Phone: (09) 522 9196
The Professor says I shouldn't mention in a review of a new restaurant a bad one that once occupied its premises. It taints by association, she says, and she must be right because, as regular readers of this column know, the Professor is always right.
So I will neither name nor revisit the enterprise that preceded this one, even though a reader memorably emailed to say that my review of it "suggests most [forcefully] that you are a loathsome, vindictive bastard".
He may have had a point about the vindictiveness, since any reviewer who is honest will tell you there is some pleasure to be had in getting even with a place that has taken first-rate money for a third-rate meal.
But if I do have a vindictive streak, it slept soundly through my meal at Artusi, a new Italian tucked in behind the shops opposite the top of Victoria Ave.
This place adds to the not-to-be-missed Italian eating in Remmers, which previously consisted only of Spacca.
The man at the helm is Buki Prekazi, whose hospitality duties in the area are so extensive (he owns Remuera Local on the main street and its kid sister bar Laneway out the back) that you might expect him to look a bit harassed. But as he moved among the tables on a recent evening, he exuded the calmness and charm of a seasoned pro.
It was a Tuesday in the establishment's fourth week and the place was busy, so clearly word has already got around, as it should: it's a terrific little local, not cheap, but not dear either (the priciest main is $28), in which the kitchen turns out Italian classics that Prekazi, not inaccurately, calls comfort food.
The restaurant is named for 19th-century Italian writer Pellegrino Artusi, famous for a book whose title, in part, is "the art of eating well" (who could not warm to such a man?) and eating well is easy to do at Artusi.
Sardines, marinated in-house, achieved the perfect balance of sweet and sour, not destroying the fish's oiliness and, like the bruschetta caprese (mozzarella, tomato, basil, garlic), used sensational wholemeal sourdough from 4&20 bakery across the street.
The kitchen's take on vitello tonnato goes beyond the literal meaning of the name, alternating slices of veal and seared tuna and drizzling them both with a silky tuna mayo, studded with crunchy roast capers. It's a dish worth crossing town for: order two and call it dinner.
I love the ravioli, stuffed with smoked eggplant, tomato and mascarpone. Sauced with a braised hare ragu, it was a real winter winner, even though winter hadn't arrived.
Thick, meaty chunks of hapuku came on a squid ink risotto in a dish calculated to evoke sweet memories of Venice.
It's tempting to speculate that chef Kevin Dong, a Korean by birth, has some Italian in his bloodline, so assured is his touch (I've had no better panna cotta, here or in Italy).
Try him and see if you don't agree.
Antipasti $15-$18.50; pasta $24-$27; mains $26.50-$28; side $7.90; desserts $12
VERDICT: Neighbourhood kitchen does fine Italian comfort food.