Thank you all for your suggestions, as I took some of them to heart or at least passed the info on to those who dined with me last night.
We started with the gougere's and a cheese plate. First the gougere's - these were very good but a lot saltier than those at Eleven Madison Park. The "grande" basket which we ordered was about the same size you get as an amuse at EMP, and cost a lot more as well. They were good, no doubt, but I wouldn't order them again. The cheese plate. Here's what we ordered, in ranking from favorite to least favorite (note: we loved all of them).
1. Epoisses (cow) (our favorite even before ordering. Have had great success with this at ILO and even bought some downtown via Murray's website.) Delicious.
2. Lavort (sheep)
3. Brillat-Savarin (cow)
4. Garrotxa (Goat)
5. Erboronati di Pecora (sheep)
6. Cantalet (cow)
French Onion Soup
This was the heaviest/densest F.O soup I've ever had although possibly not the best. It was almost too rich, but delicious nonetheless. I think they use something stronger than sherry, as you could taste the alcohol (brandy?). Very good, but too much.
These were fairly good. The pork, vegetables and sauce in this dish was remarkably salty but very good. The consistency of the gnocchi was pretty weak. Overall it was acceptable, but the gnocchi itself could have been better. You could taste the potato more than in traditional forms, even through the saltiness.
My mom and wife ordered the chicken under a brick and both enjoyed it. My wife noted some asian flavorings in it, which she was surprised, but delighted by. I didn't have any, so can't attest to this.
Dad ordered the veal shank special and loved it. The presentation was impressive, it smelled very good and by dad's limited review, it was good, and I believe him.
I ordered the Thursday special which was cassoulet. And I must say, it was great. Far better than what I've had at D'Artagnan (which is no longer around). Much more stew-like than broth-like. The sausage was limited and firm but good, and the pork was perfectly salty. Everything was well made in this dish and it came together nicely. Definitely reminded me of a step above what family friends in Grenoble have made for me before.
For dessert we ordered the chocolate fondue and couldn't finish it. We were way too stuffed.
Some cons, and these are pretty surprising. We sat in the 2 bench seat+2 chair area (front) and both were incredibly uncomfortable. After 2+ hours, I can honestly say I've never been so happy to get up. Horribly uncomfortable (even after 10 minutes).
Service, albeit a busy night, was mediocre. Our server was friendly enough but seemed frazzled. She had little to no knowledge of the cheeses and kindly got the fromagier to speak with us - who was very good and suggested 3 good cheeses.
The coat check area is horrendously cramped and difficult to get in and out of, as is the entry, which is really one in the same.
Lastly, and the biggest turn off of the night was the noise. Granted, I expected it to be somewhat loud, but the noise level was ridiculous. I couldn't hear what my wife, who was sitting a foot and a half away, was saying. Do not go to Artisanal for an intimate affair...although you can bet that the people sitting next to you won't hear what you are saying if privacy is an issue.
But in the end, you go to Artisanal for the cheese (which many of you have said) and it is superb. The smell when you first walk in could kill a lactose intolerant individual, but to me it was heaven. I very much enjoyed the evening but don't forsee going back unless my curd-loving friends from out of town come for a visit or I have an insatiable craving for fondue (without making it for myself at home).
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