Last night was perhaps one of the strangest dining experiences I have had in New York (and I grew up here, so that's saying a lot). My husband and I went to Jean Luc (on Columbus between 83rd and 84th) for dinner. We thought we might take the restaurant week menu, but decided to select courses of the a la cart instead.
To start I had the chilled artichoke and my husband had the pate. The artichoke was very simple but wonderful. It was presented very well and was accompanied by a tasty vinaigrette. The pate was also very nice and had several garnishes.
We both had the rack of lamb for a main and were very happy. The meat was (slightly over cooked- but still wonderful) encased in a delightful crust which wasn't too crisp and complemented the tenderness of the New Zealand meat. My Husband loved the chick pea sticks that accompanied the dish while I thought they were a bit too bland (although last week I had the rack of lamb at Ouest which was accompanied by the greatest mac and cheese I've had-- except from Artisanal-- so perhaps I was still longing for the mac and cheese).
Here is where things got strange. For desert an "artisanal" cheese plate was offered. I always take the cheese course and so I ordered it without thinking twice. When the plate arrived I was very suspicious because the cheeses looked like they had been purchased at the Gristedes across the street. I tasted the cheeses (a swiss, a munster, a chevre covered in peppercorn and an unidentified soft rind white cheese) and there was no doubt in my mind that these could not be called artisanal cheeses because there was no skill involved in making these cheeses--they were obviously mass produced, not to mention tasteless.
I do not claim to be an expert in most things, but cheese is something I know VERY well. I was upset and asked the manager (who had been prowling around all night) if the cheeses were in fact "artisanal" cheeses as represented on the menu. He assured me they were artisanal cheeses. When I asked him how a commercially produced cheese could be an artisanal cheese he asked me if I knew what artisanal meant. I was totally taken a back at his rudeness. He continued that artisanal meant they came from Terrance Brennan's Artisanal restaurant, did I know who Terrance Brennan was or what Artisanal was. Now I can assure you I have eaten at Artisanal over a dozen times-- I was one of the first people to flock to Artisanal when it first opened and I have returned time after time. Additionally, three years ago I sat down and interviewed Max Kindel, the then (still?) fromagier. I very simply said yes and he again assured me that the cheeses were from Artisanal. I asked as politely as possible for the names of the cheeses, or a cheese list if one was available. The manager disappeared into the fray.
A couple of minutes later my husband spotted the manager across the restaurant shuffling papers and arguing with a waiter. Several minutes after that the manager returned with a cheese list containing names and descriptions on Artisanal Letter head. I studied the list of cheeses on both pages and noticed that none on the list were in fact on the cheese plate offered at Jean Luc (except for munster- but I doubt that the munster on the cheese plate was from Artisanal as it lacked any odor or taste, and for those who have had true munster at Artisanal, you know how pungent it is). I asked why the cheeses did not correspond to those on the list and the manager replied that it was restaurant week. To this nonresponsive remark he once again asked if I knew who Terrance Brennan was. It was at this point I knew that no good was to come of this conversation and I thanked the manager for his time and asked for the bill. After having to wait for a correct copy of the bill (as we were overcharged for items ordered and never delivered) we stood up to leave.
As I waited by the door for my husband to get our coats the manager approached me again and said (with a smirk) he was sorry I did not enjoy the artisanal cheese plate. At this point I turned and told him that I was well aware of Artisanal restaurant, of Terrance Brennan and the quality of cheese that comes from that fine establishment, adding- and you sir are not serving artisanal cheeses nor cheeses from Artisanal. I told him when he did finally find the Artisanal cheese list corresponding to the cheeses on his cheese plate I would be very interested to see it. It was at this point he offered my husband and I champagne on the house. We declined and headed home.
Resigned not to let this go just yet, I phoned Artisanal the next morning and asked if they provided cheese to Jean Luc, the women (who could not have been more pleasant) said that perhaps they purchased the cheese from their retail store. I told her that I doubted the quality. She asked which cheeses were on the plate and confirmed that ARTISANAL DOES NOT SELL THE MAJORITY OF CHEESES THAT JEAN LUC REPRESENTED WERE ARTISNAL'S CHEESES. She was quite taken aback that a restaurant would have made such a misrepresentation. She immediately asked which restaurant had made this misrepresentation and asked for their address for further investigation. I provided the information and added that I adore Artisanal and would hate to have them associated with a restaurant which misappropriated their name and served inferior cheese. At the end of the call she once again expressed her confoundment at Jean Luc and invited me to come to Artisanal so that I could have a proper cheese plate. I told her I planned to do so soon and thanked her for her time.