At Artie's, care and creativity have been focused not only on the food but also on the decor. An attractive potpourri of designer touches is in evidence throughout the restaurant -- skylights, beamed ceilings, quarry tile floors, mauve walls, exposed brick walls, raspberry-colored booths, large bouquets of fresh flowers, and Oriental rugs. The overall effect is lively and pleasing.
The attention given to the food has paid off, too. The fresh pasta dishes make wonderful starters. There is cannelloni di casa stuffed with four cheeses, or veal-filled half-moons of green and white pasta in a delicious cream sauce with fresh basil and sweet red peppers. The third pasta combined a pancetta tomato cream sauce and some sweet, perfectly cooked scallops on thin capellini. Each of the three pasta dishes can also be ordered as an entree.
Another winning appetizer, the Monterey strudel, was like a large pastry-dough egg roll stuffed with creamy cheeses, artichoke hearts, and spinach.
Other restaurants call them chicken fingers, although Artie's has chosen an equally incongruous name, chicken lips, for their fried strips of chicken breast. Although the portion (four strips) was on the skimpy side for $2.95, I've never tasted better.
Some of the less complicated entrees were the most enjoyable. The thin, boned chicken breast on a bed of garlic-flavored angel hair pasta was gently seasoned and lightly grilled.
The good-sized portion of meaty baby back ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender but came with a barbecue sauce that was a little too sweet for my taste. The spicy blackened bayou burger was a hit.
In two dishes that featured fresh Virginia lake trout, the fish was delicious although some of the accompaniments were less impressive. A special one evening, the menu listed a 10-ounce trout stuffed with backfin crab, shrimp and scallops. It was served perfectly baked, but the crab stuffing was heavy on the breading and there was only one shrimp and no scallops. On the other hand, the pan-fried trout was showered with a super-abundance of roasted pecans and currants, but a bitter citrus butter did nothing to bring together the diversity of flavors.
The two weakest entrees were some overly salty cajun seafood cakes and a salad of backfin crab, shrimp and bay scallops that was dramatically presented, but otherwise unexceptional.
So often the vegetables served with entrees are neglected, but at Artie's, except for an unappealing side order of coleslaw, the vegetables showed a careful hand. For example, the asparagus was flavorful and cooked to a tender but crisp stage, and the sliced red bliss potatoes were nicely sauteed with chopped onions and bits of red and green peppers.
Although service is good and there were no long waits, it is all too easy, nevertheless, to gobble up the sweet fried bread served before dinner. The doughy, round balls resembled large doughnut nuggets and come with a honey-poppyseed butter.
But keep in mind that Artie's has some grand desserts to tempt as well as challenge you.
The mile-high ice cream pie is both fun and formidable -- a 7-inch-high wedge of three flavors of Sedutto ice cream layered with raspberry sauce in a pool of hot fudge. The hot apple-pecan pie topped with butterscotch praline ice cream is a terrific combination, although the soggy crust leaves something to be desired. If you want to throw all caution to the wind -- and care not about calories or cholesterol -- have the smooth, sweet and ultra-rich chocolate hurricane cake.
Artie's is on the right track. The decor has polish and flair in a comfortable, contemporary way and the staff is attentive. The interesting menu is generally well-executed, with enough tasty creations to bring you back again.