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At Artisans Restaurant, What Matters Is that the Ingredients Are the Best of the Best

Getting back to the true meanings of artisanal.

Situated at the "chef's table," which is actually a long, curving bar with 28 seats in the middle of the restaurant, I watch the chefs and line cooks sear and plate a perfectly peppered medium-rare entrecôte de boeuf before passing it along to someone else in the kitchen who adds a chilled round of mustard butter to the top. He then hands the dish over to yet another cook, who adds the earthy ginger-infused carrots and a cup of foie gras aioli to the already beautiful dish. And then, when each element has found its way to the rib eye, the plate is set below a few heat lamps that shine down like spotlights on the star of some masterful performance who is whisked away moments later to meet an adoring fan.

It's traditional and somewhat old-fashioned, yes, but the intense medley of flavors in each new dish had me wondering how it had taken me so long to come here. I was pleased with the pan-seared foie gras in the tart demi-glace, but I was taken aback and momentarily speechless when I took my first bite of pistachio-crusted sea bass bathed in a rich, buttery velouté sauce. The crunch of the pistachios contrasted nicely with the flaky white fish, while the velouté, a mixture of meat stock, butter and flour (the word is French for "velvety"), added a luscious creaminess to the dish without overpowering the seafood flavor. This, too, is one of Artisans's most popular items. I can see why.

Where the dinner menu feels almost over-the-top in its luxury, lunch is more suited to diners seeking a quiet spot for a fancy business meeting. While lunching alone recently, I enjoyed a wonderful three-course meal that set me back only $35 with the tip. I started with a simple salad of mixed greens and a thick slab of crisp bacon punctuated by a lemon vinaigrette before moving on to pan-seared Gulf snapper (hey, it's local!) on a bed of delightfully chewy risotto. For dessert, a small slice of chocolate mousse cake, simultaneously rich with bitter chocolate and refreshing in its ­lightness.

The kitchen at Artisans is truly open, allowing every guest seated at the long bar — and even guests throughout the rest of the space — to witness the cooking up close.
Troy Fields
The kitchen at Artisans is truly open, allowing every guest seated at the long bar — and even guests throughout the rest of the space — to witness the cooking up close.
Chef Jacques Fox eschews the locavore trend in favor of bringing in the best possible ingredients regardless of seasonality.
Troy Fields
Chef Jacques Fox eschews the locavore trend in favor of bringing in the best possible ingredients regardless of seasonality.

Details

Artisans Restaurant
3201 Louisiana, 713-529-9111.
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Three-course business lunch: $27
Five-course chef's dinner: $79
Salade Artisans: $10
Foie gras: $25
Pan-seared scallops: $24
Chilean sea bass: $38
Prime rib eye: $42
Beef tenderloin: $39
Desserts: $10-$14



Get a behind the scenes at look at Artisans in our slideshow, "Artisans Restaurant: A Closer Look."


On this occasion, I sat inside a glass-walled section of the restaurant at an intimate table for two that looked out on a few booths, high tops and the striking chef's table, and noticed the difference between the lunch and dinner crowds. At lunch, people are livelier and more talkative, eating in between hearty laughs or examinations of paperwork they've brought along. At dinner, the lights are dimmed and diners sit closer together. They whisper, and when the food comes, they fall silent altogether, entranced for a moment by the feast before them. It's refreshing that a restaurant that initially seems a little stuffy, situated near the equally upscale Brennan's, can serve two distinct crowds and serve them well.
_____________________

Jacques Fox has lived and worked all over the world. He knows where the best ingredients come from. He knows that if something is out of season here, he can probably have it shipped in from overseas. And he makes no apologies for that.

In a culinary climate where the prevalent mind-set is all about going green and eating local, Fox is breaking the mold by doing the opposite of that and still creating top-quality food. So the greens didn't come from his backyard garden. So the fish is flown in from South America and the beef is decidedly not Texan. So what?

The artisanal nature of the food comes from the fact that it's labored over by a group of talented chefs — craftsmen, if you will — who use traditional methods to fashion classic dishes in ways that are never boring. From the chic design featuring rooster and fleur-de-lis motifs to the time-honored filet de boeuf au poivre, the historic elements of Artisans excite me, in spite of myself.

At Artisans, I'm liable to adopt the same bon vivant attitude as the former queen of France herself. Let them eat cake (and imported sea bass and expensive cuts of beef)? Don't mind if I do.

Get a behind the scenes at look at Artisans in our slideshow, "Artisans Restaurant: A Closer Look."

kaitlin.steinberg@houstonpress.com

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8 comments
iamannlb
iamannlb

Excellent take on Artisans!!!!!!!! Well done Kaitlin!!!!!!

no0ne1mportant
no0ne1mportant

"so what?"  she wants to know.  going green and eating local isn't (merely) a hip trend - it's about hearkening back to a time when we didn't have factories for food or global fedex overnight.  historically, fresh ingredients didn't just influence but *dictated* a lifestyle and defined a culture.  

she should check out this article, written by a writer who knows something about food:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/25/travel/tasting-france-through-5-signature-dishes.html?ref=travel&_r=0

jimbo1126
jimbo1126

There's a fine line between old school and hoary, traditional and fusty -- and my impression of Artisans (I haven't been) was that it is crossing that line in a questionable way. I'm glad to hear the food has ended up being worth the cost. Unfortunately, among restaurants at that price point Artisans isn't on anyone's radar that I know, so I'm not sure when or if I'll get to try it. Hopefully your article will change that and someone will invite me there soon!

yourdad
yourdad

@no0ne1mportant  OK, I read the article at your link. Your comparison is misguided, apples to oranges. Just like the big city of Houston, the writer left the big city of Paris to find “local ingredients” prepared in such a way that’s it’s “labor intensive. . . this is one reason why people should and do eat outside of Paris.”

“To understand French cuisine, I realized I had to visit the regions and meet the country chefs, farmers and home cooks who proudly preserve tradition.”

Maybe you think the writer at the Houston Press should visit various regions of Texas and write about the ”country chefs, farmers and home cooks who proudly preserve tradition” there. Oh, but wait, she works for the HOUSTON PRESS and writes about Houston restaurants.

I agree, the French do it right—I’ve been to France a dozen times, every region, and enjoyed some of my most memorable meals at Mom and Pop restaurants not noted by Rick Stevens, where the owner/chef is right there at your table and everyone takes great pride in their work. But this is Texas, dude.

Finally, what is in the NYT article that makes you think that it is “written by a writer who knows something about food,” implying that the HP writer does not. I guarantee, if the HP writer embarked on a tour of France to write about the local cuisine of various regions, the product would have been as good or better than the NYT review.


gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

@jimbo1126 I can eat just as well at home for a week on $80-95, exquisite presentation and pomp do nothing for me.

yourdad
yourdad

@gossamersixteen @jimbo1126 I can eat nothing but corn flakes and pop vitamins at home for a week for a whole less even than $80-95. But what's the fun in that?

If exquisite presentation and pomp do nothing for you, even if the food is also exquisite, than yes, you should just stay at home.

 
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