Artu: Gluten-free Pasta for Deep Pockets

After reading on their website that Artu serves gluten-free pasta, I begged Husband for weeks to try it, despite the somewhat high prices ($15-30 for an entrée). Finally, one evening after trying and failing to get into several other restaurants on a Friday night, we walked past Artu’s Charles Street location (there is a North End location too) and noticed an empty table. 

We walked down the small, narrow stairs into a small, pleasant, simple dining room. We were seated almost immediately. The wooden tables and chairs are fairly close together. There is a large wood-burning fireplace that does make the flow of the room a bit more cramped and awkward, but adds charm and décor to an otherwise utilitarian space, so it balances out. Overall, the space is clean and inviting and has a great view of the kitchen. I like that the kitchen is open can be seen from the dining area: watching chefs is always fascinating.

After ordering our drinks, I asked our waitress about gluten-free options. The waitress was knowledgeable about gluten-free options. She said many of the meat dishes could be made gluten-free.

She said that I could have gluten-free pasta, whatever shape they had in the back, either a penne or rigatoni (no ravioli or tortellini) with any entrée / sauce for an additional fee of six dollars. That is right, six dollars! I am frequently charged a nominal fee for gluten-free products. They are more expensive and have to be cooked separately; so the normal one or two dollar surcharge seems reasonable.

I was so shocked at the steep surcharge that I actually tried to justify it, but found I could not.  So I asked if the pasta was fresh (I would have been ok with the charge if the pasta was fresh) and the waitress said no, it was just inconvenient for them to keep gluten-free pasta so they charge more for it.  At Trader Joe’s a pound of gluten-free pasta is $1.99 and even Whole Foods charges less than $6.00 a pound for its gluten-free pastas.  It doesn’t seem fair to charge so much for a small serving of pasta when the market value just doesn’t bear it out.

I was even more miffed about the surcharge when I realized that Artu’s online menu states that gluten-free pasta is available, but not the amount of the surcharge. Stonehearth Pizza discloses the amount of the surcharge on both their online and restaurant menus and even more places like Charley’s or Not Your Average Joe’s do not even charge more for gluten-free options.

We started off by ordering a sausage appetizer. The sausages were excellent: well-seasoned and perfectly cooked. The anise was not overwhelming, nor were they too salty. They sausages were topped with a simple tomato sauce, which was also very good.

After being so irritated by the pasta surcharge, I ended up ordering a simple roast chicken served with oven-roasted vegetables. I tried to order some mashed potatoes, offered on the menu, but was told that the chef no longer serves potatoes and I could order some gluten-free pasta instead if I liked. I went without a side.

The chicken was dry and pretty flavorless. The skin was pale and fatty. Obviously the oven had not been hot enough and the skin not seasoned or prepped with oil or butter well enough to render the skin and create that amazing, almost crackly crust that a really amazing roast chicken has. The vegetables were just ok, they were seasoned with dried herbs and were not amazing. Overall the dish was mediocre at best.

Husband ordered a lobster ravioli, which he LOVED. He ate the whole dish with a big grin on his face. He said the sauce was unbelievable and tasted rich, creamy and lobster-y.

After the entrée, we decided to go for a dessert. I ordered a Limoncello gelato and Husband ordered a bombe: peach and strawberry gelato coated with white chocolate. Both desserts were excellent. The Limoncello gelato was especially good. It was rich, tart and satisfying.

Overall the service was okay, the waitress was pleasant, but a little perfunctory and seemed a bit distracted with take out orders from time to time.

Husband and I definitely disagreed about whether Artu is worth the price tag. Husband thought it was top notch. I might go back and give it another try, but for now my verdict is mediocre and over-priced.  I would much rather stop by the Beacon Hill Bistro!

I would give Artu three stars for both its mediocre food and gluten-free friendliness.

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