We walked to the Park Avenue location just as the snow they'd been threatening all day was beginning to fall. We were a bit confused trying to find the place (especially since my Palm was on the fritz and so I couldn't pull up my map or walking directions) but I was under the impression that traditionally if the address is "2 Park Avenue" the entrance would be on Park Avenue, not halfway down the block on a cross-street. But I quibble... once we found our location, we checked our coats and were seated immediately. Our first waitress was young, friendly, even perky. She wasn't put off by our stated intention to "maximize our cheese experience" or when we asked to please just bring the courses as they were ready... I mean, if you're going to have an all cheese meal, how do you decide exactly when to have the cheese plate versus the fondue course?
The menu was glorious! We settled on a Stilton and Sauternes fondue instead of the special sharp-cheddar-based "100 cheese fondue" and the only thing I regret is that there wasn't more of it. We started with cubes of assorted breads for dipping but after the first bite I knew we definitely needed some apple to go with it. Our lovely waitress brought us some right away and it was perfect. Just writing up the experience makes my mouth water all over again.
Next we had the cheese and charcuterie platter. The platter was comprised of a Valenšay goat cheese from France, Constant Bliss cow's milk cheese from Vermont, Tomme de Savoie cow's milk cheese from France, ComtÚ traditionally unpasteurized cow's milk from France, Kuntener raw cow's milk cheese from Switzerland, and a Shropshire Blue from England, plus three or four different cured meats, gherkins, quince paste, a fig concoction, green grapes, and sliced apples and pears. We also had another assortment of breads, including a dark bread with nuts in it that was beyond words when combined with some of the meats and cheeses. It was at this point we asked for some mustard, which again was cheerfully supplied.
Unfortunately, it was also at this point that it started snowing harder and our cheery waitress left for the night. Instead we were attended for the rest of the evening by a very stern and formal woman who was absolutely ruthless in her stiff, European attention. When I got up to use the bathroom during the meal, my plate was removed and only replaced when I resorted to eating straight off the table. She was also intent on straightening my silverware while I was using them! I'll admit to being a bit put off at this point, though the food was still excellent.
Our final courses came somewhat more slowly. Chris has the steak tartare and both Steve and I had the French Onion soup. It was perfect French Onion Soup weather, after all. Steve enjoyed his very much but I found mine to be burned on top to the degree that any bit with some cheese in it was tasted charred and unpleasant. I think I left most of the cheese in the bottom of the bowl, which kind of defeats the purpose of French Onion soup, in my opinion. If it hadn't been the end of the night, the end of a nearly two hour long meal... if perhaps the lighting had been brighter and I'd realized the cheese wasn't just browned but was burnt sooner, I might have asked for it to be redone. I'm not the sort who sends things back lightly and I didn't want to drag out the experience any further but it was a disappointment. Again, with Cremant's perfect GratinÚe des Halles still vivid in my mind, it was hard not to be disappointed. It was the difference between this:
After the third course, there was no way even the three of us could have shared a single dessert, no matter how good. The mile-high cheesecake would have to wait for another day. I did order an espresso, though. Absolutely necessary to cut through the richness of the meal and help steel us for the walk back to the hotel in the snow.
Overall Artisanal was a fantastic experience. It was not even the most expensive dinner of the trip. The slightly sour note of the change in servers and the oops of my too done soup were far, far outweighed by the gloriousness of the rest of the meal. I was happy to know we'd be sending Steve home having fed him properly at Artisanal.