PRETTY RITZY Despite its location inside the Boston Common Ritz-Carlton, Artisan Bistro offers up decent gastropub fare, like this lovely pork chop.
Pretending that the Artisan Bistro wasn't inside the Boston Common Ritz-Carlton, I would say this is a pretty good gastropub with an emphasis on food and unusually good service with a few old-school trimmings. How long can we hold that thought? The answer has a lot to do with whether the Artisan takes its place along the local night-out trail, develops a niche for theater-goers, becomes the local spot for the Ritz condo owners and other projected gentry, or devolves into another faceless hotel dining room.
Blinders on, we start with excellent hot, whole-grain, crusty bread and salty butter. From there, we are looking at expensive appetizers, burgers, and flatbreads, and a range of entrées from cheap to, well, Ritzy. Chef Adam Kube executes all of this well, so we have a very useful restaurant for many needs.
New England clam chowder ($11) is filled with chopped clams, with a subtle hint of smoke, a few potatoes, and a thick liquid that doesn't taste as much like seafood as I had hoped. Crab-cake fritters ($15) are crab cakes as flattened golf balls, deep-fried and served in a cone with a Japanese-style, hotted-up pink mayonnaise. Break up a flatbread as an appetizer? Yes, at least if you pick the one with bits of lobster, artichoke, and Gruyere cheese ($21). It is a long rectangle of thin crust, not too crisp or charred, but the balance of toppings is superb. An earlier version used larger chunks, which was too uneven an effect. This is pleasure in every bite.
The knockout main dish for me was chicken pie ($24). There is a lot of upscale comfort food like this around, but no one else has captured this much chicken flavor. The upscaling is fine puff pastry instead of grandma's crust, and there aren't a lot of vegetables (and a lot of us grew up on gloopier gravy), but to know that chicken can still be made to taste like chicken is comfort for this writer. Smoked pork chop ($25) is lovely, with enough fat to trim or enjoy for the deep, ham-like smokiness and slight glaze of caramelized onion and maybe a prune or raisins. With it, the smashed potatoes have just a little skin and the right richness, with fried onions and a side bowl of what the waiter proudly described as "local, organic apple sauce." It is very good, lumpy-style sauce, perhaps a combination of McIntosh and Empire apples. Seared scallops with lobster risotto and asparagus ($34) was another excellent entrée, with the risotto at the popular level of slightly al dente (I make mine at home softer) and plenty of lobster meat in chunks, without letting it dominate the rice. The scallops were five, and excellent, as were the thick stalks of asparagus.