Entries in Artisanal (2)


Artisanal Revisited

Note: This is a visit to Artisanal under executive chef Terrance Brennan, who is no longer affiliated with the restaurant.


I paid my second visit to Artisanal the other night (earlier visit here). My friend and I had a 7:00pm reservation. Most tables were still empty at this time (this being an early reservation), but they were certainly full by the time we left.

We had the fondue. The menu lists five fondues, but they also had two specials. We chose the “100 cheese” fondue, which was excellent. Artisanal’s fondues come with a bowl of bread squares for dipping, but you can also order side dishes (“Les Baigneuses”), at $6.50 apiece. We chose the beef tips and the air-dried beef. The latter item deserves a more enticing description. It was thinly-sliced dried beef, something like cured ham, and extremely tasty. The beef tips were lightly cooked, very rare, juicy sirloin.

We also asked for a side order of the Gougeres, which are available in small or large portions ($7.50 or $10.50). These are hopelessly addictive, so I recommend ordering the small size unless you want to ruin your dinner.

The fondue comes in two sizes (petite and grande), serving 1-3 or 4-6 persons respectively. For two people, it’s quite filling enough to be a meal, so we just ordered a cheese plate for dessert. Artisanal offers numerous composed thematic cheese plates, but you can also choose your own. We chose four cheeses ($18), with the able assistance of the fromagier. For the record, they were:

  • Robila Due Latte, Italy (“Yielding, Lactic, Subtle”)
  • Manchego, Spain (“Briny, Nutty, Sturdy”)
  • Ubriaco del Piave, Italy (“Crumbly, Hints of Pineapple & Wine”)
  • Keen’s Cheddar, England (“Creamy, Earthy, Meaty Finish”)

These were wonderful choices. The Robila Due Latte and the Ubriaco del Piave were my favorites. The Manchego and the Keen’s Cheddar were wonderful, but not (for me) sufficiently differentiated from the others. But then, where a choice is offered, I usually ask for the most ridiculously exotic choices available. My friend was in a bit more conservative mood.

Many of the posts on the food boards have reported service issues at Artisanal. I didn’t have that reaction on my first visit, but this time was another story. It took two hours to get through all of the above, mainly because we were left waiting for such ridiculously long times. When I sat down, my server asked if I’d like a drink. I asked for tap water, while I perused the wine list. The tap water came instantly, but twenty minutes later the server hadn’t returned to take my drink order.

It seemed like 15 minutes after we were done with the fondue before our server came by to ask about dessert; another 15 minutes before the fromagier came over; another 15 minutes before the cheese actually arrived. I didn’t actually time these things, but two hours had gone by before we knew it.

On the other hand, once you did order something, it usually came quickly (other than the cheese). Dirty plates were cleared promptly, and they were attentive about refilling our water glasses. But if you needed your server, you were in for a very long wait. We were in no hurry, so it didn’t really bother us that much. I wouldn’t recommend Artisanal for a pre-theater dinner!

Another friend recently visited Artisanal and had a similar experience with poor service. She, too, was sufficiently wowed by the food, and says she will quite happily return, as will I. Just don’t go there when you’re in a hurry.

Artisanal (2 Park Avenue at 32nd Street, Murray Hill)

Food: **
Service: Fair
Ambiance: *
Overall: **


Artisanal: Hommage au Fromage

Note: For a later visit to Artisanal, click here.


Artisanal is chef Terrance Brennan’s ode to cheese. I understand he has his own factory in Manhattan, where many of the chesses are manufactured. The distinct odor of eau du fromage permeates the whole restaurant. One lucky table gets to sit in “The Cave,” where many of the cheeses are stored. We weren’t that lucky, but cheese is everywhere. There’s even a retail counter, where you can buy a hunk of your favorite cheese to take home.

My mother, who’s visiting from out of town, has traveled in France extensively, and even lived there for a year. She said Artisanal immediately transported her to a brasserie in Paris. The Adam Tihany-designed interior conjures up the original brilliantly. The tile floor and other exposed hard surfaces makes it a bit noisy, but we had no trouble hearing our own conversation.

Your server greets you with a bewildering array of menus. There’s the dinner menu, with wines on the reverse side; a separate premium wine menu; a cheese menu that lists themed servings, optionally paired with wines; and a cocktail menu. Later on, there’s a dessert menu and a new cheese menu with the cheeses listed individually.

The main dinner menu, however, is packed onto just one page. Starters run $7.50 to $21.50, mains $17.50 to $29.50. Fondue is either $24 (petite, serves 1-3) or $40 (grande, serves 4-6). A $30.04 prix fixe is available every night, though it’s worth noting that if you add a flight of cheese, a party of two is still going to have trouble getting out for under $100.

Things start well with a basket of fresh bread and a dish of butter so soft it spreads like whipping cream. I ordered an appetizer of Bleu Cheese and Walnut Crisp, served with asian pear, watercress, and warm bacon vinaigrette. It looked like a green salad, but the flavor of Brennan’s astonishing bleu cheese put all others to shame. I’m no cheese expert, but I’ve never experienced anything of this quality.

I then had a lamb porterhouse, a cut that neither of us had ever heard of. It was a bit smaller than the typical New York Strip steak, but for lamb it was an enormous piece of meat, very tender and cooked perfectly to the medium rare I had ordered. (The lady at the next table asked for medium, but she also got medium rare, and was dissatisfied; after she sent it back, it returned well done.) The lamb was served on a bed of stewed rice, tomatoes and olives that was a perfect compliment to the meal.

You can’t visit Artisanal without sampling the cheeses, so we ordered a plate of three. What do you call the guy who comes over and takes your cheese order? Is he the fromagier? Anyhow, he looked like he was about 16. We asked for two goat cheeses and an “exotic” bleu cheese. As at Picholine, you get back your own copy of the cheese menu, with your choices circled. One of those he gave us wasn’t even on the printed menu, and it was probably the best of all.

At the end of the meal, our waiter looked at my plate, and said, “You did good!” I’m glad to know he approved. We certainly did!

Artisanal (2 Park Avenue at 32nd Street, Murray Hill)