HOUS August 2012 : Page 112

112 | food drink | review SHOW TIME Clockwise from left: Artisans’ dining room; the Holland Blazer with gin, lemon and cayenne; and salmon with orange-braised endive and risotto Blueberry clafouti with lemon-thyme sorbet Artisans 3201 Louisiana St. 713.529.9111 Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11 am -2 pm , Mon.-Thu. 6-10 pm , Fri.-Sat. 6-11 pm ; Sun. brunch 11 am -2 pm Prices: Appetizers $8-$22, entrees $32-$39, five-course dinner tasting $65, three-course business lunch $25, desserts $9-$15 Why Go Enjoy refined, low-nonsense French country cooking, prepared in the contemporary restaurant’s vast and impressive open kitchen—the ultimate dinner theater. Parking Complimentary valet in the evening, and around the corner in the garage both afternoon and evening. As You Are, Mon Amour Attire is trendy but casual, with virtually none of the pretension long associated with French cuisine in America. C’est Le Vin Extraordinary wines from France are featured at tempting prices, from Champagne and Burgundy to Bordeaux and Cotes-du-Rhone. Sommelier Kenneth Lounge’s list also travels almost anywhere worth going for wine, also referencing California, Argentina, Italy and Australia. Vive le Cabaret! Chefs take center stage in the sexy show kitchen, but at Artisans the fine French food is the real star. | By John DeMers | Photography by Debora Smail | Like the prow of a colorful cruise ship, the unique open kitchen of Artisans presses outward into the public space, diners rolling back and away in a delighted roar. The 28 lucky enough to be perched at the marble-topped food bar have excellent views of the show. Then again, so does everybody in the place. And then again, so does anyone driving past outside the windows. “It’s like watching a ballet!” exudes the woman who grabbed the seat next to mine, in between bites of her silky Tasmanian salmon and talk of going to see Il Divo in Austin. Looking at the servers picking up finished dishes from the stainless steel beneath black heat lamps, at the sommelier racing from this corner to that with bottles, glasses and decanters, and at the chefs sautéing and saucing, pouring and plating, grilling and garnishing, I understand that the woman is right . There have been “show kitchens” in Houston before, and of course many very showy chefs. And certainly “open kitchens” are all the rage. But the warmly modern-looking new friendly French restaurant created in Midtown by David and Sylvain Denis (increasingly billed as The Denis Brothers, of Le Mistral fame) with their chef-friend Jacques Fox is the first place I know to position the real work of a real kitchen at the focal point of every diner’s sight lines. “Ask my real estate broker,” laughs the French-accented Fox, from Paris but a Texan for 22 years, during the briefest visit along a busy night’s front line. “He will tell you: ‘This is my first client that told the architect what to build, not the other way around.’” For more than a dozen years, the story goes— while les freres Denis were building Le Mistral from a single strip-center space in what I remember as woods along Eldridge Parkway into a complex of lauded restaurant, catering hub, bakery and gourmet shop, and while Fox was both cooking and teaching at prestigious culinary institutions—these three friends were talking about opening a restaurant together. And not just the notion but the menu, with soups, stews continued… | August 2012

