Artisanal Bistro: The Worst $67 I’ve ever spent

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I humbly throw myself before my loyal readers and admit that before Monday night I, NYC Food Guy, had never eaten cheese fondue. But now, thanks or no thanks to Artisanal Bistro, I’m completely bored by the concept of cheese fondue and I’m $67 poorer after eating one of the most mediocre, and as a result, overpriced meals of my life.

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Find out how a fromagerie can mess up melted cheese as well as what you should avoid at Artisanal, after the break.

Looking back at this excerpt about Fondue’s history, I shouldn’t be surprised that a restaurant calling itself a French Bistro managed to foil an originally Swiss meal:

“Fondue” comes from the French word “fondre,” meaning “to melt.” In France, “fondue” still refers to vegetables cooked down into a sort of puree to be served with meats. The kind of fondue that gave rise to all those once-unwanted fondue pots is fondue au fromage, or cheese fondue. It comes from the Swiss, who developed the classic recipe of melted Emmenthaler and Gruyere cheese flavored with a hint of garlic, light-bodied white wine, and a goodly dollop of kirsch, a cherry brandy. It’s traditionally served in an enameled cast-iron pot (or in a ceramic or earthenware pot) over a flame. Diners use long forks to dunk cubes of chewy French bread into the molten cheese.

Okay so the word for Fondue comes from the French, but the Swiss version sounds a lot more delicious: Two kinds of cheese flavored with garlic, wine, and cherry brandy? How could one go wrong.

Here’s how:

NYC Food Guy and his lovely date ordered the Artisanal Blend ($24), recommended for 1-3 people, which contained 3 kinds of cheese:

1) Hoch Ybrig – nutty & washed in white wine

2) Emmenthaler – Swiss’ “oldest and most important cheese” according to Food Network.com, nutty and mello

3) Beaufort – a French cheese similar to Gruyere

Up close, the bubbling cheese mixture we received in a weathered red pot looked like this:

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Now I’m thinking this still looks pretty damn good. I mean its melted cheese, how could you go wrong? Well the resulting flavor of these three cheeses becoming one was simply bland and boring. I realize we went with a rather conservative combination of cheeses and maybe my expectations were higher than they should have been, but still, IT’S MELTED CHEESE IN A POT! IT SHOULD BE DELICIOUS!

One reason it was nothing special goes back to that original excerpt from Food Network.com, specifically the part about “chewy French bread” or in Artisanal’s case, the lack thereof. The bread we received was some style of multi-grain with a charred crust. The flavor of the crust dominated, even through the bubbling cheese. The bread tasted as though it had been cut at the beginning of the day and was sitting in a cold room with nothing more than a napkin protecting it from going stale, which in actuality it didn’t even do. The bread was borderline stale. It wasn’t chewy, it wasn’t tasty, and it definitely wasn’t French bread. Pretty disappointing.

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At the bottom of our bread basket we did find a few pieces of some white bread, which I found promising and promptly asked the maitre d’ for an order of that bread alone, which he happily obliged. Unfortunately, it also lacked any punch, arriving cold and borderline stale as well.

The bread comes free with the fondue but you have the option of choosing from several sides for an additional cost. We went with an order of sliced green apple ($3.50).

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The apples were actually the best thing we dipped in the fondue. The texture and tart flavor of the apple combined with the melted cheese was delicious. NYC Food Guy’s mother has always been a fan of American cheese and apple but I haven’t had it in so long I forgot what a great combination cheese and apples really are. It kind of makes you want to ditch the French Bistro and go to the diner for a slice of apple pie with melted American on top.

Sadly the apples went rather quickly and in the spirit of spreading the love, I decided to try the Hanger Steak Beef Tips ($10.50) per the recommendation of our waiter who truly provided good service.

beef-tips-2.jpg

***Here’s a tip however if you do venture to Artisanal and order fondue and entrees: The wait staff will not bring your entree until you’re finished with your fondue, so if you don’t want to abide by this rule then let your wait staff know.***

Back to the beef…

Hanger Steak is a tough steak known more for its flavor than its texture. It’s best enjoyed when served rare or medium rare and cooked quickly over high heat. Now I realize it’s harder to moderate the cooking of individual beef tips which cook through quicker than an entire filet, but still, get it right. Artisanal’s steak tips were more medium well than medium rare resulting in tough, sinewy, chewy pieces of meat which like the bread, failed to truly enhance the fondue experience. Specify how you’d like the steak cooked.

