Friday, September 10, 2010

Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro: A Cheesy Affair

Upon first glance, Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro appears the victim of an identity crisis. On one hand, the restaurant looks, feels and eats like your typical bistro. The restaurant's interior is decidedly bistro-esque, complete with a long wooden bar and checkered-tiled floor, but ironically, its most famously known for fondue, a classic Swiss and not French creation. But while lesser restaurants would surely suffer from this apparent duality, Artisanal has thrived. The main reason for its success can be traced to its owner, king of all things cheese, Terrance Brennan, who in addition to Artisanal, owns the two-Michelin starred restaurant, Picholine.

Having to entertain my family and their friends for the weekend, I was charged with selecting a restaurant with wide array of dishes surely to please all. It was under these circumstances, as well as my family's love for cheese, that I settled on Artisanal, "settling" being the operative word.

While waiting for my family we ordered cocktails at the bar. MW ordered the Strawberry Fields, a Champagne Cocktail - Aperol and Strawberry while I ordered Le Mistral - Hendricks Gin, Fennel Syrup and Fresh Lemon. Unfortunately, both were cloyingly sweet, uncharacteristic of a properly made cocktail.

My family arrived shortly and we were seated within the labyrinth of tightly packed tables. Hungry from their trip, we started with the much-hyped Fondue du Jour, which on this particular day, tasted similar to a mild cheddar. In addition to the complimentary cubes of Bread, we chose Granny Smith Apples, Fingerling Potatoes and Kielbasa for our dunking pleasure. However, this signature dish failed to impress. The cheese lacked the sharpness I prefer in cheddars and overall, tasted rather bland.

Seeing how the restaurant is a veritable temple du fromage, we couldn't pass ordering a Cheese Plate to share. From a laundry list of cheeses, ranging from the familiar to the exotic and everything in between, we selected a Valencay, a tangy goat's milk cheese from France, a creamy Camembert, also from France and a salty Cashel Blue from Ireland, the latter two both cow's milk cheeses.

Soon thereafter our entrees arrived. My mother's Black Sea Bass with Fennel, Crushed Fingerlings and Sauce Vierge was delicate in flavor. The fish was flaky and moist, a result of cooking it whole.

The Chicken under a Brick with Pommes Puree and Sweet Garlic Jus was alright. Although the potatoes were creamy and the chicken remained moist, it fell short, lacking a crispy skin one desires from such a dish.

My sister's Mussels Frites with Garlic, Tomato and Basil were served in the exact same cast iron pot used by Bouchon. The mussels were fine, but the best part of the dish was the flavorful broth at the bottom of the pot, which we greedily sopped up with the remaining bread. The frites, far too skinny to properly be called frites, managed to satisfy our fried potato craving.

MW's Hanger Steak, served with even more Frites was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, but was otherwise par for the course for this value cut of beef, now-turned-popular by restaurants everywhere.

My Maine Diver Scallops with Corn Mousseline, Piquillo Peppers and Chorizo was the most successful of all the dishes. The beautifully seared scallops were enhanced by the sweetness of the corn which was contrasted with the saltiness of the piquillo peppers and spicy chorizo.

Due to my sister's overwhelming craving for Pinkberry, we decided to pass on dessert. Overall, the consensus was that our experience at Artisanal was spectacularly average, which is to say, that while every dish was good from a technical perspective, by in large, none of the dishes stood out. In hindsight, perhaps Brennan would better off scraping the mediocre bistro fare and instead, focus on his passion: cheese.

Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro
2 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10016
(212) 725-8585

To see all our pics click the flickr link.

Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro on Urbanspoon

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