The newest addition to West Hartford's flourishing restaurant scene may be attached to its new boutique hotel, but the eatery's partners are positioning it to be as attractive to locals as to travelers.
Partners Rick Wahlstedt, Charles Mallory and executive chef Frederic Kieffer collaborated on Artisan Restaurant, Tavern and Garden at The Delamar Hotel, which opens Sept. 7 in the town's Blue Back Square development. Artisan West Hartford joins Artisan sister locations at the Delamar in Southport and in Newfane, Vt. at the Four Columns Inn.
Wahlstedt says he and his colleagues are excited to join the town's diverse collection of restaurant offerings. "We're very happy and proud to be here, in such good company — and hopefully we add a little flair to it ourselves."
THE ATMOSPHERE: Artisan's design is elegant and tasteful, its entrance marked by a lush garden with pear trees, herbs, greens and plants bearing eggplants, tomatoes and peppers. Outdoor seating areas in the garden and under a shaded pergola are illuminated by hanging lights.
Inside, the restaurant's more casual tavern space, with seating for about 30, features touches of European design, including a pewter Parisian bar top and floor made from thousands of hand-laid bricks. A wall mural with a tobacco-leaf motif, by Stockholm artist Jonas Wickman, pays tribute to the Connecticut River Valley's well-known crop, and the nod to local history continues into the dining room, with a wall of wooden barn slats reminiscent of tobacco barns in the northern part of the state.
Wickman's artistic touch graces another wall in the main dining room, with a fig-tree mural in rich blues and greens. The stylish 50-seat space also features white tablecloths, Gustavian Swedish furniture and marmorino plaster walls. A private dining room, with seating for up to 16 guests, is romantic, intimate and graceful, with a gold-leaf ceiling and copper string chandeliers.
Despite the chic surroundings, Artisan's owners don't want guests to think of the restaurant as a special-occasion-only destination, says Kieffer. The tavern menu will offer more relaxed fare in addition to the dining room options, like oysters, fish and chips and a burger on a housemade English muffin.
"You don't have to wait for your mother's birthday to come here; it's very accessible," he says.
FEATURED/NOTEWORTHY DISHES: Artisan's menu of New England-inspired fresh cuisine is organized into four categories: The Garden (vegetable-based dishes); The Mill (grains and house-made pastas); The Sea (fish and seafood); and The Land, with beef, pork and poultry choices. Each meal category features "taste and share" smaller plates, along with entree portions. Menus will change seasonally, says Kieffer, a classically trained French chef who was also the opening chef for Wahlstedt's L'Escale at the Delamar Greenwich Harbor.
Opening highlights include a tomatillo gazpacho with sweet Maine crab and avocado sorbet; a vegan baked tian with spinach, eggplant, white beans and yellow romesco; shrimp and grits with Stonington-caught Royal Reds; and cider-braised veal breast with glazed apples. A "superfood" chopped salad with kale, Brussels sprouts, quinoa, avocado and berries is popular at Artisan's other locations, Kieffer said, as is the seafood chowder with oysters, clams, shrimp and fennel crackers presented tableside.
THE BAR: Artisan promises an extensive wine list and creative cocktails, some spotlighting fresh herbs from the garden just steps outside the door, like the L'Artisan with muddled basil, blueberries, gin and lime. Others feature spice (the With A Bang, with vodka, creme de cassis and slices of chili); local products (a Lavender Spritz with Hartford's Wild Moon lavender liqueur and prosecco) and South American spirits, like the Cuzco Sour with pisco, peach and passion fruit purees and a caipirinha with cachaça and apricot puree.
PRICING: At dinner, taste and share plates are $10 to $16; entrees are $14 to $42. Cocktails are $10 to $12. Tavern, lunch and brunch menus are forthcoming.
HOURS: Artisan opens for dinner Sept. 7; dinner will be served Sunday through Wednesday from 5 to 10:30 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m. The restaurant will serve breakfast starting Sept. 11, available Monday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Lunch begins Sept. 25, with service Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Artisan will offer weekday "social hour" specials later in the month, followed by Sunday brunch in October.
Artisan Restaurant, Tavern and Garden is at 1 Memorial Road in West Hartford. 860-937-2525, artisanwesthartford.com.