Off the beaten track, via a windy drive through the hills and down a narrow dirt road, you'll find the Italian oasis that is Poderi Crisci. The restaurant/vinyard is owned by Antonio Crisci, the founding father of metre-long pizza makers Toto's and the Parnell institution Non Solo Pizza, a regular contender for the best Italian in the city.
The Southern Waiheke-based family establishment has the finest culinary footprint of the bunch, in both the plated offerings and the location; a combo that also regularly sees them given nods in 'best restaurant' lists. As well as serving rustic Italian food, the setting gives way to immediate comparisons of, what one would visualise as, the Tuscan countryside. The old world style building is surrounded by well maintained gardens and grape vines. Inside you'll find minimal, comforting interior design and actual Italian staff.
Given its reputation, you'll be hard pressed to get a table without phoning up beforehand; and the staff aren't shy in expressing their frustration when encountering a dreaded walk-in. If you're planning on casually strolling up on a Sunday, you can fuhgeddaboudit. The restaurant runs an extremely popular weekly long lunch at $75 per head. Spread across four-and-a-half-hours, the event serves courses 'family style' - large plates shared amongst the table.
On every other day, the open kitchen serves an a la carte menu, that on paper will induce uncontrollable mouth juices. In real life, those juices will increase ten-fold. Thanks to the surrounding garden, the menu is ever-changing to make the most of seasonal ingredients. In this instance it was two mains: lamb rump and bluefin tuna, and two home-made pastas, both led by eggplant; the entrees will give you more selection - antipasti with cured meats and cheeses, beef carpaccio and king salmon. Though, if you're really struggling to decide, you could embark on one of the restaurant's infamous degustations or leave your meal in the hands of the chef and run with the Fiducia Dello chef menu.
To begin, I outright suggest the duck prosciutto on chunky ciabatta with parmesan, truffle, Poderi olive oil and rocket from the garden. Though the ratio of meat:bread could do with some fine tuning. The gnocchi is fantastic. It had a light, fluffy texture and was brought to life with minimal-yet-fresh ingredients including: buffalo mozzarella, eggplant, tomatoes and basil.
Being on Waiheke and the owners of ample space, it's only natural that Poderi dabble in wine making as well. The Pinot Gringo (a lighter Pinot Gris) is a favourite, while their own limoncello packs a weighty punch and should come with a disclaimer before ordering.
If you're coming from out of town, bare in mind that it's a good half-hour drive from the Matiatia ferry terminal, and the Waiheke buses don't come in very close proximity. A reasonably expensive taxi may have to suffice but will be worth every cent.