Artisanal Foods has been a go-to source for chefs professional and amateur since it opened in 1998. Owner Brett Ottolenghi provides high-end and hard-to-find ingredients to some of the best restaurants on the Strip, and was featured in a 2010 New Yorker article, “The Truffle Kid.” At his retail store, he makes those same ingredients available to the general public.
Ottolenghi recently moved that shop from a prominent space on East Sunset Road across from McCarran International Airport to a larger, more obscure spot in an industrial park just south of the original. And he’s now offering café seating that provides lunch five days a week as Artisanal Café. Finding it the first time might be a bit of a hassle, but it’s worth it to enjoy some of the most refined dishes in town, offered at ridiculously reasonable prices.
The kitchen at Artisanal Café is run by acclaimed chef Johnny Church, whose résumé includes stints at André’s, Alizé and Aureole before Rick Moonen tapped him to run the kitchen at RM Seafood. Church later left the Strip to open the much-loved MTO Café locations Downtown and in Downtown Summerlin. His partnership with Artisanal is primarily a catering enterprise. The three two-top tables in the “café” were intended to allow product tastings and to showcase the culinary applications of some of the shop’s more obscure ingredients. But its success in just a few short weeks has Ottolenghi contemplating bringing in a large communal table that would more than double capacity.
Church’s menu offers 15 items. Some, like caviar or a chef’s selection of charcuterie and cheese, are simple. Others, however, are as detailed and as stunningly plated as anything you’ll find in a top Strip restaurant.
Take, for example, the lionfish ceviche. Lionfish are a species Ottolenghi is especially passionate about popularizing and promoting, since the beautiful and venomous fish are decimating the grouper and snapper populations of the Atlantic after presumably being dumped into that non-native habitat by aquarium owners who grew bored with them. Church prepares them in a Peruvian-style ceviche with sweet potatoes, onions and spices, then gives them a Thai kick with a sauce made from citrus juice, ginger, lemongrass, coconut milk, basil, mint and cilantro. For crispy chips, he fries wasabi leaves or, if he’s out of those, shiso leaves. Another gorgeous and complex dish is the corn and crab chowder, which blends sweet broth and the marine taste of the crab with some heat from Basque Espelette peppers and the mild bite of lime crema.
Since Ottolenghi distributes foie gras from New York, it’s no surprise the luscious, controversial ingredient finds its way into a pair of dishes. In the more original of the two, Church tops a stack of semisweet miniature pancakes with seared foie and then adds a sweet grape gastrique. The other, a truffle foie burger, is a bit more traditional. It features six ounces of Piedmontese beef (a prized breed that originated in Italy), foie gras butter, truffled Gouda, a truffled fried egg and a healthy serving of seared foie lobe. It’s a giant, juicy, delicious mess that’s a bargain at $17 (which makes it the priciest item on the menu—$5 more than it closest competitor).
Another dish I really like is the grilled cheese. The chef offsets the sharpness of MontAmoré cheese with a drizzle of honey. He then accompanies it (like the burger) with house-made pickles that are slightly sweet, thanks to the use of apple-cider vinegar and a touch of maple syrup in their curing process.
The decor at Artisanal is that of a retail outlet, with the dry products lined up against one wall and the frozen against another. One very cool feature you won’t encounter elsewhere is a trio of circular aquariums Ottolenghi uses to educate guests on his aquatic products. During my visits, only two were occupied, the first by three types of baby sturgeon, which if allowed to grow to maturity would produce some of the caviars you can purchase in the store and café. The second held, among other things, two baby lionfish, showing off what truly magnificent creatures they are.
With just six seats, the staff is small. But Church is almost always the man cooking your meal, while Ottolenghi is frequently on-site. Both, as well as the other staff members, are as excited as ever to educate you on what’s on your plate or on the shelves. The addition of the café has just taken a longtime foodie destination a step higher. But you’d better dine there now before word gets out and you can’t get a seat for Church.
Al’s Menu Picks
- Lionfish ceviche ($9)
- corn and crab chowder ($6)
- pancakes with seared
- foie gras ($12)
2053 Pama Lane, 702-436-4252, ArtisanalFoods.com. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tue-Sat. Lunch for two, $20-$50.