Johnny Church has a TCB Lightning Bolt Tattoo. Church and other Vegas chefs in the brotherhood wear the same ink. Taking Care of Business like Elvis did. A nod to Vegas, and a nod to the fast paced workplaces local chefs inhabit.
Chef Johnny Church
Brett Ottolenghi is another interesting character in Las Vegas. Engaging and passionate, Brett is the kind of guy you would expect to win Jeopardy for a few rounds before politely excusing himself to catch up on the latest Sri Lankan tea harvest reports.
Named the Caviar King by CNN, Ottolenghi made his name in caviar, foie gras, and truffles. Times changed with the economy, however, and when he recently moved to a larger location, Brett diversified his product selection and built his ‘Test Kitchen,’ integrating Johnny as partner and chef.
Artisanal Foods new location is around the corner from the old digs near Sunset Road and Eastern. The new location has high ceilings and a bright, airy atmosphere. There is a small dining area with access to a large kitchen that Johnny inhabits. The largest area, however, is designated for retail with many of Ottolenghi’s primo and more curious selections present, as well as the new additions of three circular fish tanks.
The fish tanks are there to place emphasis on Brett’s older passion, sturgeon, and a newer one, Lionfish. Lionfish, if you need some refreshment of those grey cells, are those gorgeous yet odd-looking fish that swim around waving venomous tentacles looking like something from a McQueen (Alex, not Steve) dream. Brett is pleased to feed them for us. The little guys swallow unsuspecting little shrimp whole. I feel sorry for the prey. The Lionfish don’t even mess their manes a bit.
Passionate people run the gamut from crazy to logical; luckily, Brett is one of the more logical ones, and I get a quick education on the reasoning for the Lionfish display. Lionfish aren’t a native species to the Americas. They’re from the Indo-Pacific; few predators want to mess with the pretty things. After a few were released in the wrong hood they’ve become much more dangerous as an invasive species from Maine to South of Venezuela down to a depth of about 150 feet. It’s estimated that over 80% of the invasive species in the Western Atlantic is Lionfish. A lack of predators makes them the fatties of the area, and they easily can top out at four pounds or so with 18-20” length.
What can you do to help?
Picky as well as pretty, the Lionfish doesn’t go for hooks and can only be caught by spearfishing. Tough cookies. Brett has a source for the fish, however, and Johnny Church prepares them so they are light and tasty. Don’t worry, the venomous spines are removed. They taste kind of like Orange Roughy, says Ottolenghi. An explanation is bound to follow. Roughy are very slow to grow and mature, and some of those tasty filets may be from a 150 year old fish. Definitely a no-no purchase if you want sustainable catch. We all do. So make sure to order the Lionfish (you’re in the know).
Artisanal Foods business plan is rather complex. As previously blathered about, Brett sources some of the finest and some of the most unique (and sometimes both) food products on the planet. Need some FRESH (and REAL) wasabi from a Japanese farmer with centuries of wasabi farming experience? Call Brett. Need freezers full of caviar? Ditto. Artisanal has branched out from the Strip clientele, however, and with Johnny Church on board the firm can now do almost anything for the public at large- from catering to gift baskets to amazing, unique delicacies in a small café setting. The best part, however, is that not only does the new location feature more intimate dining, but their lower food costs result in a lower bill- and you can probably purchase some goodies to ‘try that at home’. The result is a rather amazing experience in a venue that has tremendous possibilities.
Lunch at Artisanal Cafe is Tuesday-Saturday 11am-3pm. There is somewhere around 12 seats available. With a projected two turns you are looking at a need for reservations.
The menu is small, as expected- I would also expect it to change seasonally, if not sooner. Think quality comfort food. Everything was very good- which is what you should get from a top notch chef with top notch ingredients. I would recommend this for the important business lunch where you want to get to know someone by placing them just a bit out of their element into an experience they will remember.
Here are a few notes:
Charcuterie and Cheeses: while this dish is often a softball at most restaurants, the key here is the variety of product available at Artisanal Foods. Certain to be interesting.
Made to Order Caesar: Fresh and Great.
Pancakes with Seared Sonoma Foie Gras- another continuation of the trend that never ends, Church adds enough of a twist on this dish to keep it interesting.
MontAmore Grilled Cheese- This is a good example of what Church can do. A very simple dish, perhaps, but when combined with brioche, honey, and Artisanal's MontAmore cheese this dish is even better than it looks.
Piedmontese Truffle and Foie Burger- Piedmontese beef was a relative unknown in the US until the 1980s and still reasonable rare (no pun intended). The breed, originating in Italy, has a mutation that results in more muscle and less fat. I find the beef appears significantly different when cooked and has a decidedly creamy texture when compared to Angus. Probably my favorite burger locally, this beef was also used in another one of my favorite burgers in Detroit- at the Redcoat Tavern on Woodward. In my opinion the Foie and Truffle just add trendiness to (but do not detract from) this fantastic burger.
Som Drinking Vinegar- Don't judge it by its name. Produced by PokPok, the Oregon-based-but-growing Thai concern, the 'drinking vinegar' is a tart yet sweet fruit based syrup. Mixed with soda water, the result is unique and refreshing, with varieties running the gamut from pineapple to turmeric. Call it a shrub and call your local bartender. Or try this at home. Best Bet: Thai Basil
A Note about Shopping at Artisanal Foods
I can't say enough about shopping at Artisanal- Go there at least twice a month.
There are two reasons:
1) Brett is always getting interesting product. Some is new to the firm and some is restocking fairly rare and hard-to-find product. Odds are the more you go, the more likely you can experience something new and wonderful. Some of these items are next to impossible to find, such as the previously mentioned Japanese wasabi.
2) Prices. Brett has always been concerned about his pricing. Good things generally cost money. I picked up Benton's bacon for a bit over $11 a pound. Which is cheaper than a grocery store but more than Benton's 4-pound pack (sans shipping). You can buy authentic purebred Japanese Wagyu beef here for close to Prime at Whole Paycheck. Save some cash and support some local dudes doing good.
And buy this cheese. It's a ton of fun on the plate and palate.
Cafe Open Tuesday - Saturday 11am - 3pm
Store Hours: M - Sat 9:00 am - 6:00 pm Sun 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
2053 Pama Ln Las Vegas NV 89119