Everything about Artisan House is beautiful. The stone columns. The arched windows. The Art Deco-inspired font on the cover of the corkboard menu. The elegant, dizzying phalanx of liquor bottles separating the showpiece bar from cases of glistening fruit and pastry. The food looks every bit as lovely as the decor. Two perfectly fried eggs quiver on a grilled baguette. A pile of chilis and red onions crowns a chicken sandwich. Even the marbled rye looks artfully swirled. If only the food tasted as good as it looked.
Newly opened in the middle of downtown L.A.'s historic core, Artisan House is part market, part restaurant. On one side, you can sit down under vast ceilings at classy wooden tables. On the other, you can order from the deli or browse amid the usual array of liquor and spendy foodstuffs; it's sort of a corner store for upwardly mobile loft-dwellers.
Everything on the menu sounds so good, it's hard to choose. That's why it's such a disappointment when the spicy chicken sandwich has no bite, when the pastrami is utterly dry and flavorless, when the tallegio overpowers the bolognese on the Sloppy Saint Joseph. Nothing at Artisan House is bad. Everything seems to be made with care and quality ingredients. At $13-16 per sandwich, it needs to be better than "not bad."
If anything, the kitchen seems to be trying too hard, overworking the details while overlooking the basics. We don't need a mouthful of unchewable greens lightly basted in vinegar (what passes for a side salad) accompanying our sandwich; some crisp lettuce and fresh dressing would suffice. The bolognese sauce is tasty but not vastly better than mom's Hamburger Helper version of the Sloppy Joe. And it's utterly incomprehensible why an order of fries costs $7, especially when they don't come close to the shoestrings at Farmshop or the pure potato essence of the fries at Rustic Canyon or even the sturdy double-fried version at Wurstkuche.
Artisan House is new. Very new. It's already a hotspot. Clearly, the space has promise. Hopefully, the food will too.
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Elina Shatkin is a staff writer at LA Weekly. Follow her at @elinashatkin or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.