Saturday, April 23, 2011

I paid L'Artiste in Astoria (42-20 31st Avenue, Astoria) a visit this past week. It was my first time and I was pleasantly surprised.

At close to 7pm on a Thursday evening, we seemed to be the first guests of the night and were treated accordingly. The hostess greeted us with a warm smile and a friendly demeanor.

While we perused the menu, the hostess brought us complimentary hors d'oeuvres ... which wasn't the best indication of what was to come. It was some sort of tuna "salad" in thin pastry shells and frankly kind of subpar, possibly worse than what I could've made at home.

We had the escargot as an appetizer. I was a little wary when we ordered ... not because I don't like snails, but because they typically come in shell and are difficult and time-consuming to eat (sort of like crab, for me).

Not at L'Artiste. The escargot came shell-less in a small bowl, swimming in a butter/cream sauce and a mish mosh of colorful vegetables ... fresh, crunchy asparagus, cherry tomatoes and cauliflower. It was really, really delicious. The sauce really made this dish work.

My dining companion had the seared duck breast, which would've been my first choice. It came sliced, drizzled with butternut squash puree and an "orange beurre noisette sauce" which would translate into something along the lines of orange butter hazelnut sauce. Huh?

Well whatever it was, it was delicious. A tad sweet and rich for me personally (again, very, very buttery) -- I would not have been able to finish the entire thing by myself, but it was absolutely delicious. Something I would order again, but to share.

I opted for the lamb shank, which was incredibly tender. Fall-off-the-bone tender. It was accompanied with a cranberry wine sauce and mushroom polenta.

Overall, the dish was a bit salty. It may have been a little too hearty for the spring season, as I found it difficult to finish the entire thing, but it wasn't overly rich. The polenta could have been a little better, but the mushroom flavor was good.

Lastly, we shared the French coffee panna cotta, which was said to have come with a nougatine and caramel ice cream. I don't recall a nougatine or caramel ice cream. There was a nice dollop of some sort of whipped cream with hazelnut crumbs (was that the "nougatine"?) and a drizzle of caramel sauce on the plate, along with strawberry slices.

We found the texture of the panna cotta a little unsatisfying. It reminded me more of a JELL-O pudding than a true panna cotta, but the coffee flavor was nice.

Overall, the experience was pleasant and the service impeccable and friendly. I'd definitely return in another season to give it another try. Of all the French places I've tried -- in France or not -- L'Artiste's menu and execution just happens to be most distinctive and delicious.

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