By James Ross
The first feeling that you get when you enter the Artisan House restaurant in Huntsville is one of visiting the home of good friends. The warmth and hospitality of the whole staff is very noticeable, and they welcomed us to the restaurant as if we were house guests. This, it turns out, is very much by plan.
“The concept is to have guests feeling like they are coming to our house for dinner,” says Becki Steele, our server and also co-owner of the establishment.
The Artisan House brings a touch of European class to the Muskoka food scene. Though the restaurant offers a small menu, it is kept fresh and interesting by changing things up on a regular basis, and by adding seasonal offerings and daily specials. The menu is clever and innovative. Using locally-sourced and seasonal ingredients, the Artisan House menu includes unique Mediterranean fusion dishes coupled with a very distinctive west coast vibe. Seems incongruous, you might think – but take a look at the owner’s background and experience, and it all makes sense.
The Artisan House Offers a Taste of Europe
Steele was born in Huntsville. Her co-owner, chief chef and partner Reto Ballat is from Switzerland. The two spent many years travelling the world and honing their gastronomic skills. After graduating from culinary school in Switzerland, Ballat first worked in restaurants in Germany and on cruise ships, before following his dream to see the Canadian Rockies. He worked at the Post Hotel and Spa in Lake Louise Alberta, while Becki polished her talents at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The two met, and a romantic and culinary bond ensued. Steele and Ballat have worked together in the food industry ever since; in Victoria,Haida Gwaii, Whistler, and then back in Switzerland.
The couple’s dream was always to own and operate their own restaurant. When an opportunity presented itself in Becki’s hometown of Huntsville with the La Dolce Vita Trattoria Italian eatery up for sale, Steele and Ballat knew they had to take it. They bought the charming heritage-home restaurant and renovated what was a dark interior into something light and open. An electric fireplace adds comfort to the interior, while a bright, glassed sunroom is perfect for larger groups. The outside patio might be the ultimate choice for those warm Muskoka evenings.
A Swiss-inspired Menu
The couple’s background helps to better explain their present menu – dishes are influenced by Ballat’s Swiss roots combined with flavours and inspired ideas picked up from their travels in western Canada.
Our pre-dinner signature cocktails are refreshing and creative; a prosecco, gin, and lemon juice for her, and a bourbon, lime and ginger for me. The wine cellar is well-stocked and varied, suitable for all tastes and budgets. We order a 2016 Lost Angel Californian Cabernet Sauvignon.
I start my meal with a delicious west coast seafood chowder with clams, baby shrimp, and salmon. My wife opts for the more traditional Caesar salad made with romaine lettuce, grana Padano cheese and homemade dressing and croutons. I follow with an Albacore Tuna perfectly grilled, while my wife chooses the lobster and scallop gnocchi, the most tender she has ever tasted. The portions are large and delightful.
For dessert she decides on Tiramisu with espresso and Frangelico liqueur, while I enjoy a mouth-watering chocolate brownie topped with a homemade vanilla bean gelato. As we end the meal sipping on a latte and a cappuccino, Chef Ballat himself visits our table to see if we enjoyed the cuisine.
Everything was perfect. From the cosy setting and warmth of the staff, to the intriguing and splendid menu, the Artisan House is designed to make visitors feel very welcome… and very much at home.
The Artisan House is located a block off the main street in downtown Huntsville Ontario, at 21 West Street South. Visit their website at www.theartisanhouse.ca to learn more about this top-rated Huntsville restaurant.
Contributor James Ross isa travel writer and columnist, and author of the books Cottage Daze and Still in a Daze at the Cottage. He lives in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada.