Entries in Terrance Brennan (10)


Review Recap: Bar Artisanal

Today, Frank Bruni very strangely gets Bar Artisanal right, yet all wrong, in awarding one star:

With the new restaurant Bar Artisanal, positioned and presented as a casual spinoff of Artisanal, Mr. Brennan has made the journey all the way downtown, to TriBeCa, and his cheese, of course, has traveled with him. Much of it is exhibited at a counter not entirely unlike Artisanal’s, but since that’s old hat for him, it’s not the striking part. What’s more arresting, amusing and in many crucial instances rewarding is the way cheese recurs across Bar Artisanal’s menu, dotting and flecking it, like dill or caraway in a wedge of havarti…

Take away the cheese and what’s left is a calculating, somewhat cynical operation, connected to the Hilton Garden Inn, that’s not all that reflective of Mr. Brennan, who guides but doesn’t actually own it. Bar Artisanal pillages and repackages current trends with astonishing thoroughness, commanding attention for that alone. If restaurants could be preserved in amber and tucked away for future students of gustatory anthropology, this might be the one to save and label, “New York City, circa 2010.”

We are struck by this, because although Bar Artisanal does indeed bow to trends, they are the very trends that Bruni has worshipped and adored during his five-year tenure. We are not even convinced that it is true. The cheese course alone makes Bar Artisanal a destination restaurant, since only one other restaurant in town (sister establishment Artisanal) offers anything like this variety, at anything approaching this price point.

And for all that, he calls out only one dish for outright criticism:

…a few out-and-out duds, the overpopulated “duck” pissaladière — with duck gizzard, duck confit, duck liver and a duck egg — foremost among them…

Funnily enough, we had that dish ourselves a week or two ago and considered it excellent. Having lambasted the restaurant for being enslaved to fashion, the one dish he pans is among those being served nowhere else.

We predicted and agree with Bruni’s one-star rating. But in the Times system, one star is supposed to mean “good.” Here, Bruni’s text suggests “Not So Good,” which is all wrong.


In Dining Briefs, Ligaya Mishan channels her inner Restaurant Girl in a review of Public Fare at the Delacorte Theater:

Roasted baby carrots spar in a lively mix of pickled versus peppery… Among the sandwiches, the organic chicken salad ($6.50) pulls rank with the gratifying crunch of green beans, celery and radish, and a fillip of chili pepper… The big disappointment is the B.L.T. ($7). Mine was over-mayoed and under-tomatoed; the pallid slices of tomato, more outer edge than juicy center, were no match for the brash hickory-smoked bacon.


Review Preview: Bar Artisanal

Record to date: 4–2

Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Bar Artisanal, Terrance Brennan’s cheese-themed brasserie that replaced the doomed Trigo.

The Skinny: We have to admit it up front: we’ve really taken a shine to this place. It’s on the way home, it’s a cuisine that we love, and the menu is perfect for grazing, as often suits our mood after work. Oh, that and the food is very good. We haven’t had a bad dish yet.

All of our visits have been relatively early, before the crowds arrive. Many other reports have complained that as the restuarant gets busy, service starts to slip. We’ve heard it often enough to believe there must be some truth in it.

Other data points? Bar Artisanal’s slightly more ambitious sister restaurant, Artisanal, carries two stars from William Grimes. Bruni visited there in Dining Briefs, finding “some consistency problems.”

Our own rating of Bar Artisanal is 1½ stars, but Bruni doesn’t use half-stars, and in the absence of them I am inclined to round down.

The Prediction: We predict that Frank Bruni will award one star to Bar Artisanal.


The Lamb Burger at Bar Artisanal

Note: Bar Artisanal closed in mid-2010 after a brief, ill-fated Spanish-themed do-over. After a re-vamp, it is now the Mexican restaurant Pelea.


I don’t usually post so many times about the same restaurant, but Bar Artisanal is right next to the subway station I use every day, so I have an excuse to keep exploring the menu there.

The lamb burger ($16) has a terrific goat cheese center. I’d probably rate it a tie with the Classic Burger (reviewed previously), except that I wasn’t at all fond of the chickpea fries that come with it. I give Chef Brennan credit for trying something different: no one would have considered themselves cheated if it came with regular fries. But the regular fries are indeed better.

