| 02 Mar 2015 | 04:26

    hot on the trail of their immensely popular yearling, dell'anima, joe campanale, gabriel thompson and bobby werhane opened l'artusi a few months ago, and their newcomer really hit the ground running. campanale, who was sommelier at the venerated babbo, and thompson, who worked in such exalted kitchens as those at le bernardin and del posto, have the chops, imagination and follow-through necessary to create and maintain a highly successful restaurant. and l'artusi proves that yet again.

    l'artusi is much larger than its sister restaurant predecessor several blocks to the north. and its mind-of-its-menu, not unlike dell'anima, is considerably less expensive, and proudly market-driven.

    past the 30-seat bar area, the swanky and sprawling dining room flaunts a totally exposed, gleaming and very busy kitchen. i can't remember seeing such a busy kitchen staff that was so conspicuously gleeful. the walls of the dining room are deep dark blue, lighting is warm and soft, and the banquettes have attractive striped upholstery. upstairs is a private dining room surrounded by a fancy glassed-in wine cellar. service throughout is pointed and unusually focused. our lovely server, dana, made some very helpful suggestions, as certain aspects of the menu are rather vague. she also told us that the kitchen staff was mostly from dell'anima.

    we happily put ourselves in the hands of assistant beverage director aaron sherman, who, it quickly became apparent, could pair wines with the very best of them. chilled barron point oysters never had a better companion than sparkling cave du vin blanc de morgex et de la salle (2006, valle d'aosta), from the highest winery in europe-nearly 4,000 feet in altitude. the wine is especially bubbly, with a very dry and delightful finish. as for the coppery, sweet oysters, they're scattered with canteloupe cubes and sided by meyer lemon mignonette.

    the oysters lead the "cru" (raw) column of the five-column menu. vitello tonnato is a preparation i usually shun because i am no fan of canned tuna. but cru is cru, and so, spread over a large square plate are razor-thin slices of raw veal dotted with 1/4-inch squares of tomato and crunchy sea salt, and finished with luscious and lemony raw tuna cubes and a pair of quail egg yolks.

    our next wine was mastrojanni "san pio (1998, toscana), a cabernet blended with sangiovese grapes to yield strong mushroom notes. the wine was almost salty, with a lot of heft.

    tagliatelle with braised rabbit, diced tomatoes and thyme was pleasantly warm and musty, suffused with rustic rabbity warmth.

    spaghetti and meatballs were served sizzling hot. the ruddy gravy was wound through with diced pancetta, and the ping-pong-ball-sized meatballs were delightfully spongy and perfectly cooked. i found the sauce to be a bit salty; to be sure, this kitchen is not shy with the salt shakers.

    my quail was certainly large enough, butterflied and grilled to medium-rare and served with stewed red onions, braised cipollini and a hunk of preserved lemon. the dish was like a burst of autumn in darkest january.

    lobster meat is arranged along a monkfish fillet, which is then rolled up and sliced into four thick coins. this rich and luxurious preparation is finished with a heap of a recherché and bitter green called castelfranco after the region of veneto where it is grown.

    the pastry chef, katherine thompson, is married to executive chef thompson, and they certainly make a fine gustatory pairing. her bittersweet chocolate budino is a dense and rich affair. a cup of thick chocolate pudding is topped with a spiraling of chocolate-honey crisp, and a vanilla cream egg on the side.

    dana told us that a lot of people crinkle their noses when they see "olive oil cake" on the dessert menu, but it's extraordinarily moist thanks to that olive oil, sweetened with vin santo and sided by honey-soaked golden raisins and topped with a tuft of crème fraîche mousse.

    these paired perfectly with the barberani, moscato passito (2004, umbria) that aaron selected, a bright yellow, fruity, intense dessert wine that had a certain stylishness and a long linger on the palate.

    we finished with a spanish cheese called nevat, a lightly dusty sheep cheese that appears and then vanishes on the palate like a great riesling. firm noble goat cheese from austria is more assertive, with those unmistakable tangy goat milk flavors but a nice, mild aroma.

    set smack-dab in the middle of a neighborhood well stocked with wonderful restaurants, l'artusi is sure to remain and prosper. -- l'artusi 228 w. 10th st. between hudson and bleecker streets 212-255-5757 entrées: $10 to $24