Now to rewind a bit to the pre-fondue part of the meal.

The first thing I noticed on the menu was the Basket of Gougeres ($8.50 for about 8/$11.50 for a larger order). NYC Food Guy first read about these Gruyere-infused pastry cheese puffs in former NY Times food Critic and present day “Gourmet” editor Ruth Reichl’s book “Garlic and Sapphires.” The thought of melted cheese bubbling out of balls of airy Choux pastry is one that still tantalizes and as one of the simplest pleasures of French cuisines, I expected Artisanal to validate my salivation.

Unfortunately, I was wrong again.

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The Gougeres were anything but oozing. The pastry was soft and airy but the cheese had coagulated and was no longer melted, it was as if I had chopped up pieces of cheese and merely placed them inside. There was no harmony between the pastry and the cheese and as this was the first bite I took at Artisanal, I was disappointed but I thought it could only get better, especially with the Onion Soup Artisanal ($11.50) on the way….

onion-soup-with-plate.jpg

Now I’ve had a lot of French Onion soup in my day and for $11.50 I was expecting to be wowed. I will always shell out for something delicious and as my waiter described the 4 cheeses and 4 kinds of onion in this “really good” soup, I was naturally anticipating a delectable experience. Wrong again.

Now before I tell you why this soup was so disappointing, let me first tell you what it contained: Gruyere and the three cheeses present in the fondue as well as red onion, green onion, leeks, and shallots.

The disappointment mainly stemmed from the mediocrity of it all. The cheese on top wasn’t any more delicious than what you’d find in a diner at 4AM, and on top of that, the diner would probably provide a bowl twice the size. My favorite part of French Onion soup, the grilled Swiss cheese sandwich floating in the middle of the oniony brine, wasn’t even present in Artisanal’s version. The bread I found under the top layer of melted cheese seemed to dissolve as soon as my spoon touched it and it had what seemed like no cheese attached to it. While there was some cheese floating around in the soup, there’s nothing like cutting into a delicious chunk of cheesy grilled French bread, something Artisanal did not offer.

The lovely date I mentioned earlier ordered the Fish Du Jour, a piece Sea Bass on a bed of black lentils ($27.50), but almost didn’t eat it because it never showed up, a result of the aforementioned tip NYC Food Guy provided: If you’re eating fondue, make sure you tell your waitron, as Anthony Bourdain calls them, that you want your entree as soon as it’s ready. Regardless, the skin was left on the fish, which my date didn’t like though she did enjoy the black lentils. Overall, it was a very mediocre dish for near $30.

And that mention of mediocrity really ties a nice tight bow on what turned out to be an overpriced, over hyped, and overcrowded (our table for two was a mere inches from the neighboring tables) meal. I’ve heard good things about Artisanal’s grilled cheese, served only at lunch, but after eyeing their ordinary-looking French Fries, I don’t even think I’ll go back for that. To give you a final taste of how cheated I felt, here’s a snapshot of a bill for a job poorly done. I feel bad for the wait staff because they were quite attentive and helpful, it’s just a shame that the kitchen failed to back them up.

bill.jpg

Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro

2 Park Ave (b/t Park and Madison)

New York, NY 10016

(212) 725-8585

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10 Responses to “Artisanal Bistro: The Worst $67 I’ve ever spent”

  1. King of Ketchup Says:

    good stuff. too bad that cheese fondu was more like cheese fondoodoo.

    classy move takin a pic of the bill in front of the lady hahah. did you have her play “guess how much” too?

