I've not always found TA to be 100% reliable in its judgements but, credit where it is due, the main reason why we ate in this wonderful neighbourhood restaurant was because of its high TA ranking and the more intelligent reviews that hinted at its quality.
Even before arriving, I was impressed by the message they sent via our hotel that fish would be off the menu on a Monday night. Though disappointed, having read so many enthusiastic endorsements of soft-shell crab, the fact remains that seafood served in Venice on a non-market day will not be fresh - unless fresh from the freezer.
We had not reserved an outside table so on arrival there was a brief discussion of where we would like to sit. The first table offered us, which was squeezed between two set out for larger groups, did not appeal and the one in the back room near the toilets should definitely be avoided. We were more than happy though with side-by-side stools at the open window where we had all the benefits of eating outside without, as we afterwards observed, being irritated by smokers, itinerant musicians of dubious talent and patrons of the business next door gnawing huge chunks of pizza.
The star of this restaurant is certainly the waiter (there appeared to be only one although another older man cleared tables and occasionally brought dishes to the table) who appeared able to turn away the many who had not booked, discuss the menu with those who had, take orders and bring food to all tables inside and out simultaneously. At 9.00 pm, when tables were notionally turned (although there was absolutely no pressure to leave ours) his efforts were redoubled.
While we studied the menus (written daily to reflect what is available in the morning market) we were presented with small glasses of prosecco which with the excellent bread basket went some way towards offsetting the 3 euros 'coperto' per head. Even though there was to be no fish, there was much on the menu that really appealed. We began with a shared burrata accompanied by beef-, cherry- and sun-dried tomatoes, olives and salad then moved on to spinach-filled ravioli drenched in butter, 4 large ones each and as good as I've eaten anywhere. We finished with two excellent meat dishes - my tagliata di manzo con rucola is a dish we eat often at home and this was a superb version, slices of rare beef with a charred edge and shavings of parmesan scattered across the whole dish. If anything, my wife's veal escalope was even better: wrapped in delicate slices of prosciutto this was melt-in-the-mouth meat, accompanied by a Sicilian-style timbale of vegetables and sultanas.
Sadly we had little room for dessert but managed a delicious pear sorbet between us. With 4 glasses of excellent wine at a price you can only dream of in the UK and complementary espressos (because of a delay in bringing us the bill) we had a fabulous meal for less than £100. Ai Artisti has hit on an easily replicated formula: buy fresh, quality products, prepare them as simply as possible and make your customers feel welcome. It sounds easy but why do so many places fail to get it right? This is far from being even the best restaurant in Venice but it's the kind of place where we would eat regularly if we were residents and it will be on our 'must do' list the next time we visit.
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