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Posts Tagged ‘steak frites’

Artisanal
2 Park Avenue (entrance on 32nd Street)
(212) 725-8585

This review is going to end on a negative note, but I actually do like Artisanal very much. It’s not exactly a beacon of innovation, but it does the classics very well…most of the time.

I dined there recently for a friend’s birthday and it was largely an enjoyable experience. The company was lovely and the food was tasty. The server was knowledgeable and everyone left full, happy, and sleepy, all the hallmarks of a good meal as far as I’m concerned.

In case you don’t know, Artisanal’s angle is cheese and lots of it. They have their own temperature and humidity controlled caves and refrigerators to age and store the over 60 varieties of cheese that they offer. Scanning the cheese menu can be a tad overwhelming if you want to try something new. (If you don’t, there’ll undoubtedly be something on the menu to suite your tastes.) Where to start?

The menu is divided into the different types of milk from which the cheeses come: sheep, goat, and cow. Under each cheese name is a brief description that is informative, but not really helpful, descriptions such as “earthy and deep” or “delicate and milky.” That all sounds delicious to me, so now what?

We consulted our waitress and since we were a large party she recommended the cheese, meat, and fruit platter that includes six different types of cheeses ranging from mild to stronger, prosciutto, soppressata, speck, dried fig and nut spread, grapes, and sliced apples. Among the cheeses were a Robiola made of cow and sheep’s milk, a Bleu d’Auverge, a Pecorino with truffles, and the rest I’ve forgotten. They were all delicious, but the Pecorino was mind blowing. The combination of the intense truffles and the cheesy, aged Pecorino took me right back to my time in Florence where I ate an inordinate amount of truffles with cheese/cream. I impolitely polished it off.

We also began with a basket of their gougeres, golf ball sized puffy cheese pastries made of Gruyere. One could easily pop a dozen of them without blinking, they’re so airy and light, nutty and salty.

As for the main entrees, the chicken cooked under a brick was absolutely phenomenal. A crispy, brown crust without a hint of fat underneath enrobes juicy meat. It’s served atop a pile of creamy mashed potatoes and a medley of vegetables, a singularly outstanding dish.

The steak frites is always a safe and savory bet. I consider the frites impressive in a city full of impressive frites.

I had the small “Artisanal Blend” fondue as my main. It was…a mistake. I failed to heed my sister’s warning that the fondue was too “wine-y” and “flavorless.” But there had been so much hype surrounding their fondue and their specialty is cheese and, and they’re French and, and I really, REALLY wanted to eat some good fondue. So I ordered the small one (for 1-3 people) which comes with cubes of bread and also ordered a side of kielbasa to dip. It was, well, wine-y and flavorless. I managed to choke down quite a bit, as an act of defiance, really. I was hellbent on ordering the fondue and GOSH DARN IT I was going to eat most of it! Matt tasted some. “Wow,” he said, “that is wine-y…um, it’s actually kind of gross.” I nodded slowly, as if considering his opinion, when, of course, I knew it was true and agreed.

I ended the meal with the cheesecake. Its pecan praline shortbread crust is out of this world. The cheese itself is light and fluffy without being cloyingly sweet. It’s served dotted with pralines and a swirl of caramel sauce. I’ve already decided to buy a whole one for Thanksgiving this year.

All in all, I’d recommend anyone going there, anyone who loves cheese, has a decently full wallet, and who isn’t hellbent on eating fondue.

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Okay, maybe bouchons and bistros aren’t the same thing, but to me they are indistinguishable. Maybe someone will correct my ignorance.

So I just recently went to one of my favorite casual restaurants, L’Express (see About Me), located on the corner of Park Avenue South and 20th Street. Right now, the 1st Annual October Sausage Festival (cue the inappropriate laughter) is going on at all the Tour de France restaurants (L’Express, Cafe d’Alsace, French Roast, etc.) and I urge you to  go and partake.

On this latest occasion, L’Express did not fail to impress me once more, even though I’ve been there many, many times. My dining companion and I shared a bottle of a nice 2004 Côtes du Rhône and one of the special sausage plates to start. It consisted of three lamb merguez sausages grilled on a skewer with grape tomatoes, served over a white bean puree and a smoked red pepper sauce. The sausages had a lovely rough texture on the outside (instead of the sometimes unsettling, perfectly smooth hot dog-like casing many sausages possess) and a pleasant charred flavor to them. The lamb was seasoned heavily with garlic and black pepper. The smooth white bean puree spiced with cumin accompanied the sausage perfectly. The red pepper sauce (with hints of tomato) added a balancing sweetness and tartness to the overall smoky dish. For $7.50, it seemed very reasonably priced and would have made a great light dinner or a very hearty starter for one.

For my main, I finally was able to pull myself away from my usual croque monsieur (a ham and cheese sandwich dredged in egg and cheese and then pan fried, amazing, esp. with dabs of dijon mustard) and ordered the lamb burger (a lot of lamb for one night), which I’ve been eying for a long time. My friend got the steak frites.

The lamb burger was absolutely incredible and hands down one of the best burgers I’ve ever tasted (yes, I said it! Corner Bistro and Burger Joint be damned!). I ordered it medium rare, which was just right as it came out juicy and full of the flavors of onion, parsley, cumin, and other spices I couldn’t quite pinpoint. It was served on a pillowy brioche bun that was too big for the burger itself, so I trimmed away parts of the bread. The burger also came with a glob of harissa, a thick, spicy red chili pepper paste common in North African cuisine that was a lot spicier than any harissa I’ve ever had before. I spread a thin layer of that on the burger. I usually prefer a lot of ketchup, but I refused to let anything get in the way of the flavor of the lamb burger itself, so there was only the faintest smearing of ketchup. Of course, it came with a big pile of L’Express’s delicious fries, cut slightly smaller than shoestring with the potato skins left on. Fantastic. The only other burger that could stand up to this one in flavor and seasoning, in my opinion, would be my mom’s burgers.

My friend got the steak frites, also medium rare. It was seasoned very simply with no sauce, just a little bit of salt and pepper before hitting the grill. In each bite, you tasted the sweet flavor of the beef front and center with the deeper charred flavor of the grilling in the background. Lovely.

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