Restaurant Review: The Artisan, Raleigh, N.C.

****Update (August 2011) – I rode by the Artisan the other night and it has been replaced by another restaurant. Judging by some reviews I’ve read since I posted this one, I guess I’m not surprised. Too bad, it was good the night we visited.

Brad and I had dinner last Saturday night at The Artisan restaurant in Raleigh’s Glenwood South area, located in the space formerly occupied by Enoteca Vin and most recently Sauced. The Artisan serves up Greek/Mediterranean cuisine and places an emphasis on local resources from area organic farmers and N.C. microbreweries. The Artisan also doubles as an art gallery, and features work (for sale) from local artists. On weekends, it converts into a chill lounge with DJs and a dance area after the kitchen closes at 10 p.m.

I have to admit I was somewhat hesitant to go on a weekend after reading some of the online reviews about Artisan’s service (or lack thereof), but decided to give it a chance, mainly because of the cuisine. I should have put my fears aside.


I made reservations via OpenTable (a service I love) for 8:30. When we arrived, our host asked if we had reservations, and when we told her yes, she went immediately to seat us without asking our name. Go figure. The restaurant was probably about three-quarters full. The table she led us to was low to the floor with comfy looking ottoman-type seats that I knew would wreak havoc with my back. When I asked if we could have a table with chair with backs, she was going to seat us at the only one that was set, a tiny two-seater located near the restrooms. I asked if we could have the larger one that was cleared but not set, and we were quickly accommodated.

By the time we were greeted, seated and drinking our pre-dinner cocktails, six minutes had elapsed. Obviously, service issues I had read about were no longer a concern. Kudos to Scott our server who was wonderful the entire evening. He was polite, helpful, attentive (but not too much so) and we never wanted for anything. Ask for him if you go.

I started with a glass of the Babich Black Label Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand, 2009) for $9.00. Nice pour, good wine. Brad had a microbrew, a Green Man porter, which he liked. After narrowing our appetizer choices to steamed mussels, calamari (sautéed or fried) or dolmades, we decided to share the spanakopita, as we wanted to compare it to what I make at home. The presentation was quite different from the smaller triangles I’m used to seeing. This spanakopita came in one large piece that Brad and I split between us, two sections each. The outside was flaky yet moist, and it was filled with a good amount of spinach and accompanied by a tasty tzatziki sauce. I would have liked the filling to be a tad bit hotter, temperature-wise, and I did need to add some salt (as I did with every dish – maybe it’s just me.) Overall it was very good and I would certainly order it again.

Scott then brought over an amuse-bouche (unless this was actually the bread of the evening, lol) from the chef that consisted of pita bread, hot off the grill, and hummus. The pita was wonderful – piping hot with a great texture, and the hummus was enjoyable, but needed salt. This might be a good time for the chef to showcase a flavored hummus, such as roasted red pepper or jalapeño, but it all in all it still was a nice touch, be it bread with dinner or a complimentary chef offering.

For dinner, I was torn between ordering the lamb shank (first choice), the koufta or the beef and lamb mousaka. Scott wholeheartedly recommended the lamb shank. Knowing I was going meatless for six months a couple of days later – but before I could say “done”  Scott  told me they were out of it. Cruel. Just cruel. He did apologize profusely, and I went with the mousaka, which turned out to be a great choice. Brad chose the chicken Alexander, stuffed with feta and spinach, which he thought it was the same mixture as in the spanakopita, and topped with a yummy cheese sauce. The bite I tasted was good, and only needed salt (Brad thought so as well.)

My beef and lamb mousaka was how I define comfort food – warm, cheesy, filling – like your favorite fleece shirt covering you inside-out. There was a nice touch of cinnamon throughout the dish. The presentation was cool, as you can see by the picture. I ate the majority of my meal before throwing in the towel – usually I would get at least one more meal out of a portion this size! I would have liked the eggplant to be just a bit firmer, and of course it needed more salt, but overall it was delightful and I will be back for more.

The wine prices ranged from $27 to $89 for reds. Brad ordered a bottle of Joseph Carr Merlot (Napa Valley, $43.) Not sure of the vintage, because that’s not what we got, although it was a while before Brad noticed. Instead, we were served an $89 bottle of Joseph Phelps 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa), which was quite smooth and actually paired quite well with my entrée. Overall, 2007 was a good year for California cabs and this one did not disappoint. Deep ruby/purple in color, there were some floral undertones to this wine, as well as berry and chocolate aromatics. Nice, especially since we paid the price for the original bottle we ordered 🙂

We were too stuffed for dessert, and to be honest, we usually do not order it as a rule. However, we asked to see a menu for future returns. This was the one disappointment many customers might have. Artisan currently does not have a dessert menu, although it does serve ice cream in various flavors, an ice cream cookie/brownie and baklava. A dessert menu is in the works.

As we were paying our check, the DJ was setting up and the staff started to move tables to make room for the dance floor. This was around 9:30, and people were starting to make their way to the bar, which is still early for the club scene in Raleigh. Maybe this is a good sign that Artisan is catching on, because I plan on coming back.

Ratings

  • Price:  4.0 – Good pours on wines.
  • Service:  4.5  – Scott rocked (and the hostess did too.)
  • Food:  4.0 –  Just add salt and a better dessert menu and it’s great
  • Recommend:   Absolutely, and invite me along!
  • Kid friendly:   Nope, not really. All the better reason to grab a baby sitter and head out without them!

1= hater, 2=poor, 3=adequate, 4=above average, 5=superb

The Artisan: 410 Glenwood South, Ste. 350, Raleigh, N.C.  27603 Phone: 919.900.8224        Website: not available at time of post

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