Bar Artisanal (268 West Broadway at Sixth Avenue, TriBeCa)


The Burger at Bar Artisanal

Note: Bar Artisanal closed in mid-2010 after a brief, ill-fated Spanish-themed do-over.


There are three burgers at Bar Artisanal: Classic ($13), Lamb ($16), and Tuna ($18). We dropped in the other day for the Classic. The black angus beef had a nice beefy taste. The accompanying fries were perfect too.

The meal was a carb overload, as the also came with excellent bread service, and a bucket (yeah, a bucket) of gougères were comped.

The lamb burger comes with a got cheese center. That’s the next thing to try.

Bar Artisanal (268 West Broadway at Sixth Avenue, TriBeCa)


Bar Artisanal

Note: Bar Artisanal closed in mid-2010 after a brief, ill-fated Spanish-themed do-over. It is now the Mexican restaurant Pelea Mexicana.


Bar Artisanal is Chef Terrance Brennan’s quickie replacement for the doomed Trigo, which sank like a stone after barely four months in business. What a difference the right concept makes! Trigo was always empty; Bar Artisanal, at least in its early days, is always full.

This being a Brennan restaurant, cheese is naturally the focus. I dropped in on opening night for a glass of wine and four cheeses à la carte (left), telling the fromagier he could choose whatever he wanted, as long as they were soft and at least two were blue.

Although the name is suggestive of Brennan’s Artisanal Bistro in Murray Hill, the menu here is considerably different. Most of the selections are essentially “tapas” — about a dozen in a category called amuses-bouches ($4–15) and another dozen petits plats ($11–18). There are just five entrées ($16–20) and three kinds of burgers (classic, lamb, tuna; $13–18).

Yet another menu category is devoted to pissaladières, or a kind of pizza from the south of France. There are seven of these ($11–15), several with unusual toppings, such as “Duck” (Gizzard, Confit, Egg, and Cracklings) and “Bianca” (Asparagus, Ramps, Bottarga).

Brennan gets full credit for challenging his audience. He isn’t serving duck gizzards, lamb neck, sea urchin custard, and smoked paprika popcorn because diners demanded them. And it appears the menu will change frequently. On the current menu, ramps figure in three different dishes, and they are in season for only a short time.

Last week, I dropped in again for dinner with a colleague. The server encouraged us to order small plates to share—which we did.

Naturally, cheese figures in many of the dishes. We started with a hunk of fresh burrata ($12; above left). Octopus ($12; above right), perfectly cooked, was complemented with smoked paprika.

Skate ($12; above left) was spectacular. I am not sure what was in it, but it seemed to be stuffed with a spicy sausage of some kind (the menu said choucroute garni). Pork Belly ($12; above right) was so good we ordered a second helping. A minor complaint: if the plates are meant for sharing, why serve three pieces?

As he does at his other restaurants, Brennan offers several pre-composed “tasting flights” of cheeses ($16), or you can choose your own from a long list. The one shown at the right is called “Blue Notes” (blue, stilton, gorgonzola).

The wine list is priced in line with the menu, with plenty of reds below $50, and even a decent selection below $40.

There have been some reports of slow service here. Our food came out quickly, but servers weren’t always available when you wanted them, and a couple of times utensils didn’t arrive with the food. Management recognizes me, so I suspect we got slightly better service than the average patron.

There is much still to try here, but so far I am very impressed with Bar Artisanal. If the food program remains on track and the service glitches are smoothed out, this restaurant could have a happy future.

Bar Artisanal (268 West Broadway at Sixth Avenue, TriBeCa)

Food: **
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *½




Note: Picholine closed in 2015 after 22 years in business, due to a rent increase. The announcement was bittersweet, coming the very day that Picholine was awarded a star in the 2016 Michelin Guide. The chef, Terrance Brennan, said he would re-open it in a new location to be determined.


Picholine is 15 years old, and to “celebrate” they were offering a $50 gift card via the website. That’s a nice chunk of change, even for a restaurant this expensive. And I suppose the offer (which is no longer available) shows that it’s getting harder to find customers in these recession-challenged times. Sure enough, when my mom and I dropped in for a pre-opera meal, Picholine was as quiet as I’ve ever seen it—not deserted, but nowhere near full.

