If beautiful Murano glass is a strong draw to the Venetian Lagoon island, camera-snapping groups clogging the canals, and the cookie-cutter restaurants hoping to sell them a pizza along the way, can have the opposite effect. But thanks to a culinary newcomer, there’s a reason to return. Opened last April by Giovanna Arcangeli — a Murano native who planned events at the legendary Harry’s Bar for a decade and knows a thing or two about preserving a cultured calm in the midst of a touristy enclave — Acquastanca is a refuge from all that. “We wanted to create a place where guests would be able to relax and enjoy good food in a warm, quiet atmosphere with locals,” Ms. Arcangeli said.
During a recent lunchtime visit, local businessmen taking a stand-up break at the bar were sipping Soave from the Veneto and snacking on cichetti, Venetian snacks like crispy prawns and octopus salad; a group of Venetians and a fashionable Italian mother and her teenage daughter occupied the few wood tables by the canal. Housed in a former bakery, the restaurant is stylish but not overdone: with wood beam ceilings, brick walls and resin floors, the setting is intimate but modern.
Caterina Nason, the chef and Ms. Arcangeli’s sister-in-law, focuses on simple preparations of seafood, appropriate for a lagoon restaurant. Highlights include a buttery and perfectly briny spaghetti alle vongole; crispy orata (sea bream), baked in the oven with potatoes; baccalà with polenta; and tagliolini with squid.
One of Ms. Nason’s strengths is her house-made desserts, so save room for daily selections like lemon meringue cake, tiramisù and coffee coviglia (a coffee semifreddo). And there’s a wine list with a nice selection culled mainly from the nearby regions of Veneto, Friuli and Trentino Alto Adige.
Acquastanca serves as a sort of hideaway for groups like that table of Venetians — not too fancy but with good, local food, where you can stop in from breakfast to dinner for an espresso or a full meal. It has been a successful undertaking mostly because it’s a homegrown but sophisticated vision in a city that often feels overpackaged. And if you want to really fit in, ask for an ombra — a little sip of white wine that comes from the old Venetian custom of selling white wine from vendors with little carts in the ombra, or shade, to keep it cool.