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« Review: Papa Perrone's lunch truck, 7/10/09 | Main | My sweet tooth weighs in »
Monday
Jul132009

Dinner at Artisanal, 7/10/09

*THIS RESTAURANT HAS SINCE CLOSED*

 

  • Cuisine: French/Bistro
  • Atmosphere: grand, spacious, bistro-chic, cheese/charcuterie bar, lively
  • Attire: business-casual
  • Ideal for: date night, small groups/1x1, cheese plates, charcuterie, fondue, prix-fixe menus
  • Must try: Gougeres, fondues, cheese plates
  • Prices for my meal: Appetizer: Gougeres, $9.50; Entree: Spring Vegetable Risotto, $19.50
  • Reservations: Via phone or opentable.com
  • Phone: (212) 725-8585
  • Website: artisanalbistro.com/index.php
  • Location: 2 Park Avenue, (at 32nd Street)

The last time I had dinner at Artisanal was a little over 2 years ago, when my mother (visiting from out of town) met my (now ex) boyfriend for the first time. While the meal was lovely, I’ve since avoided Artisanal like the plague after our bitter breakup (almost 2 years ago!). Me, hold a grudge? Never!

Artisanal is famous for its namesake hand-picked cheeses procured from all over the world. In addition to the dining room, the restaurant also houses an on-site cheese cave and a retail counter. And that brings me to my most recent visit: After having learned of Artisanal’s “summer picnic baskets,” I anxiously invited my friend Cathryn to help me stock up on some decadent French delicacies. We instantly fell in love with the knowledgeable fromagere and swapped stories about our mutual obsession with France. “Are you girls hungry?” She said in her thick French accent. Cathryn and I looked at each other and smiled. “Well if you’re joining us for dinner tonight, I can plate and serve some of your (basket) purchased items to nibble on.”

It didn’t take Madame Fromage much to convince us! Cathryn and I approached the hostess for a two-top and were seated for dinner immediately. Within minutes, a tall basket arrived filled with fresh, moist white and wheat bread that was paired with the most perfect schmear of spreadable butter. Like magic, our glasses of wine came simultaneously along with a white paper cone overflowing with gougeres (a donut-hole sized cheese soufflé that mated with a fluffy popover). As I placed the golden morsel in my mouth, I couldn't help but close my eyes in shear bliss as its warm, creamy core melted on to my tongue. Heaven.

I took my last sip of wine just as the server and fromagere arrived baring  our beautifully arranged appetizer: ¼ of the contents of our basket plus ½ of a loaf of sliced baguette. “When plating the cheese, always start arranging from the 6 o’clock point. Start with the mildest, moving counter-clockwise, and end with the strongest. Make sure to combine the pate de campagne with the cornichon and moutarde,” instructed Madame Fromage. After placing our entrée orders with the server, Cathryn and I dove in to our “basket tasting,” which included:

  • Camembert (a creamy cheese with notes of mushroom/earth)
  • Selles-sur-Cher (a soft, pungent goat cheese encased with vegetable ash)
  • Ossau-Iraty (my personal favorite; a sweet and buttery cheese with a texture similar to cheddar)
  • Fourme d'Ambert (a soft and creamy blue, much less saltier than Stilton)
  • Fig confiture (jam)
  • Saucisson sec (the most delicious, mildly spicy and garlicky hard sausage)
  • Pate de campagne (a dense and meaty country pate; note that I'm still trying to develop a taste/appreciation for this)
  • Jar of cornichons (whole baby-pickles, about the size of your pinkie finger)
  • Dijon mustard/moutarde (spicy and intense, this paired beautifully with the pate and cornichons)

Just when I thought that I *may* have to remove my belt for the duration of the meal (my tight pants were causing me to lose circulation from over-indulging), my Spring Vegetable Risotto entree arrived. Boiled in a mushroom and vegetable stock, the perfectly-cooked arborio rice took on a subtle brown color, contrasting gently against its stark white bowl. Blended with fresh green peas, bite-sized pieces of asparagus, waxy fava beans and fragrant wild mushrooms, the creamy risotto made for the perfect light summer entree (Note to self: Don't eat like a lumberjack prior to the main course.).

Truly reminiscent of an authentic French brasserie (20+ foot tall ceilings, giant beveled mirrors, whimsically colored tile floors and crisp white table cloths), Artisanal is a special destination for all occasions. Cathryn and I were so pleased with our basket/cheese counter experience, the service we received, and our excellent meal. The entire experience transported us back to our week-long Parisian adventure that we took together in March.

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