Apparently, chef–owner Terrance Brennan is not yet tempted to lower his prices. Since our last visit, earlier this year, the three-course prix fixe has risen from $85 to $92, while the tasting menu has risen from $110 to $125. A game tasting menu, offered only in the fall, is $145. I wouldn’t mind giving that a try at some point, but this wasn’t the night for it.

The mauve décor made a better impression than it did last time; perhaps it’s more successful in the front room than in the rear. Just about everything about the service and ambiance seemed pitch-perfect, though it helped that the restaurant was less crowded than I’ve seen it before. My mom couldn’t get over how many servers and runners were buzzing around.


A quartet of amuses-bouches was more impressive than the trio we were offered last time. I didn’t note them all, but the one on the right (above) was a tempura mushroom on a skewer.


A Tuna Cru “Napoleon” (above left) with olive oil ice cream was just fine, but unmemorable. My mom had the Sea Urchin Panna Cotta (above right), which is one of the best things on the menu.


The server recited a choice of four Scottish game birds—partridge, grouse, quail and Mallard duck. (He did not mention the $8 supplement.) I had the duck, which was really terrific—tender and gamey, along with a crunchy leg confit. My mom had a fish, which I believe was the John Dory (above right). From the small taste I had, it seemed pedestrian. My mom didn’t use that word, but she agreed the duck was better.


The palate cleansers were served in an odd order. As I was having the cheese course, but my mom was not, hers came before the dessert (above left), but mine came after it. Anyhow, the cheese cart (above right) is always the highlight of a meal at Picholine. I told the fromagier that I wanted three cheeses with sharp tastes, soft to medium in texture, and at least one blue cheese.


And that’s exactly what he gave me (above left). My mom’s dessert was a chocolate something-or-other (above right).


My palate cleanser (above left) came after the cheese course, and that was followed by petits-fours, which we did not touch (above right). They sent us home with a complimentary bottle of olive oil, which I do not recall from previous visits.

The wine list here is wonderful, though it seemed shorter than I remembered it. Anyhow, I found a perfectly drinkable Guigal Côtes du Rhone for $45. After you figure in the $50 gift card, it basically means we had a great dinner at Picholine and drank for free. Not bad.

Picholine (35 W. 64th St. east of Columbus Avenue, Upper West Side)

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



Note: Click here for a more recent review of Picholine.

picholine-logo.gif Picholine has redeemed itself. Two years ago, we were ripped off on New Year’s Eve, spending $800 for two on a meal that might charitably have been worth a third of that. Last night, we spent $400 on an excellent meal that was worth every penny.

I’m not the only one who thought the “old” Picholine needed some attitude adjustment. Before a September 2006 makeover, Frank Bruni chose Picholine for his sister’s birthday, and it was so lackluster that he had to apologize. For the Times restaurant critic, not being able to find the right restaurant for a family celebration must have been acutely embarrassing.

Post renovation, Bruni found it “arguably the nicest restaurant surprise of this disappointing season,” re-affirming the three-star rating two previous critics had awarded. The 2008 Michelin Guide upgraded Picholine to two stars, making it one of the city’s top ten restaurants.

picholine-inside.jpgThe revamped décor has impressed no one except, perhaps, some Upper West Side dowagers. Even the china looks like something your grandmother would use. La Grenouille, a restaurant that is thirty years older, is far more lively.

There is nothing the management can do about the narrow space, but when you enter you hit a traffic jam around the host station/bar/coat-check area, a drawback I recall from two previous visits. The aisles in the two dining rooms are narrow, and servers sometimes seem to be pirouetting around obstacles.

Fortunately, there is nothing old-fashioned about chef Terrance Brennan’s rejuvenated cuisine, which is reason enough why Picholine remains popular, and one of this town’s toughest tables to book. Even with several weeks’ notice, 8:45 p.m. was the earliest I could get on a Saturday evening, although we showed up at 8:20 and were seated immediately. (Picholine does a lot of pre- and post-Lincoln Center business; it was still more than half full when we left at almost 11:00.)

