try the pear salad with mixed greens, grilled pears, grapes, gorgonzola and toasted pecans. It's large enough to even be a very light luncheon option.
Pizzas are terrific at Canaletto: thin-crusted, naturally, with simple, fresh toppings. If you can take a few more calories, order the always-rich, always-flavorful risotto. Canaletto offers five choices, from shrimp and crab to asparagus with chicken.
For a decadent pasta choice, look no further than the spaghettini with butterflied Maine lobster. The half-crustacean arrives topped with a tomato, garlic and brandy sauce. (Be sure to check as the other diners look on you with envy).
Entrées include a roast chicken as good as any Nana could conjure up; veal scallopine, finished with Prosecco; bone-in prime rib-eye and more than a half-dozen seafood choices. A lazy afternoon could easily be spent noshing on the seafood platter for two, with oysters, shrimp, crab and lobster.
What? You're not full yet? Then go for the zabaglione with fresh berries, or maybe just some Italian ice cream.
-- Review by Thom Wise