Artisan Restaurant and Cafe
Miss Knedlíkova's second-favorite Prague eatery retains its place in her affections
Once upon a time, in the distant days of "Before Blog", my long-standing partner-in-dine Sir Svoboda and I embarked on an epic quest to collectively sample each and every item on the menu at Artisan, our joint second-favorite eatery in Prague (first, needless to say, being the sacred temple of SaSaZu) since our first of many visits, from early 2010 onwards.
However, sadly for me, Sir Svoboda set forth on adventures new in foreign lands a few months ago, leaving our ongoing culinary crusade only half complete. Still, I soldiered bravely on with our mission in Sir Svoboda's honor, roping in personal knight-in-shining-armor Mr. K, a fellow maiden or two here and there, and most recently my visiting kinfolk the other week to further advance towards this self-set gastronomic goal.
Over the months I've steadily seen Artisan pick up custom, from initially deserted and seemingly bound for backstreet oblivion (the obscure Rošických location is certainly not one you'd stumble upon accidentally) to now-buzzing venue on a Friday or Saturday night, with tables respectably full even on most weekday evenings as well. Word has clearly gotten round, and deservedly so -- there are few places in Prague I know that offer such consistently high quality food and service for such comparatively modest prices as Artisan.
The low-lit, warm environs always make for a pleasant indoor ambience, while the small outside garden provides frequently idiosyncratic views directly into a residential courtyard -- if you want a full panorama of washing lines strewn with granny's various undergarments and heated wars of words across windows between feuding neighbors (one of many occasions where I wished I better understood colloquial Czech), then this is the place to sit.
This time round, tabled safely inside away from the evening's intemperate climes, Uncle K started us off on a bottle of 2008 Sauvignon Blanc at 485 CZK, which came served in an ice bucket. I didn't take a photo as, well, you all know what wine in an ice bucket looks like, and besides, I wanted to actually drink it sooner rather than later.
At the same time, a basket of fresh bread with butter, olive oil and balsamic was brought to our table. Artisan usually varies its daily bread basket, and on previous occasions it's been cheese, sundried tomato or, as I recall, onion. Today, though, we got just plain, but still nicely fresh.
I've learnt from previous visits here that several of Artisan's starters tend to be rather on the hefty side and, particularly with the bruschetta, salmon ceviche on fried bread, and Portobello mushrooms with blue cheese sauce, have fallen into that all-too-familiar trap of filling up too much before the main course arrives.
As it happened, on this occasion we decided to split a couple of the lighter starters (so as to leave room for dessert later, of course).
Mother K and I shared a portion of scallops with pea purée, vegetable emulsion and port wine reduction (165 CZK).
For this quite modest price, we received two large scallops and one rather smaller one on a creamy pea purée base. We both thought this was fantastic, and it was gone in just a few quick bites.
Uncle and Aunty K split a starter portion of steamed mussels in white wine with garlic bread (105 CZK).
Again, a pretty generous portion for the price, and one which went down well with teta and strejda. I am not overly keen on mussels (at least not while still in their shells), so didn't ask for a taste.
For mains, on my recommendation Aunty K went for the chicken saltimbocca with sage, prosciutto and sweet potato sauce (185 CZK).
The two previous occasions I've had this dish, I've found the chicken remarkably tender and succulent, with a tasty sage stuffing inside and a creamy bed of sweet potato purée setting the dish off perfectly. Aunty K also voiced approval, thankfully.
Mummy K went for a dish I've been meaning to try for some time, the tomato and basil risotto with Italian sausage (185 CZK).
I had a taste and this was great. So great I immediately demanded another bite. The spiciness of the thick chorizo slices infused right through the rest of the creamy risotto rice, lending the dish as a whole a hearty, meaty flavor. I'd previously had the pumpkin and arugula risotto here, and -- while also nice -- this was infinitely the more flavorsome of the two.
Traditional pasta fan Uncle K went for good old spag bog (170 CZK).
There was a minor hiccup here in that the pasta dish he was brought was notably meat-free -- a later check back to the menu revealed it to have likely been the spaghetti aglio olio with spinach and tomato concasse. If it had been me I'd have probably just gone with the flow and taken it, but Uncle K has old-fashioned views on food and considers all meals without meat "anemic" (his words not mine), so politely sent it back.
Mistakes happen, of course, and how a restaurant reacts to fix them is arguably more telling than the initial slip-up itself. To Artisan's credit, in this case the waitresses in question were both terribly apologetic, offering immediately to bring a replacement and "naturally" take it off the bill.
