Dining: Menu for a Masquerade
Come winter, Venice’s raw winds and damp fog chase away the teeming tourists, transforming the city into a mysterious, labyrinthine wonderland. "I think it’s the best time of year," says Francesca Bortolotto Possati, chairman and president of the Deco-era Bauer hotel and its neighboring baby sister, Il Palazzo, the traditional-Venetian boutique hotel on the Grand Canal that she has spent $38 million creating. "It’s very dramatic—gray days and a foggy, almost deserted city, which can be a little somber but also very intimate and interesting. Some winter days, you feel like you could be in any century."
Certainly the highlight of the long Venetian winter is the colorful Carnivale season, which commences with the Epiphany on January 6 and culminates with a peak of festivities from February 21 through March 4. Traditionally, Carnivale is a period of lavish indulgence—in food, drink, celebration, and romance—precisely timed to precede Lenten deprivation.
"The mood of the city is quite special during Carnivale," explains Bortolotto Possati, a Venice native who grew up visiting her grandfather’s Bauer hotel, which she inherited in 1997. "There is mystery, joyfulness, secrecy—especially in the evening when people wear capes and masks."
Naturally, food is an important part of the festivities, especially deep-fried pas-tries, such as Fritella al Chiacchere. These delicacies cap off the Carnivale menu at Il Palazzo’s restaurant, De Pisis. Once her jewel box of a hotel was up and running, Bortolotto Possati, who also owns a dairy and a vineyard, turned her attention to refining De Pisis. Last May, she hired chef Giovanni Cisera, whose résumé includes stints at Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence, Ristorante Bologna at the Marina Mandarin hotel in Singapore, and La Côte d’Or I in Saulieu, France. Cisera lends a cosmopolitan fusion sensibility to the traditional regional specialties. For example, a dash of Asian seasoning marks the Carnivale menu, which includes sea bass and veal carpaccio with sea-urchin vinaigrette and sambuco flowers, white corn polenta in squid ink with stewed cuttlefish and fresh chili, and duck breast with sweet-and-sour spring onions served with celery root ravioli.
However, Bortolotto Possati is not a fan of menus at all. She favors a more personal approach to creating a truly memorable meal. "I like the chef to interact with the customers, to have a relationship with them," she explains. "He should almost custom make your dinner if you have time for that."
Providing such bespoke service is Bortolotto Possati’s mission at Il Palazzo. The statuesque blonde hotelier even maintains a bank of regular guests’ selected pillows and rearranges room furnishings so that visitors can wake up to a favorite view. "Venice is in everybody’s dreams," she says, "and everyone thinks of Venice in an individual way."
De Pisis in Il Palazzo/Bauer Venezia, 800.223.6800, +39.041.5207022,