It’s a good time to visit Fort Worth’s new Don Artemio restaurant. The excitement in this room – and among the people who created it – is contagious.
General Manager Adrián Burciaga and Chef-Owner Juan Ramón Cárdenas are proud to have opened their first American restaurant, a place that honors their upbringing in northern Mexico. The walls are clad in clay-colored brick from Saltillo, Mexico, and the tables are smooth pecan wood. A loom tied with cream-colored yarn hangs from the ceiling as a functional work of art to pay homage to the Mexican sarapes made in Cárdenas’ hometown.
In this upscale dining room, the Saltillo desert comes to life in Texas.
And some Texans might learn a thing or two about traditional Mexican cuisine. Burciaga is willing to respectfully explain the menu. For example: “In Mexico, we don’t drink margaritas,” he says — so there are no margaritas on the menu. “A lot of us have a shot of tequila with a Topo Chico and a shot of ice.”
Other cocktails mix tequila with fun ingredients like coconut water or rosé.
Cárdenas is a well-known chef and cookbook author in Mexico who uses a lot of mole, chorizo, nopales (cactus), cajeta de membrillo (quince jelly), and cabrito (kid) in his dishes. Cárdenas’ son, Rodrigo Cárdenas, would eventually move to the United States and become the restaurant’s executive chef.
Most of the recipes are inspired by the recipes of the old Cárdenas – some of which are on the menu of the first Don Artemio, which is in Saltillo. Deconstructed tres leches cake, rich and creamy, with yeast bread, is Rodrigo Cárdenas’ mom’s recipe.
Younger Cárdenas can claim one of the restaurants best main courses. His Chilean sea bass on mole negro, served with seared plantain, is one exuberant bite at a time: buttered fish, smoked mole and sweet plantain. Executive chef Cárdenas says the mole includes 40 or 50 ingredients.
Diners should start with an appetizer to share like white fish and salmon ceviche or relleno peppers stuffed with candied cabrito. But one dish that would feel most at home in Saltillo would be fried cactus served on homemade tortillas. These nopalitos fritos are fun to build and better to eat – the crunch of nopalitos, the zing of salsa, the sweetness of tortillas.
And whenever there is cabrito, consider getting it.
The elder Cárdenas says his father, who was never a professional cook, taught him how to make cabrito. Today, he confits it, puts it in tortas, stuffs it in peppers and braises it in a stew. His father never got to fulfill his dream of opening a restaurant in Texas before his death, so the son and grandson do it for him.
“Sometimes the dreams of the parents are transmitted”, explains Juan Ramón Cárdenas.
Diners will find Rosewood Ranch dry-aged steaks hanging in the dining room. Dozens of bottles of wine from Spain, France, Mexico and the United States are also on display.
With the two Cárdenas chefs overseeing the kitchen and menu, Burciaga works the room, hugging loyal customers and making wine recommendations. Burciaga was the general manager of Cafe Modern at the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art, just 0.1 mile from Don Artemio’s front door. Burciaga had always known the elder Cárdenas in Mexico, then got to know him when he agreed to be a guest conductor at the Fort Worth museum several years ago.
Their partnership today at the Don Artemio always seems to delight the effortless host Burciaga.
Who is Don Artemio?
Don Artemio is not a fictional character, although he is not alive either. Don Artemio was an author born in Saltillo in 1884 who became bon vivant and gourmand. He wrote 54 novels that pay special attention to food and drink.
“When he tackles the subject of food in his books, he dives into the smallest details,” says Burciaga.
Twenty-three of the author’s books, almost all collectibles, are stacked on a bookcase near the bar.
Don Artemio isn’t here to see the restaurant that bears his name, but you have to guess: he’d love to sit in this beautiful bar, watch Texans eat a fancy version of his hometown food.
Don Artemio is at 3268 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth. It opened on March 23, 2022.