Restaurant Reviews

Artin's Grill Brings a Touch of the Sublime to Plano Dining

Artin's Grill is a gush of earnest, approachable sophistication wreathed in a blast of hickory smoke. At Artin's, no detail is overlooked: faux wood parquet tiles line the section dividers, only they're made of brass, which means the faux is fancier than the thing being faked. The banquette complex is constructed of African mahogany. Pillars are lined with stone. Walls are filled with abstract art in muscular hues. The kitchen, armed with a huge hickory-fired grill, is shielded with expansive stretches of sparkling glass. A floor-to-ceiling wine display features selected bottles reclining on perches, creating the illusion they are floating. Tables are equipped with sconces shaded in thick amber glass.

Oh, and there's no salt on the table. Maybe this is some sort of preemptive response to creeping nanny-state tyranny typified by a salt ban proposed by the New York Legislature. Whatever the reason, it can get tedious hailing a server for a shaker in the crush of the dinner rush. We suggest you bring your own and offer it to diners at adjoining tables.

Artin's occupies the long, narrow and newer north wing of the Shops at Legacy in Plano, a prefab bit of urban poise in the grassy stretches of suburbia. It's staffed with a skilled set of managers, remarkably sincere and unobtrusive in their attentiveness. Green servers—once the bane of the northern hinterlands—are somehow acquiring seasoned service mojo. Artin's service does have its glitches, though: At lunch we waited more than 20 minutes for our food, this in a restaurant that had roughly 30 percent of its tables occupied.

Yet the food is competent as hell: mainstream enough to pacify the suburban psyche, creative enough to keep the rest of us driving north.

The menu has the usual monotonies: the crispy calamari, the spinach artichoke dip, the endlessly pestered Caesar that rarely even feigns homage to the original recipe. But there are spectacles too. Drunken mushrooms glisten in a white bowl cradling a mound of sepia, umber and burnt mahogany tones. This synthesis of crimini and shiitake mushrooms zapped with Jim Beam yields a layered, gripping earthiness foiled by the subtle bitter sting of caramelized liquor.

I don't think I've had beef short ribs that could get within sniffing distance of those prepared long ago by chef Tim Byres (late of Stephan Pyles and The Mansion and now at Smoke in Oak Cliff's Belmont Hotel) at his regrettably short-lived Deep Ellum restaurant Standard 2706. Byres stripped braised rib meat from the bones, shaped it into a cube and then seared it, resting it in a puddle of Cabernet demi-glace. It created a tender richness almost unequalled.

But Artin's short ribs come damn close. They're braised for five hours in a veal stock brew before they're settled onto the plate in a puddle of Cabernet pan sauce. The strands of meat are tender and juicy and retain a pinkish hue after undergoing this methodical onslaught of slow heat. In the mouth these strands create a flavor tempest that almost completely distracts you from the sides of haricots verts and the loose mass of mushroom mac and cheese, corkscrew pasta glazed in rich earthen cheese.

We paired these short ribs with a glass of Christine Andrew Vineyards Malbec (Lodi, Calfornia), a bold but clean sweep of ripe berry, plum and pepper.

These culinary cues come from chef Christopher Short, late of Bella in Uptown. Short says he strives mightily to retain—rather than supersede—the intrinsic flavors in his foodstuffs. Instead, he seeks to amplify the inherent tastes, to adjust and tune rather than disrupt and overpower. It's a delicate balancing act, especially with all of that smoldering hickory.

Still, his hardwood-grilled Scottish salmon is moist and scorched into perfect poise, the smoke acting as a negligee to arouse engagement with the salmon. The fish strip is flanked with crisp, deep green broccolini and a fluffy heap of herbed brown rice in citrus butter.

Shrimp taquitos—four planks crisp and greasy—contain a mixture of shrimp and hickory-smoked poblano peppers. Drag them through avocado cream or charred tomato salsa to frame the sweet smokiness that never wanes as it spreads across the palate. A centerpiece salad of greens with tomato also embraces slices of banana pepper that bulldoze the palate, however, obliterating the intricate structure of taquito flavors. Edit these suckers out.

At lunch, the subtle showiness of the dinner compositions surrenders to sophisticated bombast. The grilled wagyu Texas burger is a full half-pound of meat (not including the Monterey jack cheese slice)—judiciously fired in that hickory grill. If beefiness were not enough, the Texas flair is further substantiated by slices of jalapeño and a pair of avocado wedges stacked with a fluffy bun.

Ground tuna is completely blanketed in a captivating mosaic of blond and tawny sesame seeds in the ahi tuna burger, adding layers to the tuna flavor with an understated nuttiness. It comes with a big tangle of fried onions. There's also a fluff of Asian greens in ginger sesame dressing to keep the sesame momentum at full thrust. Slather on wasabi mayo for a gripping edge.

Artin's is the work of brothers Harout and Elie Akilian, the latter a tech entrepreneur who founded Inet Technologies, a telecom software company. After selling Inet to Tektronix Inc., in 2004, Akilian founded KingsIsle Entertainment, a creator of massively multiplayer online games. The pair plans to spread the Artin's concept to other Texas locations and beyond. And if this ship remains as tight as it is in the Shops at Legacy, those locales are in for a hell of meal.

Artin’s Grill 5840 Legacy Circle, No. D100, Plano, 469-366-3660. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. $$$
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Mark Stuertz
Contact: Mark Stuertz