First Taste

Houston's next great date spot: New restaurant makes French food modern in lovely Midtown setting

Houston's next great date spot: New restaurant makes French food modern in lovely Midtown setting

News_Artisans Restaurant
Artisans is the place to bring a date. Photo by Sarah Rufca
News_Artisans Restaurant
The food at Artisans isn't overwrought. Instead the new Houston restaurant simply presents a modern take on the French classics. Photo by Sarah Rufca
News_Artisans Restaurant_chef_Jacques Fox
Artisans chef Jacques Fox Artisans Restaurant
News_Artisans Restaurant_exterior_night
Artisans' Midtown spot lends itself to quiet conversation. Photo via Artisans Restaurant/Facebook
News_Artisans Restaurant
Photo by Sarah Rufca
News_Artisans Restaurant
Photo by Sarah Rufca
News_Artisans Restaurant
Photo by Sarah Rufca
News_Artisans Restaurant
Photo by Sarah Rufca
News_Artisans Restaurant
News_Artisans Restaurant
News_Artisans Restaurant_chef_Jacques Fox
News_Artisans Restaurant_exterior_night
News_Artisans Restaurant
News_Artisans Restaurant
News_Artisans Restaurant
News_Artisans Restaurant

Hiding out in the dim light of a corner booth, I found myself at Artisans situated perfectly between industrial windows facing a relatively quiet Midtown street and a voluble crowd lingering over their meal while speaking in French. If it's too much of a cliché to say that a French restaurant feels authentically Parisian, Artisans — the new spot from the brothers behind Le Mistral — at least feels like an authentic brasserie.

Despite the focus on a massive, open kitchen — even the private dining room has windows facing the chef's world — I found the atmosphere, with its wood accents and ornate details more suited to wine and quiet conversation in the lovely dining room. It's a great date spot.

If the styling adheres to a traditional French philosophy, the menu, at least at times, does not. Forget the expected Niçoise salad, there's a Caesar on the menu instead. Or maybe I should call it a "Caesar" instead, with strawberries and tortilla strips in the mix with giant leaves of romaine and virtually no hint of anchovy in the light coating of dressing. Executive chef Jacques Fox said he has been making his version for over a decade, and I won't pretend it's not tasty.

 Artisans may not be breaking any new ground here, but what they do, they do very well. 

It's like a greatest hits salad, pared down, with the sweetness of strawberry and the crunch of the tortilla strips taking the lead.

The sea scallops were beautifully cooked — as rare as possible without venturing into gelatinous territory — with a heavy crust of caramelized butter on top and a rich but not thick lobster sauce poured at the table (Artisans calls it a "cappuccino" but it didn't look very frothy to me) to reinforce the rich flavors.

The entrees were also a model of execution. The red snapper Marseillaise-style seared nicely and topped with a thick ragu of mushrooms and microgreens and served over some surprisingly forgettable saffron potato wedges and a light red wine sauce. The beef tenderloin was juicy and flavorful, with a light topping of a spicy peppercorn sauce for a nice contrast.

A dessert of poached pear followed the same formula — simple ingredients, flawless execution, delicious results. The thin pear slices were accompanied by a slice of an ice cream loaf with a sweet but very solid vanilla center surrounded by a crust of nuts and caramel.

It's hard to go into complicated odes about the food, partly because it just feels wrong. This isn't overwrought or overthought, it's just a collection of French classics prepared simply and with an eye on modern sensibilities — it's satisfying, not heavy.

Artisans may not be breaking any new ground here, but what they do, they do very well.