With the best cheese selection in town (shared with sister restaurant Artisanal), the cheese course at Picholine is practically obligatory. It is therefore curious that the menu does nothing to alert you to this fact. If you choose either of the printed prix fixe options—three courses ($85) or four courses ($95)—it apparently does not include cheese. (Both of the tasting menus, at $110, do include cheese.)

picholine01.jpgWhen we told the server we wanted an appetizer, an entrée, and a cheese tasting, he offered us an option not shown on the menu—two courses for $65—and then we were charged separately the odd price of $33.50 for a six-cheese tasting. I am not sure how a first-time visitor would be expected to figure this out. And why is the menu still captioned “Autumn 2007”?

The opening trio of amuses-bouches was slightly pedestrian. A codfish cake (9:00 in the photo) tasted like a smaller version of a cafeteria fish stick, and lobster salad (1:00 in the photo) didn’t taste very lobster-y. A smooth mushroom panna cotta  (5:00) was the best of the group.

picholine02a.jpg picholine02b.jpg

Chef Brennan loves his panna cottas. Sea urchin panna cotta (above left) with caviar had an ethereal silky texture. My girlfriend ordered the foie gras terrine (above right; $8 suppl.), which was on a par with the better examples of the genre around town.

picholine03.jpgHeirloom Chicken “Kiev” — the quotation marks suggesting a riff on the classic dish — was a tour de force. It is still January, but for now this is the dish of the year.

Brennan wraps chicken around chanterelles and foie gras, covers it in a cornflake batter and deep fries it, melting the foie gras. After the dish is brought to your table, a server lances the chicken with a silver spear, and the liquid foie gras oozes out. (The photo was taken after this surgery had been performed.)

Frank Bruni loved it too.

The frommagier brought the cheese cart to our table and gave us an overview. We told him our general preferences and asked him to choose six. There was not a weak selection among the group. As always, he handed us a printed cheese guide to take home, with the ones he’d selected for us identified by number. The meal ended with a broad selection of petits-fours.

The wine list is long and expensive, so I decided to let the sommelier choose for us, giving him a ceiling of $100. He came up with a luscious burgundy at $95 that went perfectly with the chicken. We also accepted his offer of a taste of sauterne to go with my girlfriend’s foie gras. We were charged only $10 for that, and he comped a white wine to go with my Sea Urchin appetizer.

Our captain, a veteran no doubt of many dinner services, provided helpful ordering advice and stayed on top of things. Both the frommagier and sommelier followed up to ensure we were happy with our meal. The junior staff that served the bread and amuses-bouches were a little hard to understand—a problem at many New York restaurants, as these positions are often taken by non-native speakers. Although we were seated side-by-side at a table with ample space, the cramped quarters meant that servers had to reach awkwardly to set and clear the silverware.

The space at Picholine will always seem twenty years too old, but the food, wine and cheese are the stars.

Picholine (35 W. 64th Street between Columbus Avenue & Central Park West, Upper West Side)

Food: ***
Service: ***
Ambiance: **½
Overall: ***



Note: Click here for a more recent review of Picholine.

It seems that when I roll the dice with fine restaurants on New Year’s Eve, I keep getting snake eyes. Restaurants tend to offer a limited menu—something they can serve to hundreds of people quickly and easily—at an inflated price. I was disspointed in Ouest last year (although I’d had a good meal there on another occasion), so I suggested to my friend that we take a step up the food chain, to Picholine, mainly because it’s the best restaurant of that calibre near Lincoln Center, where we were starting our evening.

Let me be clear: I did not have a bad meal at Picholine last night. But my friend and I paid almost $800 (incl. tax & mandatory 20% tip) for a dinner that, to put it charitably, just might have been worth about a third of that. A New Year’s markup is fair, and to be expected, but a 200% mark-up? I am not so sure about that.

Picholine was serving a six-course prix fixe at $195. We began with a quartet of amuses bouches, consisting of: (1) Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Caviar; (2) Peekytoe Crab Tartelette; (3) Goat’s Cheese Gougère; (4) White Bean-Truffle Soup. These were all small, but together made a respectable first course.

