I've been eating like JACK SHIT lately, and so I was hoping that Artisanal Brasserie would BLOW the FUCK out of my MIND, in spite of what Jonathan Kauffman had to say about its closely-related neighbor back in November. Sadly, it managed to merely nudge the heck out of the aforementioned mind. The menu is big, though it's not an enormous tome like at Toulouse Petit. But still: there are so many different options, I was totally overwhelmed and puzzled like a Trekkie in a whorehouse. Luckily there's a 3 course prix fixe menu for only $30.
There's a fucking ARMCHAIR in the bathroom at Artisanal. For the discerning gentleman who prefers a nap after he shits.
We decided to go with the prix fixe, and there were two of us, so we got six things. Asparagus vinaigrette featured maybe seven of these huge asparagus spears. They were the biggest asparagus I have ever eaten; if a firecracker the size of one of those spears blew up in your hand, your hand would look totally fucking gross afterwards. The asparagus was lightly steamed, pleasantly tender, and green as a leprechaun's coattails. Draped across the asparagus' midriff was a ladleful of sauce gribiche: basically a bright- tasting mayonnaise with capers and hard- boiled egg. It's like tartar sauce for people who wear monocles, and it pairs beautifully with asparagus.
Gnocchi Parisienne were tasty down-filled pillows of deliciousness, in a mushroom cream sauce, with morels and more asparagus. They weren't too stingy with the morels, and the sauce was so tasty I'd chug a pint of it. The foie gras torchon ($18.50) wasn't on the prix-fixe menu, but I HAD to have it, so we ordered it separately. For this price you got a pretty big creamy slice of torchon, sprinkled on top with fleur de sel and accompanied by a smear of a too- sweet rhubarb puree and an excessively generous drift of black pepper and a small pile of greens and a couple slices of grilled bread. I thought there were too many accompaniments to this dish. It was distracting and over accessorized, like a dude with glasses AND a goatee AND a hat AND a necklace of some sort. Basically the torchon was a pimp on a plate.The prix fixe continued with a thoroughly adequate lamb ragu. Shreds of tender braised lamb, with sliced olives and roasted red peppers peeked out from a pile of delicately folded pappardelle. Too much watery sauce was pooled in the bottom of the dish, but otherwise this tasted fine.
Nicoise salad had two different kinds of tuna, but that wasn't enough to rescue it from mediocrity. Tender slices of boiled potato and crisp green beans mingled with Nicoise olives, canned tuna, and topped with a couple slices of seared tuna. The traditional boiled egg was nowhere in sight, but they DID include a gravy boat with a really thick basil aioli inside. We couldn't figure out how to get the aioli onto the salad; it was too thick to pour, so you just had to scoop some out with your fork and kinda flick it onto the salad. I'd give it a resounding "meh."
Dessert limped onto our plates with a lame crème brulee: the sugar crust was bitterly CHARRED in places, and the crème beneath was as weak as my childhood excuses for not doing my homework. A rhubarb tart tasted like a Pop Tart, with a scoop of raspberry ice cream on top and a squirt of raspberry puree as cloying and superfluous as a subplot involving a wacky gay neighbor in a romantic comedy.
We closed out by going off the prix fixe a second time for the beignets. REAL beignets are flaky, sugary pillows of pastry that must be served as hot as the surface of a star, or they turn leathery. This is why only drunks and old people eat beignets: Drunks can't feel the searing pain as the beignet burns their palletes, and old people grew up eating rats and shoes and other unsavory items during the Depression, so beignets by contrast taste like an angel's pussy to them. But the beignets at Artisanal tasted more like donut holes. They were okay, but I objected to the fact an order of FIVE beignets cost $9.50. That's in excess of $1 per beignet! Scandalous!
Artisanal Brasserie is pretty good, but unless you are driving DIRECTLY in front of the conspicuous consumption funhouse that houses Artisanal, don't bother. There are many French restaurants in our own backyard as good as, or better than, Artisanal, and you don't have to battle either of the perennially constipated bridges over the lake to get to them.
Rating: 6.5 funhouses out of 10
Artisanal Brasserie is located at 11111 NE 8th St, inside the Bravern Building in Bellevue
For reservations call 425-372-2200