Will the Martinez family ever stop opening new restaurants? It’s starting to look more and more as if their Olé Restaurant Group – the metaphorical Energizer Bunny of Louisville-area dining – may keep on keeping on until they have an individual eatery for every family in the Metro.
What’s more, I wouldn’t bet against the possibility that every one of that multitude would be good, damned good.
The daily newspaper recently reviewed Artesano in a public display of affection so prodigal that it almost made one wish to yell, “Git a room!”
“Couldn’t be that good,” I muttered.
But then we went – twice – and, yup. It pretty much is that good. What’s more, it’s good in a way that’s consistent with this team’s efforts through at least a dozen winning eateries and a catering operation since Fernando and Christina Martinez and Fernando’s brother, Yaniel, opened Havana Rumba in 2002. (They later sold Havana Rumba and Mojito to their partners, but have been on a restaurant roll since they came back to town in 2012.)
Artesano – or to give it its full name, Artesano Vino Tapas Y Mas – opened last month in the Westport Village spot vacated by AP Crafters.
How do they do this? I’m sure if they bottled and sold their secret they could sell it for a huge profit. It seems to me, though, that they earned like Smith Barney, the old-fashioned way: through careful, smart planning and a lot of very hard work.
They don’t cut corners. They put extensive thought into style and approach. Every restaurant is different. Menu planning is creative, and the kitchens run like well-oiled machines. Service is friendly yet consistently professional, and pricing is fair. You’ll pay appropriately for a splendid meal, but sticker shock won’t give you indigestion when the tab comes.
Artesano, as its full name suggests, focuses on tapas – Spanish-style small plates – wines (and other adult beverages) and more, much more.
We did our best to try it all during a lunch with friends followed by dinner for two, and couldn’t even make a dent in the menu; but it was all good, and much of it rated as great.
You could call Pan con Tomate ($3) a Spanish take on bruschetta, but I like it better. Slabs of sliced Blue Dog bread are rubbed with garlic, slathered with oil, grilled and spread with finely grated tomato and fragrant black pepper.
Caldo Gallego ($5 for a cup, $7 for a bowl) is a hearty soup for winter, meaty and rich, loaded with small, tender white beans and bits of ham, artfully garnished with sprigs of crisp fried parsley.
Berenjena Frita ($6) sounds more Spanish than “fried eggplant,” but it’s good either way. Three good-size eggplant rounds were perfectly fried, grease-free, creamy steamy eggplant within a delightfully crunchy coat. Ribbons of “truffle honey” were too sweet for us, but you might like them.
Pincho Moruno, a pork loin skewer ($8) was okay, four or five tasty but rather dry cubes of grilled pork on a stick, drizzled with yogurt sauce and pumpkin-seed pesto.
Pincho de Pollo ($8), featured grilled chicken breast chunks with herb mojo sauce. It, too, was flavorful but on the dry side. Both pinchos came with grilled Blue Dog bread.
The tapas just kept on coming. Gambas al ajillo ($11) Featured a half-dozen delicious sauteed shrimp swimming in a garlicky broth with olive oil and lemon.
Don’t miss Dátiles Rellenos ($11) or Patatas Bravas ($6). These tempting tapas feature, respectively, medjool dates stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in applewood bacon, and crisp-fried potato cubes with aioli and an attention-getting hot brava sauce.
More Pan con Tomate made a great start for dinner, and Cazuela de Califlor was even better. Who knew cauliflower could taste so good? Thick slabs of this underrated veggie are roasted, then bathed in savory cauliflower puree and paella-style Calasparra rice, and dressed with piquant piment d’Espelette and savory pickled raisins.
Steak Padrón Chimichurri ($12) consists of a half-dozen slices of juicy grilled flank steak (medium-rare as ordered), perched on Argentine-style chimichurri with Padron peppers, plus pink slices of pickled onion and perfect tiny roasted potatoes. A mild Padron stuffed with goat cheese, breaded and fried sat on the side, and a stylish turquoise Laguiole steak knife from France added a touch of elegance.
Paella de Hongos ($17) is an outstanding meatless entree: mild Sheltowee Farm oyster mushrooms, roasted fennel and broccolini and fried brussels sprouts topped perfect rice and molten Manchego cheese, piled into a single-serving black paella pan.
Dessert seemed crazy after all that, but an artful, iconic dessert from Spain’s Galicia, Torta de Santiago ($9) combined dense almond cake, moist olive oil cake, a scoop of raspberry ice cream and a crunchy caramel cookie in a pretty design that evokes the shape of the cross of Santiago (St. James).
A filling dinner for two, with a cocktail, glass of sangria and after-dinner coffee, was a reasonable $74.18, plus a $16 tip for letter-perfect service. We went home full and happy, with a big bag of delicious leftovers.