Claudio Furlanis has a way of upending classic Italian cooking. He also is a master at honoring it, keeping flavors clean and—importantly—familiar. It’s a dichotomy delicious to explore at Osteria ai Promessi Sposi, his back alley eatery seductively hidden from the tourists who swamp the canal-side lanes of Venice.

His pasta all’amatriciana, for example. The classic savory-spicy sauce is made from guanciale, tomatoes, chili flakes, and not a lot else. This being a seafood city, in Furlanis’ kitchen the cured pork is replaced by shrimp and scallops that he soaks in whiskey, sugar and salt, then smokes over smoldering oak chips.

The result, tossed with a tangle of barely tender pasta that finishes cooking in the sauce, is sweet, savory and every bit as meaty as—and yet, somehow lighter than—the traditional recipe. Familiar, delicious, different.

The feeling is similar with his bigoli with tomatoes and anchovies. A classic combination in which fresh tomatoes and anchovy fillets melt and meld in a skillet, forming a salty-savory-sweet sauce that comes together in minutes and clings to the noodles. Cucina povera happily meets Tuesday night cooking.

But Furlanis, who has run the restaurant since 2008 and been cooking professionally since he was 15, has easy upgrades even to this simple dish. First, the tomatoes—cherries, for their reliable sweetness. Rather than use them raw, he roasts them first, thickening and concentrating their sugary-­savory side. Only then do they go in the skillet.

His second tweak is a large onion. Sliced and oiled, it caramelizes slowly over low heat in that same skillet. Not browned, but definitely jammy. The perfect foil to the briny-rich anchovies and now super-sweetened tomatoes.

A little different. A lot familiar. Every bit delicious.