Food Drink Review

John DeMers

Vive le Cabaret!<br /> <br /> Chefs take center stage in the sexy show kitchen, but at Artisans the fine French food is the real star.<br /> <br /> Like the prow of a colorful cruise ship, the unique open kitchen of Artisans presses outward into the public space, diners rolling back and away in a delighted roar. The 28 lucky enough to be perched at the marbletopped food bar have excellent views of the show. Then again, so does everybody in the place. And then again, so does anyone driving past outside the windows.<br /> <br /> “It’s like watching a ballet!” exudes the woman who grabbed the seat next to mine, in between bites of her silky Tasmanian salmon and talk of going to see Il Divo in Austin. Looking at the servers picking up finished dishes from the stainless steel beneath black heat lamps, at the sommelier racing from this corner to that with bottles, glasses and decanters, and at the chefs sautéing and saucing, pouring and plating, grilling and garnishing, I understand that the woman is right.<br /> <br /> There have been “show kitchens” in Houston before, and of course many very showy chefs. And certainly “open kitchens” are all the rage. But the warmly modern-looking new friendly French restaurant created in Midtown by David and Sylvain Denis (increasingly billed as The Denis Brothers, of Le Mistral fame) with their chef-friend Jacques Fox is the first place I know to position the real work of a real kitchen at the focal point of every diner’s sight lines.<br /> <br /> “Ask my real estate broker,” laughs the Frenchaccented Fox, from Paris but a Texan for 22 years, during the briefest visit along a busy night’s front line.“He will tell you: ‘This is my first client that told the architect what to build, not the other way around.’” <br /> <br /> For more than a dozen years, the story goes— while les freres Denis were building Le Mistral from a single strip-center space in what I remember as woods along Eldridge Parkway into a complex of lauded restaurant, catering hub, bakery and gourmet shop, and while Fox was both cooking and teaching at prestigious culinary institutions—these three friends were talking about opening a restaurant together. And not just the notion but the menu, with soups, stews And other rustic dishes of the French countryside. And not just the menu but the design.Every aspect of the design. They had the whole thing drawn up, and only then went looking for a location that could handle what they’d drawn.<br /> <br /> The right building in Midtown appeared at last—part parking garage, part fitness center and part restaurant collection, including Sushi Raku and Piola.In time, the kitchen took up most of the square footage, not in the back or along the side or, as is common, behind glass to protect the customers from heat and, presumably, swearing.<br /> <br /> Also not at all standard is the virtual indoor gazebo set near the cocktail bar, an unexpected cube of glass. Its exterior clear panels are etched with Joan of Arc’s fleurs-de-lis, and it’s bisected by two back-to-back sofas, one facing the bar and the other gazing outward.On this night, several romantic couples seem inclined to explore the sofas’ full range of possibilities.<br /> <br /> Beside the style of kissing—wink—there are also French culinary terms in abundance, from armoricaine, basquaise and béarnaise among the savories, to clafouti,Dacquoise and feuilletine among the sweets. But, despite the highfalutin air of lexicon, dish after dish tastes more like accessible home cooking than you’d expect, wherever your home happens to be.<br /> <br /> Artisans does offer a “Chef’s Gastronomic Five Course,” but we opt to tour the menu on our own.We pick three appetizers, including two showcasing foie gras. In one, the foie is pan-seared and set atop an exotic saffron-poached pear, appearing on its own with a bit of crème de cassis demi-glace and a sort of baklavameets- Fig-Newton. When it joins spiced duck breast in the other starter, it also takes on quail leg confit and a lovely fig reduction. In the tradition of oh-so-classic coquilles St. Jacques—a tongue-in-cheek reference to chef Jacques, surely—there’s a super rendition of panseared scallops and spinach ravioli with beurre blanc and a tiny cup of lobster “cappuccino.” <br /> <br /> With entrees, as with appetizers, it takes three to seal the deal. And although I’m not a salmon fan, the Tasmanian version at Artisans is among the best I’ve ever tasted—lightly crisp-caramelized skin, immeasurably tender and buttery-moist beneath that.There’s a green pistou sauce spread along the edge of the plate, plus some bizarre yet wonderful orangebraised Belgian endives, and also creamy risotto and asparagus spears. Le poisson du Golfe, lovely too, is seared red snapper in another version of the lobster bisque used in that cappuccino, plus delicately flavored saffron potatoes.<br /> <br /> Meats at Artisans take a turn for the rustic. The two best are the seared lamb loin (unbelievably tender in its preferred medium-rare state) along with mashed fingerling potatoes and a savory-crusty corn cake, and of course the latest edition of steak au poivre. Artisans’ take is extraordinary, the pepper-crusted filet bursting with juice and flavor, tangy in its blanket of green peppercorn sauce, and sided with roasted fingerlings and perfectly cooked haricot verts. What is French for “Eat your vegetables?” Then again, with vegetables like this, there’s no need for instructions.<br /> <br /> Dessert is where a lot of the strangest French culinary terms show up. While certainly we like the clafouti Auvergnat—a sort of blueberry tart with what seems a butter cookie where the tart shell would be— we love the chocolate cake and especially the trio of crème brûlées (or, rather, aux trois parfums). In the latter, the regular vanilla and cappuccino numbers are better than the word “regular” would imply, and this night’s special crème is kissed with a tiny amount of honey. Even I, generally liking honey about as much as I like salmon, am ready to shout, “Honey, I’m home!” <br /> <br /> And maybe, in that phrase, there’s a bit of delicious irony. Artisans certainly looks like a très sophisticated, almost adventurous restaurant commanded by chefentertainers with Sur La Table-style gadgets that gleam under carefully considered stage lighting. But the food in its way actually recalls that of French mothers and grandmothers, made with love in the cozy corners of well-worn home kitchens throughout the countryside, while nobody is watching.<br /> <br /> Artisans<br /> 3201 Louisiana St.<br /> 713.529.9111<br /> <br /> Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11am-2pm, Mon.-Thu. 6-10pm, Fri.-Sat. 6-11pm; Sun. brunch 11am-2pm<br /> <br /> Prices: Appetizers $8-$22, entrees $32-$39, five-course dinner tasting $65, threecourse business lunch $25, desserts $9-$15<br /> <br /> Why Go<br /> <br /> Enjoy refined, lownonsense French country cooking, prepared in the contemporary restaurant’s vast and impressive open kitchen—the ultimate dinner theater.<br /> <br /> Parking<br /> <br /> Complimentary valet in the evening, and around the corner in the garage both afternoon and evening.<br /> <br /> As You Are, Mon Amour<br /> <br /> Attire is trendy but casual, with virtually none of the pretension long associated with French cuisine in America.<br /> <br /> C’est Le Vin<br /> <br /> Extraordinary wines from France are featured at tempting prices, from Champagne and Burgundy to Bordeaux and Cotesdu- Rhone. Sommelier Kenneth Lounge’s list also travels almost anywhere worth going for wine, also referencing California, Argentina, Italy and Australia.

Previous Page  Next Page


Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here