Tuesday, November 9, 2010

L'Artiste Brings Sophistication to the Next Level

L'Artiste Restaurant - 42-20 31st Avenue, Astoria NY 11103
R/M Train to Steinway Street

Last week, I had the immense pleasure to be invited to dine at L'Artiste, the newly-opened French bistro in Astoria, located right next to Cavo, which needs no introduction.  Meg and Mackenzi of We Heart Astoria joined me, and since we three ladies have distinct tastes, I think we got a great representation of L'Artiste's menu.  Overall impressed with our experience, we'd gladly come back again - and that's coming from three women with pretty discerning tastes in French food.

Occupying the old Piazza Pizza space, L'Artiste isn't small by any means.  But despite its comfortable size, its quaint decor and personal touches make it feel intimate and homey.  I like the mixing of modern and traditional elements, which are seen throughout the restaurant - think traditional touches such as round bistro lamps; a rich, wooden bar with an extensive wine collection; comfortable booth seating, versus modern hints such as a wall mural of the Eiffel Tower, disguising the entrance to the rest room; funky ceiling decals; contemporary canvas paintings and more.  All in all, a great place to come for a relaxing dinner with close friends or even a loved one.

L'Artiste's menu is tight and focused on sophisticated, carefully prepared dishes that excite your senses from first glance to the last bite.  We chose a little bit of everything and even received a few amuse bouche's from the chef. 

Chicken Liver Amuse - I was very excited when we received this first "bite" from the chef - a nice sign of hospitality that gave us a great preview of things to come.  Served on a crispy chip that had an incredible amount of airiness, delicate pieces of chicken livers were placed on top and further embellished with a few sprouts that added freshness. This was in fact a true amuse, in that we polished it off in one bite, and it did a great job of electrifying our palate.

- Wanting to start our meal with vegetables, we ordered two salads including the fennel salad with pear and citrus as well as the beet salad with goat cheese.  Both were excellent and further enhanced by delicious dressings that were used sparingly.  I liked this approach because there's nothing worse than a soggy salad. 

In terms of the fennel salad, I especially loved the use of fruit, and again appreciated the careful way in which it was done - with thin slices of pear and meticulously segmented oranges.  The beet salad looked like a work of art with two beet circles, topped with a crunchy candied walnut that really brought out the sweetness in this vegetable.

Scallop Amuse - The most beautiful dish of the night, I almost felt guilty decomposing its expert construction.  Consisting of a perfectly seared scallop on a bed of creamy spinach, topped with a sunny-side-up egg, it was pure decadence on a plate.  The sexiness of this dish impressed us all and really showcased the chef's proverbial cajones, or rather huevos.

Entrees - While Meg and I went for protein-rich dishes such as the roast chicken cordon bleu and the seared duck breast, Mackenzi chose a delicate open-faced mushroom ravioli with bubbly mascarpone sauce. All three choices were delicious, but the ravioli stood out to me most.  Even though a mascarpone-based sauce can be easily misconstrued as heavy, it was anything but, sporting airy bubbles that made it look and feel more like a foam.  The mushrooms made this veggie-friendly dish quite meaty, and the pasta was silky smooth and cooked perfectly.  I absolutely know I'm getting this next time around.

But I also have to compliment the duck and the chicken because these entrees were also excellent.  The duck was especially juicy and cooked to a nice medium texture that was easy to cut through.  The chicken had crispy skin and I especially enjoyed the cordon bleu part with the cheese and ham "stuffing" placed on the side.

Ricotta Soup Amuse - We weren't expecting another amuse, but there it was.  Once again, a show-stopper, this one was a creamy ricotta soup, flavored with garlic and hints of truffle oil. It was a beautiful palate cleanser in that it was deceivingly light, and an appropriate interlude before dessert.

Dessert - All three of us have a penchant for sweets and therefore made room for the last course of this already massive meal.  We chose three different items to share, which included a coffee panna cotta, a fig tart and classic profiteroles.  Again, they were all winners but the two stand-outs for me were the layered panna cotta and the fig tart. 

The panna cotta looked absolutely gorgeous, layered like parfait with fresh whipped cream, chocolate crunchies and caramel.  Its presentation was whimsical and definitely on the creative side - something that caught your eye before it captured your tastebuds. 

The fig tart was a nice choice too and my favorite component was the buttery, flaky dough that surrounded it.  I liked the fig filling too, which was rich but not overly sugary.  Another visual stunner, this dessert was topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, gooey caramel and a piece of black/white chocolate on top.  To die for!

Service and Cost:
Impressed with the professional service, we felt that we were taken care of very well.  Our glasses of water (or wine) were refilled in a timely manner, and each dish was presented with great care and a thorough explanation.  At the end of our meal, I found out that one of our servers (and a co-partner of the restaurant) is Czech, so I was able to speak a few native words to her. It was fun!

Costs are moderate for Astoria but appropriate for the level of high-end cuisine that you're getting:

Appetizers & Salads: $8 - $12
Entrees: $14 - $23

3 Mmmms

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