People throw around big words all the time, so much so that they begin to lose their meaning. Foodie, farm to table, organic, handmade, and artisan (to name a few). It’s not that we hate these words or what they stand for, but take artisan for example…brands like Lays hijacked the word and weakened the cache it carries with machine-created artisi-ficial products. With that being said, there’s a restaurant set away in the Delamar Hotel called Artisan that actually lives up to its name.
In style, it’s sleek, modern, and comfortable, while the food is American at heart, though it is inspired and influenced by a classically trained French chef, Frederic Kieffer. Along with working at various restaurants in Paris, he has also worked at Windows on the World, C’est si Bon, Gaia, and l’escale, Artisan’s sister restaurant. And, you can add another feather to his cap: gardener. That’s because he manages, grows, and helps to pick herbs in the Artisan patio garden. Rosemary, Genovese Basil, Sweet Thai Basil, chives, lemongrass, parsley, Italian Parsley, and other herbs are all at Chef Kieffer‘s disposal throughout the summer and fall. And, because there isn’t an infinite amount of space at Artisan and the Delmar, they get a big portion of local produce from Gilberties Farm in Westport, even planting some of their own veggies and herbs there. Now that is artisan: cultivating and creating beautifully finished products by hand.
Now, let’s move onto the drinks and food. We were invited to come in and have dinner and see what we thought of Artisan. To be honest, when we first went in April 2011, we had a so so experience, so this opportunity was great for us to see if and how things had changed.
Starting off, let’s talk about the drinks. There is a great variety of wine by the bottle and even a few choices of wine by the glass if you want to take things a bit easy. Also, they have three brews on tap with a decent selection available by the bottle. Oh, and yes…they have cocktails—six to be exact. First up for drinking was the Passionfruit Margarita, made with Sauza tequila, fresh lime juice, and Passionfruit purée. This was an all-spring-and-summer-long kind of drink that oozes with that refreshing taste of Passionfruit. Also, it was balanced well and wasn’t overly sweet which is what we usually see with fruit based margaritas. Later in the meal we also enjoyed the Red Eye Revival, a cocktail with Whistle Pig Bourbon (VT), Brandy, blood orange, and lemon. Again, this was put nicely together and is a great entry-drink into the world of bourbon cocktails.
There were plenty of plates to pick from, so we decided to just go for it and order whatever made us hungry. Here we go…
When they say roasted, they actually mean it. The roasted flavor comes through very well, which we loved. In terms of balance, this was a great and satisfying soup. Not too creamy, not too saucy and not too tangy, but also not too sweet. Tying it all together were mini grilled Bacon-Brie Crostini sandwiches that were buttery, crispy, and went so nicely dipped in the soup.
Since our server had said so many nice things about this dish, we were sure to try it. The whole experience started with mushrooms, fennel crackers, potatoes, and seafood in a bowl. Our waiter then poured the creamy base over and, voila, there was the chowder. The base was creamy and savory, the seafood was delicate, and the fennel crackers added a crunchiness and power punches of flavor. This is an excellent example of what seafood chowder should be.
The tuna was delicate and quite fresh. It was served with pistachios for a nice crunch, mint for a little bite of flavor, and baby cukes for an added layer of extra crispy contrast. All of this was set on a carrot ginger sauce that had a satisfying kick to it. The flavors were all there and we really enjoyed this, though Kristien did feel that the sauce was kind of grainy in texture.
Look, contrary to TGI Fridays and popular belief, the only way to prepare calamari isn’t by frying it. These guys (tubes and tentacles) were grilled up and had a nice char on the outside, imparting a warm smokiness to the dish. While some were a bit chewy, most were prepared just how we like ’em. The char offered a nice contrast with the semi-sweet, lil-bit tangy golden tomato chutney and the exotic taste of the coriander-mint chimichurri.
When we see something different on the menu, we tend to want to try it…basically seeing it as a dare. Well, it’s safe to say to say that you don’t find rabbit ragu on most menus. And, despite being afraid of over cooked and dried out Thumper (ah man, did we just go there?), we pushed ahead. When the dish arrived, we could tell, though, that this was going to be a top notch dish.
Starting off, the rabbit was delicate and pulled apart easily like a beautifully cooked short rib. The pasta, pappardelle, was cooked al dente and was cut in large, thick ribbons. This was a great choice because you were able to sop up the sauce and really pile the rabbit on. The sauce itself was rich and spicy and the Formaggio di Fossa cheese just took it to a whole new level. Strange to say, but is one of Dan’s favorite pasta dishes of all time.
Our waiter was so excited for us to try this dish out, that we felt the need to order it. At face value, this dish seems very odd, like there’s no way the flavor combos could work. First there is fluke, but then there is also cauliflower, creamed spinach, goat cheese, and a Concord grape reduction. The only odd thing was, it actually really worked. There was a great balance with the sweetness of the grapes, the delicate nature of the fluke, the sharp creaminess of the goat cheese, and the bitterness of the spinach. Totally unique and well worth it.
And then there was dessert…
Dan didn’t really have any room left in his belly, but decided to order this anyway because (theoretically) ice cream is mostly liquid anyway. Riiiight. The base of the sundae featured chocolate, strawberry, and blueberry ice cream. Then, piled on top was chocolate fudge, fresh whipped cream, toasted almonds, and waffle cookies. Starting off, the toppings added a nice crunch and saltiness to the sundae. The chocolate was rich, the strawberry was bursting with flavor, but the blueberry flavor was a bit too subdued. Overall, a great way to end the meal.
Dulce de Leche Churros: rather than have a Dulce de Leche dipping sauce, they stuff it inside of the churro here. But, there is still a dipping sauce: spiked hot chocolate. The churros were ok, but weren’t extra crispy on the outside like we enjoy them and our chocolate was only lukewarm.
Although we had a mixed experience the first time we went to Artisan, our second experience proved to be positive. There wasn’t a dish that we disliked, though we felt that with a few changes some dishes could improve. Prices are high, but comparable to other farm to table restaurants, but this is expected because of the quality ingredients from local sources being used. Although we heard from several others that service can be flighty at times, we didn’t experience that; instead we had a knowledgable server who took care of us for the entire meal. In fact, it was kind of cute to hear him explain things like what a churro was…not knowing who we were, but just wanting us to be happy.
So, what it comes down to is this. Artisan is a great choice if you’re looking for modern takes on American dishes. And, while prices can be high, you can get an amazing outdoor patio experience to wind away those beautiful spring and summer days…and nights.
Address: 275 Old Post Road
Southport, CT 06890
Phone: (203) 307-4222