There was a choice of two appetizers. We had the Sauteed Foie Gras and Wild Game Pate with a Kumquat Chutney and Port Vinaigrette. (I haven’t noted what the other appetizer choice was.) This was a superb, thick lobe of foie gras, and certainly the best dish of the evening.

For the fish course, the choice was Maine Diver Sea Scallops or Wild Striped Bass with Truffle Toast, Salsify and Oyster Jus. We both had the striped bass, which was skillfully prepared without ever rising to excellence.

For the meat course, the choice was rack of lamb or Scottish Pheasant with Crosnes, Dried Fruit, and Foie Gras Sabayon. On this dish, the accompaniments were better than the main event. One imagines Picholine’s assembly line of scores, and perhaps hundreds, of pheasant breasts, and it isn’t a pretty thought. Is high-quality pheasant available in such quantities? I found mine dry and tough.

Picholine’s cheese course is possibly the best in New York. We received a generous serving of six cheeses, none of them likely to be encountered anywhere else. We were feeling rather bloated by this time, but we did give a try to each of them:

(1) Fleur de Maquis, a sheep’s milk cheese from Corsica, encrusted in dry herbs.
(2) Roncal, a sheeps milk cheese from Navarre, Spain. This was a hard cheese, and our least favorite of the bunch.
(3) Le Moulis, a cheese from the Pyrenees, described as “semi-firm, lingering, earthy, and fecund,” whatever that means.
(4) Winnimere, a wonderful raw cow’s milk cheese from Greensboro, VT.
(5) Sprintz, a cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland that was described as “hard, majestic and profound,” whatever that means.
(6) Stilton, a cow’s milk cheese from England that had a “mineral tang.”

All quotes are from the cheese menu, which (as always at Picholine) they give you to take home, with your choices circled and numbered.

Finally, there was a dessert tasting, which consisted of four small mini-desserts on one plate. At this point my stomach was yelling “No mas!”, but I gave most of them a try. I found them unremarkable, but perhaps I wasn’t the best judge of things by that time. Mignardises, which I didn’t touch, came with the bill.

I’ve saved the most serious complaint for last. Picholine has a wonderful wine list, but we took our chances on the recommended wine pairing, at $115 per person, i.e., $230 for the two of us. At that price, we could have had two terrific half-bottles or a blow-the-doors-off full bottle, and had money left over. Instead, we put ourselves in Picholine’s hands, and went home both poorer and disappointed.

We were served just four glasses each, with no wine for the amuse or the cheese course. A little math tells you that they were charging $28.75 per glass, and for that price you expect the best, especially at a restaurant noted for its wine list. We were optimistic when we tasted the excellent sauterne that accompanied the foie gras, but what on earth were they thinking when we were served a red wine with the striped bass? I know it is not impossible to drink red wine with fish, but for a wine pairing it was bizarre. Moreover, the server advised that it’s “something new from Oregon.” For that we were paying $28.75 a glass? My friend aptly characterized it as “flat” and “lacking any body.”

For the pheasant, our server turned up with another red, which she assured us was “something bolder.” We couldn’t taste any difference at all. Several hours later, as we were reliving the meal, my friend and I concluded that they give us the same wine for both courses. We are not wine experts, but we think we can tell when something allegedly “bold” is in fact no such thing.

A mildly fizzy dessert wine came with the final course, and this was more suitable, but by now we were rather offended at what we’d been given for our $230. I’ve ordered wine pairings at a number of restaurants, and normally you get a range of provocative choices that present some strong contrasts, and really enhance the meal. Instead, we were simply ripped off. In addition, several of the wines were mis-timed (i.e., arriving well before the food they were supposed to go with).

The space at Picholine is of course lovely. Naturally, the restaurant was packed. Our reservation was at 10:30 (after the New York Philharmonic Gala), and there were still people getting seated after us. Service showed the potential for being first-rate, but on such a night, naturally there were slips. On another day, I think Picholine would do a lot better.

We paid $195 apiece for the food, $115 apiece for the wine pairing, 20% for service, and tax, for a final bill $795.93. At that price, the restaurant should be going the extra mile—nay, the extra light year—and they did not.

Picholine (35 W. 64th St. btwn Central Park West & Broadway, Upper West Side)

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


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)