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Jul 18, 2001 02:12 PM

Accolades for Artisanal

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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...

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  1. Nice post, Erica. Question: How big are the fondues there? Could one person order one as an appetizer, or are they too big?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Ira Kaplan

      The menu says that the small fondues serve 1 to 3. I'd say that one would be rather large for an appetizer, though certainly not beyond the skills/appetite of a dedicated chowhound. If you started with some oysters, the fondue would make a fine main course.

      I neglected to mention the price of my meal: Everyone at the table paid $63 which averaged out 4 glasses of wine and an iced tea.

    2. I've printed out your report to save. While I'd heard about Artesanal's mouth-watering cheeses, I knew little about their main courses. (I could stick to cheese--but most of my eating pals would insist on a main event.) Dover Sole being one of my favorite fishes, it's great to know that their's is such a good rendition (Sorrel and olive oil sounds so much zippier than the usual drenched in butter sauce.) In the past, I've paid so much for it, only to be disappointed by the lack of flavor and texture that I remember back in the years I lived in London. And I must try their sweetbreads--another big favorite that's disappeared from so many menus.

      Your review's going into my chowhound file. Thanks!

      1. Ive been to Artisinal for business lunches 3x over the past month. I could not agree with you more.

        Their $15.50 sirloin cheesesteak sandwich ruined my last trip to Philadelphia.

        I loved the Stilton with Sautern fondue as well - strong and well balanced. Im no expert on fondue but I preferred the Artisinal - it was much milder but the mixture had so many layers of flavors. I tried the cod last week and it was perfection. Ive only eaten there for business lunches so I did not take notes and was unable to fully focus on the meal but IIRC the cod had a very light dusting of bread crumbs on the top side, was served in a light and tasty artichoke sauce, with a few pieces of sauteed artichoke hearts on the side. I usually don't order cod but this was the waiters suggestion and I could not have been more pleased.

        Im looking forward to going back with a big group for dinner.

        1. Thanks for the report Erica. I live right around the corner and have yet to go. That will soon change!