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Poderi Crisci (Waiheke Island)

205 Awaawaroa Rd, Awaawaroa Bay, Waiheke Island, ph: 09-372 2148

by Sarah Wall | Cuisine issue #156 | Friday, 8 February, 2013
If you’re fond of food, you’re no doubt also familiar with the pleasure of anticipation. Whether you devote time to online perusal of a restaurant’s menu in the days preceding the event, call to mind a dish you’re eager to be reacquainted with or pester friends for “must-order” votes, savouring the promise of good food to come is a big part of the joy of dining out.

Poderi Crisci provides you with plenty of tummy-rumbling time to anticipate your meal, such is its location on Waiheke. It’s a half-hour drive from the Matiatia ferry terminal, the last few kilometres down a rattly gravel road.

Having made the journey though, you’re rewarded with the impression of being pleasantly far, far away from the city and its concerns. Poderi occupies a small valley near Awaawaroa Bay, amid expanses of fields, vineyards and hills. There are no buildings or people to be seen, save for the winery restaurant and its guests. Wandering along from the carpark you’ll pass a tractor, rosemary hedge, generous kitchen garden and a rope swing strung from a tree, waiting hopefully for children.

Napoli-born Antonio Crisci has been instrumental in developing Auckland’s Italian food scene. He opened the city’s Toto (now under other management) and today owns Parnell’s Non Solo Pizza, in addition to Poderi – his paean to Italian-style winemaking and dining.

While this is not an eatery that you’d pop into on the off-chance that they might have a table, having dutifully booked and made the effort to get there, you can cheerfully put yourself in the good hands of Crisci’s staff.

Inside the restaurant there are simple wooden chairs and tables, dark red-stained floors, flourishes of wrought iron, expanses of linen and an impressive collection of copper pans and wooden boards – all adding to the Italian farmhouse feel. Outside, tables overlook the surrounding countryside.

It’s a long-lunching, while-away-the-afternoon kind of place. The four-course Sunday lunch, where the restaurant simply serves you the kitchen’s picks that day, helpfully removes any tiresome decision-making – on other days there’s an a la carte menu to choose from, as well as a cabinet laden with salami and traditional Italian antipasti.

Our Sunday lunch begins with a selection of salami, olives, breads, grissini, Poderi’s own olive oil, chunks of pecorino and a few crostini spread with a particularly fine truffle paste. The grissini are crunchy and pleasingly buttery; the three different salami are flavourful and moist; the chewy-yet-light breads perfect for mopping up the peppery olive oil. Unfortunately, our table of six received just two of the cherished crostini; only my greedy haste ensured that I was able to sample the wonderfully rich, earthy truffle paste.

A range of contorni appeared next, on this visit offering piles of braised broccoli with sweet sultanas and toasted pine nuts; silky-smooth and sweet panfried capsicums; and dark, succulent mushrooms.

Secondi platters of perfectly tender, light gnocchi nestled in an asparagus puree, topped with wafer-thin slivers of asparagus, zingy roast cherry tomatoes and flakes of toasted almond, with dabs of tomato sauce adding extra tang. Each bite encompassed all that you hope for from Italian food – generous, flavourful and comforting.

Poderi is, of course, a winery as well as a restaurant, and the fruit for all its wines are grown on-site. Offerings include pinot grigio, chardonnay, merlot and merlot blends, as well as a citrus liqueur and a digestif. There’s also Poderi Crisci Ombra – a pleasant sparkling rosé that our friendly waiter tells us is “a tradition with Sunday lunch”.

A main dish of chargrilled beef with leek and garlic truffle cream, roast vine tomatoes, spinach, red wine jus and a confit potato fan continued the theme of generosity and simple ingredients cooked well. The thin slices of beef were perfectly medium-rare and melt-in-the-mouth tender, offset by the light, creamy sauce and vibrant vegetables.

Dessert was the only slightly disappointing note in the line-up – passionfruit panna cottas with blood orange, strawberries and mango coulis were refreshing but a little too grainy – not quite as smooth and unctuous as an ideal rendition should be.

Poderi Crisci suggests you allow from 12.30pm-4.30pm for its Sunday lunch, in order to fully relax and enjoy il pranzo. You can opt to shorten that period if the demands of the outside world intervene, but if you can, opt to linger and savour the Italian countryside ambience – every bit as enjoyable as promised by that heady sense
of anticipation.

Poderi Crisci
205 Awaawaroa Rd,
Awaawaroa Bay, Waiheke Island,
ph: 09-372 2148,
Dec-Jan lunch & dinner 7 days;
Feb-Nov lunch Wed-Sun; dinner Wed-Sat, bookings essential
Pasta $21.50, mains $32.50-$33.50;
Sunday lunch $65


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