  2. i like oranges Says:

    fondue is one of those things better made at home to impress the chick. i think artisinal has good cheese on its own, but i wouldn’t toy with it. if you go back, stick to their french fare (i kind of think that’s the way gougeres are supposed to , at least when cooled but i’m not completely sure). perhaps a better place to try for good french and french fries: orsay, on 75th and lex.

    hope you continued to own the dart board

  3. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    I like oranges (?)

    thanks for the comment, the gougeres were disappointing… i think they could have been better… i had heard that the chicken under a brick is good but i was all ready so disappointed, I passsed….

    I’ll look into Orsay but I’m not big on French, there is a place I’ve had in mind for a while however, Parigot, in Little Italy, I know French in Little Italy? I’ve heard they’ve got great chocolate cake.

    The darts were a little shaky, but we got it done… thanks for the support

  4. Doctor Dyspepsia Says:

    Hey, Guy!

    Sorry about the bad meal, but you should have known better than to order fondue ANYWHERE. That stuff was over before you were born.

    Couldn’t help but do the math: you and your “lovely date” (and no, I do not dispute your description) got a bill for $114.34, and you spent $67. I conclude that:
    1. You and your date are not a bad tippers: $20 to the wait staff is decent, despite the poor quality of the stuff dished up. Not their fault.
    2. Why didn’t you treat her(?) A man-about-town food writer like yourself should deduct these meals as a legitimate business expense, an investment in your rise to the pinnacle of culinary criticism.
    3. Besides, if you sprang for dinner, not only would Uncle Sam be your business partner (caveat: I am a doctor, not a licensed, or even qualified tax advisor), the date may have been impressed, and your “dessert” more to your liking than your dinner. I suggest you seek professional advice on the tax-deductibility of this enterprise, and if it flies, you can start going to a better a class of restaurants.

    Doctor D

  5. docta docta Says:

    you are straight owning NYCFG!

    you need to learn some class nycfg, seriously

  6. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Doc & Docta Docta-

    I feel confident in saying neither of you have any idea what’s on the mind of today’s woman. She’s not opposed to going dutch on occasion then again NYC Food Guy steps up when he has to.

    Your tax plan is quite interesting. I like the way you think. I’m going to look into that.

  7. Doctor Dyspepsia Says:

    If “what’s on the mind of today’s woman” is to go out for an outrageously priced yet crappy bowl of melted cheese while paying $67 for the opportunity to spend a little time with an aspiring exemplar of the Fourth Estate, then I guess you’re right- I must be clueless. No wonder I’m not the Food Guy.

    Hope you stuck her with more than half the tab.

    The Doctor (not a gynecologist)

    PS: I think the tax law works like this- if you get paid ANYTHING, then the expenses to get the revenue are legitimate. But then, I’m not an accountant, either.

  8. The Volstead’s Milk Chocolate Fondue is Awesome « NYC Food Guy Says:

    […] Fondue is Awesome Milk Chocolate Fondue. Wow. I’ve been down on fondue since the Artisanal disaster but The Volstead changed that by providing cubes of Rice Krispy Treats and fudge infused pound […]

  9. usacopywriter Says:

    I wasn’t impressed with the Fondue Restaurant near me either. It’s called The Melting Pot and it’s overpriced with non-fabulous accompaniments too. I might give it one more try if I don’t have to pay for it 🙂 Thanks.

    Shelly, Nibbles of Tidbits

  10. Ande07 Says:

    I am so sad to hear that your experience was that bad at the Artisanal. I have learned that when I go to NYC…I stick to what I know so I come home with a happy belly! I usually go to the Habana Cafe (Prince and Elizabeth streets) for their Mexican style corn…never disappointing. I also love Pinkberry…..plain with cap’n crunch and pineapples. And I love Roy’s Fusion restaurant….financial district.

    I just recently went to the Arsanal…and I must say that although the fondue looked tempting and the onion soup looked good…I stuck to the Chicken under a brick and I usually never order chicken. BUT….it was the best damn chicken I have ever tasted. SO WORTH IT! I am getting hungry just thinking about it. I think I will only stick with that when I go back. My suggestion is that you go back and just get the chicken…it will make up for your bad experience……..promise!!!!!!!!!!!

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