Now back in New York, Lea suggested we take advantage of restaurant week (still happening!) and pay a visit to Artisanal Fromagerie, Bistro and Wine Bar, the leader of the high-end New York cheese scene. I had heard it recommended by financiers, lawyers, and the swankiest of New Yorkers, so I knew we were in for a treat.
Terrance Brennan opened the bistro in 2001, almost ten years after the start of his first restaurant, Picholine, which is said to have introduced the European cheese course into American fine dining. While the cheeses at Picholine are presented on a traditional cart, in Artisanal Brennan took the presentation a step further and planted an entire cheese shop in the center of the restaurant.
Unfortunately, we made a mistake by choosing the Artisanal blend fondue instead of a cheese plate, even though our server suggested a cheese plate quite a few times. I relearned that I should always listen to the suggestions of the staff during new cheese experiences. I was not impressed by the fondue (I'm a hard critic, having lived in the fondue capital of the world), and though I did have a wonderful chat with the cheesemonger Charles, who also told me I should have let him make me a cheese plate instead of ordering the fondue, I left with a feeling of immense disappointment.
I knew that if I approached the situation differently I could have a fantastic meal, so I paid Artisanal a second visit. This time, I was lucky enough to meet Terrance Brennan himself, since a mutual friend email-introduced us a little while back. Terrance took a few moments out of his busy day to chat and show us the special cheese caves that maintain the perfect temperature for the restaurant's cheeses. I asked Charles the cheesemonger to make us a plate of the cheeses he deemed best, and I requested the same of Matthew the sommelier, who chose three wine pairings for the six cheeses.
The presentation of the wines and cheeses was a truly grand performance. Matthew spoke in depth on the history and flavor of each wine, and Charles shared the stories of each cheese complete with personal anecdotes. I listened in rapture, overwhelmed by the full plates and glasses set in front of me.
These cheeses and wines contained so much complexity and knowledge! I couldn't believe I had the privilege of eating it.
When I finally took my first bite of Chaource I was greeted by the perfect combination of consistency and flavor: it was tart, but smooth, buttery, but bitey. The Truffle Tremor, Bavarian Limburger, Tarentaise, Roomano and Valdéon each impressed me with their distinct personalities, while serving as the perfect compliments to each other.
I left still in awe of the experience we had just had, beginning with a conversation with Terrance Brennan and ending with Charles and Matthew's harmonious cheese and wine pairings. Artisanal Fromagerie, Bistro and Wine Bar was by far the swankiest cheese experience of my life.
Now go out and eat some cheese.