Last night my wife and I went to Artisinal to celebrate her birthday. Artisinal is Terrance Brennan of Picholine fames new restaurant. It is a large brasserie that features a huge selection of cheese and about 120 wines by the glass. The fromagerie in the back of the restaurant sells cheese to take home as well.
We arrived a little early and even though the Maitre D said he would be happy to seat us, we decided to unwind, have a drink at the bar, and take a look at the fromagerie. We ordered two glasses of NV Gruet Champagne from the bar, toasted Allisons birthday and then walked over to talk with the man who was working behind the cheese counter. The Champagne had too much acidity, but still worked well to ease away the tensions of our long day at work. The fromageries cheeses are artfully displayed and they all look perfect. Often when I buy cheese at the market it is either not ripe yet or too ripe, neither of which is desirable. The cheeses are Artisinal are aged to ripeness in their cheese cave before being put out for purchase.
After looking at all that cheese, we were ready to try some. The host seated us and our waiter came over with menus. As with all new restaurants there are always some service kinks. Our waiter, while very nice and eager to please wasnt really that knowledgeable about the various cheeses and wines, but thats wait the sommelier and the cheese monger are for anyway. We ordered the petite size Artisinal blend fondue to start. The Artisinal blend consisted of Beaufort, Tallegio, and Pierre Robert. This is served with both brown and white bread that was delicious on its own. As far as I was concerned I could have eaten this all night. We had glasses of 1999 Lucien Crochet Croix du Roy Sancerre with the cheese. Our waiter suggested this pairing and even though he wasnt quite up to speed on the wines and the cheeses yet, this suggestion was right on. The bracing acidity of the wine cut through the richness of the cheese in just the right way.
For entrées my wife ordered the brick flattened roasted lemon chicken. This dish was served in light brown gravy with roasted garlic and pureed white beans. Allison wanted a lighter red to go with this dish so I ordered a glass of 98 Oliver Leflaive Santennay. This was the only still wine faux pas of the evening. It was a bit overoaked and had a pronounced minty profile that wasnt too appealing. I ordered the cod Provencal which in a broth with artichokes, olives, tomato, and basil. While this dish was good, it wasnt as tasty as the chicken. I made up for this by ordering a glass of 96 Baumard Savennieres. This wine continues to be very impressive with citrus and minerals galore.
For dessert we pored over the extensive cheese list and picked an Oassau Iraty from France and a Chimay Grand Cru from Belgium. We asked the chessemonger to make a third selection for us. He chose a Comte from France. Since the Baumard Savennieres was so good we got another glass. The Chimay had a spicy finish that was very nice. All three cheeses were perfectly ripe and impeccably stored.
Artisinal may not have been the best meal that Ive had in recent memory, but it certainly was one of the most enjoyable meals. The atmosphere and the setting makes for an evening that just as easily could have taken place in La Coupole on Boulevard Montparnasse in Paris. Im sure that we will return soon.