The dazzling new 114-room Delamar West Hartford is helping fill the boutique luxury hotel niche in the Hartford area. The fine hotel dining niche may be in less need of filling, but Artisan Restaurant, a sibling of the Artisan in the Delamar Southport and L’escale in the Delamar Greenwich, all overseen by Charles Mallory’s Greenwich Hospitality Group, is nevertheless an important addition to the Greater Hartford dining scene.
The hotel grounds may never look better than they did at Artisan’s grand opening, when two of Mallory’s vintage automobiles—an imposing brown 1935 Studebaker Commander Land Cruiser and a sweet, coral-colored recreation of a 1936 Figoni & Falaschi Talbot-Lago T150C SS “Teardrop”—were parked on the cobblestone-patterned, stamped concrete driveway in front of the motel. One almost expected Marlene Dietrich to step out from one of the vehicles.
Artisan offers valet parking for even the humblest chariot from its own dedicated entrance at the rear of the hotel. That entrance overlooks a lovely outdoor dining area and garden, where much of the restaurant’s produce is grown. Inside, guests will first encounter Artisan’s vibrant bar scene, followed by its refined dining room with its oversized grapevine mural by Swedish artist Jonas Wickman, beyond which lies the Copper Room for private dining. The hotel’s hallways display artwork on loan from the New Britain Museum of American Art.
Executive chef Frederic Kieffer, who oversees all three restaurants and entrusts this kitchen to chef de cuisine Thomas Kaldy, has calibrated Artisan’s prices competitively. From the scrumptious, attractively plated desserts ($6-$8), we try two versions of “cheesecake”—a pumpkin special ($7) and the regular fluffy goat cheese cake ($7) topped with tomato marmalade, each served crustless in a mason jar with a ginger snap and rosemary shortbread cookie, respectively, resting in the open lid.
A delicate lemon panna cotta ($6) comes with blackberry sauce and a madeleine. The Pavlova’s ($7) meringue casing is filled with lemon curd and topped with fresh mixed berries. A wedge of Spanish-style almond cake ($7) is capped with strawberry buttermilk ice cream and roasted strawberry compote. A satiny chocolate tart ($8) draws contrast from amarena cherry jus and toasted pistachio ice cream. Housemade blueberry sorbet ($6) tastes like a bushel of blueberries exploded in our mouths.
Cocktails ($10-$13) are less of a bargain but equally vibrant, like a peach-tinged Cuzco Sour ($12), a pretty Dandelion Dream ($13) garnished with a coriander flower, and L’Artisan ($11) with muddled blueberries, local gin, lime, club soda and Thai basil from the garden. Artisan also has a serious wine program ($9-$22, $30-$400). We sample a crisp La Caña Albariño, Rías Baixas, Spain ($36), an elegant 2014 Emerson Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($45) and a Bordeaux-style 2015 Cadence “Coda,” Red Mountain, Columbia Valley, Washington ($60).
Artisan should offer a soup clinic. A moat of chilled tomatillo gazpacho ($12) surrounds an island of Maine crabmeat topped with a scoop of avocado sorbet that adds contrast in taste, texture and even temperature. A Reuben soup ($12) brimming with house-cured pastrami and cabbage is escorted by two Emmenthaler croutons. A sumptuous seafood chowder ($12) is ladled over a mound of oysters, clams and shrimp. An ethereal winter squash “cappuccino” ($11) is finished with shiitake mushroom, cinnamon cream and pepitas.
Sign us up any day for the “pork-less charcuterie” ($16) with its tiny mason jar of brandied chicken liver mousse topped with salt crystals, strips of chewy duck prosciutto over frisée and dish of rabbit rillettes topped with pickled mustard seeds. Or a pinwheel of bison carpaccio ($15) petals, so brightly colored they could hurt your eyes, splotched with creamy stracciatella, pickled chanterelle mushroom, crumbled pistachio and rocket arugula. Tuna crudo ($1), really more of a tartare, combines well with honey crisp apple, pumpkin and pomegranate seeds, and cider cream. Cured with beet, dill, salt and sugar, the salmon gravlax ($13), whose accompaniments change between visits, would do Marcus Samuelsson proud.
The same attention to detail yields oddly successful charred leeks in sauce ravigote with Nodine’s bacon, radish, salsify and poached duck egg ($14); richly sauced shrimp & grits ($14); roasted baby beets and Marcona almonds in white balsamic with twin tiny Roquefort soufflés ($12); a surprisingly enjoyable “superfood” chopped salad ($11); and tasty grilled octopus with far too many distractions ($14). The only major misstep, though, is found in an heirloom tomato panzanella salad ($12) that uses hard 12-grain croutons that the mustard dressing and other ingredients fail to soften.
Vegetarians are well treated, with entrée options like stuffed acorn squash ($22), ricotta gnocchi ($14/$24) with foraged mushrooms and watercress, butternut squash ravioli ($13/$22) in sage brown butter sauce with wilted baby kale, or our delicious vegan Provençal tian ($19) with charred eggplant, spinach, zucchini, navy beans, tomato concassé and golden romesco sauce.
Offering half-portions of housemade pastas encourages making a meal of two, like my seafood fra diavolo ($16/$29) with chewy gemelli pasta, lobster, clams and mussels in a rustic heirloom tomato and basil sauce, and my lamb bolognese ($15/$26) with soft housemade gnocchi and minted goat ricotta. Pastas may also be concealed among the starters, like an earthy Sicilian-style rigatoni with sardines ($13).
Entrées excel, whether it’s arctic char ($27) in sauce genevoise over cauliflower risotto, its fragile skin perfectly crisped; humongous sea scallops ($34) with red onion jam and braised collard greens; Rohan duck breast ($29) with quince purée, sunchoke and Brussels sprouts; prime New York strip ($42) in sauce bordelaise with potatoes Lyonnaise; or tender, vinous, braised beef cheek ($28) with Yorkshire pudding that evolves between visits into a Yankee pot roast appetizer ($14) with cider-braised veal cheek.
The setting is terrific, service pretty tight, and there doesn’t seem to be much this kitchen can’t do. Five stars.