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Restaurant Road Trip: Artisan in Southport Is Elegant, Sustainable

Latest high-end, celebrity-chef restaurant opens in Southport.

Artisan, the latest star in the firmament of local, high-end farm-to-table restaurants, has opened in Southport, creating a triumvirate alongside Westport's Le Farm and The Dressing Room.

Artisan's arrival is a boon to local farmers and Epicureans alike.

It was no accident that executive chef, Paris-born Frederic Kieffer, served celebrity chefs Bill Traibe (of Le Farm) and Michel Nischan (The Dressing Room) within minutes of opening on July 13.

The three are committed confederates in the burgeoning movement to promote sustainable agriculture.

Artisan shares similarities with its Westport counterparts, yet it also stands very far apart.

While Le Farm has its barnyard-rustic ambiance, and The Dressing Room is rooted in theatricality (being appended to the Westport County Playhouse), the airy, spacious Artisan has the feel of a luxury villa in the south of France.

Located in the Delamar Hotel near the I-95 Southport exit, Artisan occupies a spacious suite of rooms for formal dining and meeting up for drinks. The spaces spills onto a spectacular outdoor terrace with its own full-service bar, and candles dangling from a potted tree to light the summer nights.

With its breezy decor - murals of giant tulips and magnolias fill the walls, diaphanous white drapes capture a flood of natural lighting - Artisan will appeal to lovers of exquisite food served in elegant surroundings.

"We want to be known for really, really good food and a sophisticated and stylish environment," said Charles Mallory, owner of the company that developed the hotel, which opened in May of last year, and its companion eatery. (Rick Wahlstedt of Bedford, New York, a superstar-restaurant developer in his own right, is co-owner.)

"But not in a classic, high-handed way," explained Kieffer, who served as executive chef of the acclaimed restaurant L'Escale in the world-class boutique hotel Delamar Greenwich Harbor, opened by Mallory's firm in 2003.

Kieffer, who lives in Fairfield with his wife and three children and speaks with a strong French accent, has developed a menu redolent of locally grown organic vegetables and fruits of the sea. 

The seafood is wild (except for the salmon) and ranges from Thimble Island oysters, Cape Cod hard shell clams and Rhode Island fluke to local striped bass, tuna, calamari, crab and white shrimp.

Stonington red shrimp, the fatty delicacy "discovered" in the deep ocean a decade ago and brought to shore during its short season by a limited number of fishing vessels, is included in the sea bounty.

"It has an extraordinarily good taste," said Mallory, commenting on the red shrimp delicacy. Mallory is a 7th generation descendant of Charles Mallory, who settled in Mystic in 1816 and became a prominent sailmaker and shipbuilder.

(Mallory's grandfather was the first president of the Mystic Seaport, which has no fewer than three buildings named after the family.)

Mallory's seafaring heritage may well have influenced the menu selections, which also include New England seafood chowder and New England-style "Cioppino," Kieffer's adaptation of the San Francisco dish made up of fishermen's catches of the day.

Entrees are all in the $22-$26 range except for the dry-aged prime rib steak ($38), served with maitre d' butter, fries and watercress. Meyer all-natural hanger steak, duck, pot roast, pork chop and chicken are also on the menu for those who may eschew seafood.

Kieffer, with experience at Windows on the World and Water's Edge restaurants in New York as well as top Parisian restaurants, earned his food sustainability stripes at Gaia, the organic restaurant serving naturally raised livestock in Greenwich, which has won some of the highest critical accolades.

He would like Artisan to become Connecticut's meeting place for people working in all aspects of the sustainable food industry, a mission he calls a "noble cause."

Notice to dirt farmers: dust off your muddy boots before entering.

Artisan is located in the Delamar Hotel Southport, 275 Old Post Road, Southport. Tel. 203-307-4222. Open for dinner Sunday to Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11:30 p.m. The Tavern is open until 1 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends. Breakfast (daily from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.) and lunch (Monday to Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) will be served beginning in August, as will Sunday brunch (11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.)

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