In Venice, Ai Mercanti is a small hidden gem near Piazza San Marco that mixes the atmosphere of a French bistro with the food tradition of Venice, a pioneer of “peasant” cuisine, but of great care and creative research.
Opened in 1980 near the Rialto market, to which it owes its name, by chef Nadia Locatello, together with her husband Diego, in 1996 Ai Mercanti moves to the small calle dei Fuseri near San Marco, elevating its offer to haute cuisine.
The year 2013 marks a new turning point thanks to the international vision brought by their son Simone with his wife Ania. Inspired by the concept of the French “bistronomy” – from bistro and gastronomy – they turned the place into a gastro-osteria, very unique in Venetian panorama both for the quality offer and the intelligent pricing of the menu.
Ai Mercanti is inspired by my love for France and ‘bistronome’, a place where you can eat a few, selected gourmet dishes and drink even better!
The romantic atmosphere of the restaurant is underlined by soft lighting and exquisitely jazzy details, Simone’s great passion, such as the striking Catellani & Smith wall lamps covered in gold leaf, sleek black candlesticks, and the Bang and Olufsen stereo that plays pieces by cool contemporary performers such as Josè James and Cécile McLorin Salvant.
The menu, which changes every three months, offers recipes based on a careful selection of the raw material based on peasant ingredients of the Venetian tradition with an essential mise en place that contrasts with the refined construction of the dishes.
Among the signature dishes, the crunchy egg with potato mousse and Cantabrian anchovies; spaghetti with garlic, oil and chilli pepper on parmesan fondue; and second courses based on fish from the Venetian lagoon, like sea bream and cucumber with gin or mullet with artichokes and coffee caramel. Bread, breadsticks, pasta, and desserts are all homemade with a special mention for the chocolate variation, an apotheosis of different varieties and textures.
The passion for things done well, without compromise, also extends to the wine list which offers mainly artisanal labels from all over Italy and, of course, France that Simone, sommelier (like his mother and his wife), loves to recommend to his guests.
In summer you can dine in the small and very quiet Corte Coppo in front of the restaurant.
Calle Fuseri, where Ai Mercanti is located, is one of the oldest streets in Venice, once home to manufacturers of spindles, from which it takes its name, and other tools for fabric processing. In the small Corte Coppo there is, in fact, a 14th-century well in Verona marble, one of the first built in the lagoon city starting from 1322 of which today about 600 remain.