Cicheti and ombre sound like names of dances, possibly performed during Carnevale. However, cicheti (pronounced chee - ke - tee) are small bites or plates of food (Italian version of tapas) and ombre (literally translated means shadows/shades) are glasses of wine to wash down the cicheti.
These small plates are hugely popular with Venetians, who pack their local bacaro (wine bar) before and after meal times. Venice is said to be the most expensive dining city in all of Italy. Instead, you can get a variety of cicheti and one or two ombre for quite a bargain; many times far less than 20 euros per person.
The little bites can be as simple as a marinated artichoke or a more complex plate of mixed seafood. There are also crostini and an array of fried goods that encompass the word cicheti. The prices range from 1 euro to 12 euros.
The types of cicheti are possibly infinite, but a seafood version is one that I prefer. I've been scouring the city looking for the best Sardine in Saor. Sardines are fried and then marinated in a agrodolce (sweet and sour) sauce of sauteed onions, vinegar, pine nuts and golden raisins. Baccala Mantecato is another of my favorites. Baccala (dried cod) is boiled, flaked and then whipped in a food processor or by hand as olive oil is drizzled in (the same as you would when making mayonnaise) until it creates a rich fish mousse. Some places also add Italian parsley, garlic, and a bit of milk. It's either served on crostini or with polenta.
My top 5 spots for cicheti and ombra in Venice:
La Cantina - Campo San Felice, Sestiere Cannereggio 3689
Run by two owners Francesco and Andrea along with Giacomo, in charge of service. Giacomo's knowledge of the Veneto wines could match any sommelier. Francesco is in the kitchen, working behind a glass counter where you can watch him prepare every tasty dish. Andrea is in charge of La Cantina's own brewed beer, Morgana, also tasty. We started with crostini, had tuna tartar and marinated sea bass and ended with a moist and tender pork tenderloin that was surrounded by a salty and crunchy crust.
Antica Ostario Ruga Rialto - Ruga Rialto, Sestiere San Polo 692
Here the Sardine in Saor were my favorite in all of Venice. They perfect the agrodolce (sweet and sour) sauce and add the traditional sultana raisins and pinenuts to the dish. The Baccala Mantecato is creamy goodness and the Cicheti Misti plate always delights the palate with a mixture of sauces from salty to spicy to accompany the various fish preparations.
Cantinone gia' Schiavi - Ponte San Trovarso, Sestiere Dorsoduro 992
It has an excellent variety of wines. Many of which you can buy by the glass. The large selection of cicheti, include many for only 1 euro, are mainly crostini and fritti (fried ) vegetables or fish. Bottles of the wines you like are available for purchase, too, some for under 10 euros.
Ca' d'Oro - alla Vedova -Ramo Ca' d'Oro, Sestiere Cannaregio 3912
I don't think there is a bad cicheti among the abundance offered here. The polpettine (little meatballs), sepe roste (roasted seppie without its black ink) and folpeti consi (baby octopus boiled with vegetables then seasoned with a vinaigrette) are house specialties.
The seafood antipasto and sarde in saor are my picks for this trattoria and bacaro all in one, situated in the quieter and less touristy sestiere of Venice.