the Artist is Bucharest’s #1 ranked restaurant according to Trip Advisor. And no, I didn’t miscapitalize the first word in my blog post. Most locals haven’t heard of this place, or they don’t recognize its name. I’d say it could be because many people can’t afford to eat out too much, let alone enjoy fine dining. In fact, when I went there, all the guests I overheard spoke English. Trip Advisor can’t really be trusted in Bucharest, but the Artist also featured in the local guide maps, so it was worth investigating. I looked up their website and menu and I decided to believe in the impression of ambition that I got. It was also acceptable in terms of price for me. (To clarify, being able to order a main and another dish for under US$40 at a fine dining restaurant, that’s an absurdly good deal!) This restaurant was here to impress, not just be any fancy restaurant. It’s called ‘the Artist’ because their dishes are meant to be works of art.
Booking in advance is basically necessary unless you want to leave things to chance. I arrived 10 minutes late, with two locals walking me there somehow struggling to locate it. I ordered Sea Bass Fillet and White Chocolate Mousse. To be honest, none of the mains seemed like reliable choices for me, since my comfort zone is simple meat (think boneless chicken, mince); I wasn’t familiar with any of these featured meats. I’m a fan of salmon and I knew sea bass was meant to be higher class, so that’s why I picked it. (And I ended up loving it.)
For the two items I ordered, there were five servings in total; three things I didn’t order were served. (I was worried at first but I decided to let go and trust. Of course they turned out to be free.) The first serving was bread and two small quantities of sea salt (processed into flakes) and mashed potato with crispy onion and a few other things in there. I thought the sea salt was to be used as salt but in hindsight it must have been part of the ‘dish’. The second serving was a small wrapping of spaghetti and cucumber with a dab of sauce, as well as some kind of puree whose flavor was distinctive but its core ingredients a mystery to me. This was accompanied by another small piece of bread. (I must admit, even at fine restaurants I find bread is just bread.) Then came my sea bass dish. It sounds silly but at this point I finally understood the layout of the menu: each dish contains both major and minor components. Sea bass was the star, but there was a nice chorizo under there and suitable sauces to combine them with. Following the main was a chocolate something, compliments of the chef. I’m afraid I don’t know what it was, but this small piece had chocolate on the outside and was slightly glutinous on the inside (but not to the extent of Oriental rice cakes). I’ve never had that flavor before but it’s really hard to pin down what I thought was different about it. Lastly, came my desert. Like the main, it was a symmetrical dish, and had basically two helpings of everything.
I dined there for almost two hours, alone. It took so long not because service was slow, but because I ate slowly. (If anything, service had to wait for me.) The portions were made to be adequate, a concept that many expensive restaurants don’t adhere to. I literally savored every forkful and spoonful with great focus and intention. The taste of this ingredient alone. And with the sauce. Now if you combine that with the other one too. I can see why they claim their food is art. The interpretation of each flavor combination, though subjective, is supported by precise technique and careful design that ensures the overall experience is as practical as it is creative. The presentation is universally excellent, from the dishes, to the dress code, the candle and flower on the table, the furniture (and oh boy, INTPs can be picky about chairs if they want to), and even the bathroom. I was super impressed with the bathroom. It seems I almost have a thing for restaurant bathrooms with elegant features, such as stylish locks for the cubicles and sinks with roses in them. They provided single-use hand towels instead of paper towels. If anyone is desperate to see my photos of the men’s bathroom (or the dishes I ordered), I suppose I’ll oblige. Lastly, I very much admired the thought and commitment they put into their logo. There is definitely a science-y feel to it, which was reinforced by the use of dry ice for some of their dishes, including the second “plate” they served me. Furthermore, they have a nice piece of wall art with a larger variation of their logo design, as well as aesthetic features in the bathroom that also reflect that style.
Then, to comment on their customer service. Within the context of my general experiences as a foreigner in Bucharest, I’m probably going to remember the impressions they gave me for a very long time. I eat out alone a lot. Often, there are vague traces of stigma around the idea of dining alone at a nice place in a public setting. Sometimes it’s visible, sometimes it’s not. I’m not saying it’s a big deal, since it’s a fact of life, and because sometimes the idea stems from self-consciousness. However, at the Artist, I was able to put that completely aside. If anything, it might have been harder at such a fancy place? But no. The servers didn’t pity me. They welcomed me to enjoy the whole experience; a fine choice. They were proud of what they were serving. My satisfaction was their priority. While these achievements might be impressive in general, it’s not enough to explain why this might well be one of those lifetime experiences for me. (And does this mean they forgave me for wearing tracksuit pants and a hoodie?)
(For the sake of completeness, I’ll note that I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed this experience as much even with the best of company. It was just a perfect setting for an introvert doing their own thing without being interrupted by conversation or holding other people up.)
In Bucharest, I’m treated like an outsider, and I am an outsider. In terms of customer service, that tends to mean I either receive equally poor treatment as everyone else, or just poor treatment. In contrast, at the Artist I was served very well. Somehow I felt accepted for who I was. I was special—as in, equal. You can’t imagine how much that meant to me. And I can’t really explain why it mattered so much to me, except to point out that money does not allow me to be treated equally. That feeling can only come from something remarkable and personal: such was my experience at the Artist.