Had dinner at Artisanal last night and enjoyed it immensely. It's a bustling space that when you enter assaults you--in a good way--with the smell of cheese. Our party of six got a roomy round table in the center of the room and we did spend the meal screaming at each other because of the din. However the folks seated around the edges seemed not to be having such a tough time.
We started with two fondues, the Artisinal blend made with Vacherin and somecheese else and Sauvignon blanc, and a Stilton and bacon one. Both were excellent though my table prefered the latter which was pungent and smokey. Interestingly, each fondue came with a different selection of bread cubes.
The real surprise was the entrees which were terrific and not overly fromo-centric. My Dover sole--grilled whole and filleted tableside--was one of the best pieces of fish I've had in a while. It was nicely done with sorrel and olive oil and was accompanied by perfectly cooked asparagus and smashed fingerling potatoes. A lovely plat.
Around the table: delicious sweetbreads and a "chicken under a brick" that rocked. This dish is traditionally done with a whole, butterflied chicken that's seared in a hot pan while surmounted by a brick or other heavy object that forces as much skin as possible to be in contact with hot pan. Artisinal's version was tamer--a quarter of a bird that appeared to have been flattened then roasted at a high temperature--but it was juicy and full of flavor and came on top of a mound of aligot--mashed potatoes into which a good amount of Comte cheese has been incorporated. YUM!
I dont' know what came over me, but I didn't try the steak frites, dayboat cod or striped bass across the table. They all got raves.
Interlude: the wine list struck this wine beginner as smart and varied. I liked that most of the dozens of wines were available by the glass. I started out with a fruity but dry Reisling recommended by our French waiter that suited the fondue. For my fish I got a French chardonnay for only $7 glass.
Instead of dessert we had a cheese course. The waiters were nice enough, but the fromageur who helped us out with the cheese course was a treasure. Knowledgable and affable in equal measure, he put together plate consisting of six cheeses which we were instructed to eat clockwise, from mildest to sharpest. We asked for a variety of countries and animals, asked him to include a favorite of mine, Ardrahan from Ireland, and to make sure there was something Italian and he did a bang-up job.
Not only can diners visit the little cave where the cheeses await service, but the restaurant also has a proper cheese shop that's open till 12:30 am. Take that, Murray's! The fromageur confided that from time to time he gets raw-milk brie which is contraband as raw-milk cheeses must be aged over 60 days to get legally imported into the US and brie is brie no longer when it gets past two months.
Here are some things I saw that made me want to return soon: The chocolate fondue looked awesome but so did a tarte tatin I passed by. The shellfish platter also looked spectacular and featured steamed razor clams, something I'd never seen before. (They did look a little vulnerable, I have to admit, without a mantle of black bean sauce...) Also, if we hadn't had the fondue and the main dishes, we could have eaten a lot more cheese...