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14-montgomerys cheddar and serpa cheeses.jpg

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Artisanal, New York, New York, tasted on May 7, 2004  Let me get this straight. There's a restaurant in Manhattan that's all about cheese. They have their own mail order cheese business as well as an aesthetically beautiful bistro style restaurant where you can eat all that cheese that they store in their cheese cave. And they specialize in artisanal cheeses and even call themselves Artisanal. Uh... where do I sign up?

As it happens, no signup was necessary. In fact the reservation was relatively easy to get, and we stopped in for an early first dinner. (Note: when we're on these crazy eating trips, we often have at least two dinners.) Artisanal is lovely (almost as beautiful as Balthazar) and done in a bistro style. Usually I don't worry much about decor, but it really did seem like the perfect environment in which to enjoy a whole bunch of yummy cheese.

Cheese is a funny thing as it's mainly made from milk. Much like wine from grapes, it's amazing to realize the sheer complexity and variety of flavors, textures, etc. you get by starting from the same simple ingredients. The tone was set with a cheese item of course, gorgeous and... well... super cheesy... Gougeres. Yum. Artisanal also serves some complementary dishes, so sure enough we started off with Crisp Skate Wing with Blood Orange Grenobloise and Cauliflower. This was a really enjoyable and simple flavor combination and balance. The Oysters with vinegar and lemon were a nice followup.

Steak Tartare with tangy Parmesan tuiles was particularly enjoyable. I'm a sucker for the acidic spectrum of flavors, and all the tart and tanginess in the dish was quite good for me. I was particularly looking forward to the fondue, as you would imagine. There were several varieties, though we got one of the classics. And unfortunately it was slightly underwhelming. I couldn't taste enough of the wine. or enough salt for that matter. It was, however, nice and creamy.

The cheese course however really was the main attraction. And we partook of six different cheeses. They say they have over 250 cheeses all "handcrafted and perfectly ripened". I counted 192 on the separate cheese menu (with it's own spot for notes). But who's counting. :)

In order, starting at just before 3 o'clock on the plate were:

  1. Il Caprino Tartufo, goat's milk cheese from Italy. We couldn't taste the truffle in this one which made it a little bit of a bummer.

  2. Serpa, sheep's milk cheese from Portugal. This was certainly great! It was chewy and creamy at the same time but with a subtle but consistent tanginess.

  3. Montgomery's Cheddar, cow's milk cheese from England. It was a cheddar that had a parmesany consistency and horseradish flavor. Definitely enjoyable.

  4. Affidelice, cow's milk cheese from France. A super creamy triple cream with an almost "aged meat" flavor. Not tangy. Very good.

  5. Aisy Cendre, cow's milk cheese from France. This one started out with a truffley savory deep flavor, but spiked on the finish with a touch of ammonia. It was likely overripe. We'll need to try it again given the good start.

  6. Epoisses, cow's milk cheese from France. A beauty as always.

All in all, I wish there was an Artisanal next door to me. I might eat there every other night. There's something about an almost endless cheese adventure that gives me a sense of security, comfort, and happiness. I realize that may not sound particularly "normal" but I'm comfortable with it.










Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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