About 15 minutes later the real thing turned up (accompanied by yet more heartfelt apologies), and Uncle K was happy to be restored to his natural carnivorous state.
As for me, I went for my absolute favorite (and, at 425 CZK, coincidentally also the most expensive) Artisan dish of filet Mignon au poivre with garlic mashed potato and haricot verts.
I've had this twice before and was previously enamored with the melt-in-your-mouth tenderness of the thick cut of the filet -- and that's coming from someone who is not traditionally into great slabs of bloody meat. By comparison, this rendition was vaguely disappointing -- it had been better presented on previous occasions (more like the photos on the Artisan website), and this time the steak was thinner, flatter and therefore less juicy and pink in the center than it had been served before. It certainly was more overdone that the medium rare I'd asked for, though -- ho hum.
After a little break to let the food go down (not to mention polish off a second bottle of wine), we decided to have a quick look at the dessert options, of which there are but three at Artisan: the apple tartin (195 CZK), the chocolate lava cake (125 CZK), and the crème brulée (115 CZK).
Both equally in love with its soft, squishy sponge outing and warm fondant center, Sir Svoboda and I used to invariably split the chocolate lava cake between us; however, on this occasion my recommendations were dismissed by crème brulée aficionado Aunty K, ice-cream obsessive Uncle K and fruit fan Mum. Yes, I could theoretically have got a whole one to myself, but at the time I was still mired in guilt over that last chocolate and orange fondant from Le Patio the previous evening…
Anyway, here are the desserts in all their glory. The ice-cream-only option wasn't on the menu, but was readily rustled up on Uncle K's request.
Everyone sampled a bit of everything here, with overall verdicts being that the crème brulée was nice but not remarkable, the apple tartin not as good as Aunty K made and lacking a certain "zing", while the ice-cream was, well, ice-cream -- not a lot more to say about it than that really. Well, I did tell them they should have had the lava cake…
Which pretty much sums it up for the family visit, really, the overall bill, with wine, water, coffees, etc., coming to approximately 2,535 CZK -- extremely reasonable when you consider the overall quality of our many and various courses, most of which didn't even hit the 200 CZK mark. I was pleased (and admittedly also vaguely relieved) that my family also seemed to share the sentiment -- that one little hiccup with the spaghetti order notwithstanding.
The perfect point to wrap it up at, you might think, but for the fact that (bar the odd soup or salad perhaps) one item still remained on the Artisan menu for my long quest to be complete -- namely the Artisan hickory burger with smoked bacon, red onions and cheddar with sweet potato fries (210 CZK). I'd wanted to try this dish for ages, and had only passed it over on earlier occasions with Sir Svoboda because I reasoned it would probably be too heavy a main for our usual Artisan starter-main-dessert format.
And so it was that a day or two after seeing the family off, I finally made an early evening solo stop in at Artisan to finally try this long-anticipated burger.
Alas, in this case the anticipation was far greater than the reality. You will note from the pictures the soggy McDonald's-like bun, the overly crunchy (possibly even deep-fried) bacon, the notable paucity of cheddar cheese, the dried-out fries, and, last but not least, the deluge of sickly BBQ sauce. The burger meat itself I found extremely bland, with very little, if any, of the smokiness I'd expected -- all in all, not quite the pot of gold at the end of the Artisan menu rainbow I'd been hoping for.
Still, no true quest is without its perils and pitfalls, and that I have only had to test my mettle the once against one solitary burger-based adversary in the whole long course of my culinary voyage of discovery here I think actually speaks volumes for Artisan's overall worth.
Next to Jason's quest to find the Golden Fleece or King Arthur's search for the Holy Grail, I suppose my own personal endeavor to eat every dish off an individual restaurant menu might seem somewhat trivial by comparison. However, with mission now officially complete, what is the end result of my many months of alimental odyssey at Artisan? Some people's quests end with glory, others' in the acquisition of great wisdom or wealth. Others still set forth only to discover what they knew deep down all along, in this case namely that Artisan -- in terms of quality, service, ambience and value for money combined -- is as hard to beat for me now as it was back at the very beginning.
So, pretty much a happy ending all round for this little tale. As for me, having now acquainted myself with pretty much every starter, main and dessert Artisan has to offer, I for one will definitely be venturing back in the near future to re-embark on my epicurean adventures there all over again!
Phone: (+420) 257 218 277
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