Last night I used my bloomspot voucher for a four course dinner for two, with wine pairings, at Arisinal Fromagerie and Bistro, located on E. 32nd Street, off of Park Avenue.
Immediately upon entering Artisinal, my senses were assaulted by a pungent aroma of a variety of cheeses, which may or may not have been mixing in the most pleasing way for me. However, the cheese scent died down after awhile and I was able to take in the very large crowd dining at the Bistro and the bar (surprisingly for a "fine dining" establishment, there were not very many three-piece-suit types, and even one guy dininig in a t-shirt). Not a single open table or bar stool was available when I arrived for my 8:15 p.m. reservation, and a couple who walked in shortly after me, without any reservation, was told there was at least a half hour wait for a table, which I took as a good sign.
My dining companion and I only had to wait ten minutes before we were escorted to our table for two. Although I felt I was sinking a bit too much into the cushion I was seated upon, the overall arrangemet was nice. We were close to Artisinal's signature "fromagerie," at which I counted no less than an assortment of 50 cheeses, in addition to some jams, available for purchase as well as consumption in the restaurant.
Consider how surprised I was then, when I learned that our four course menu did not have a single cheese item on it. Instead, the moment we sat down our waiter began selling us on a fondue or cheese plate; we chose the former, opting for a "classic" swiss fondue with bread and apple slices. The fondue was tasty for sure, but perhaps the irony of it being so "classic" was that there really was nothing that stood out about it, and the cheese also could have been melted a lot more.
I don't know what it is with tasting menus and good soup, but much like my experience at Le Souk Harem, the best item on the tasting menu was probably the small pre-first course, an "amuse bouche," which was a tea cup sized foam-covered, thick mushroom soup. This was followed by an interesting array of cured meats, of which the duck sausage slices were most memorable to my palate.
The next course, a sauteed skate wing, on a bed of some type of tomatillo, and wrapped in a flaky dough, was very good and easy to eat. Then came our main course. We had a choice between a hanger steak or steak au poivre, and my dining companion and I both chose the au poivre steak. While, considering it's namesake, and based on the watier's description, we both expected some peppercorn, it seemed like the chef had doused our portions of the otherwise delectably cooked ribeye in enough pepper to feed the entire restaurant. I can say, however, that the accompanying shoe string fries were fairly addictive...
Our final course, dessert, was a chocolate marquise. While I recognized the extreme deliciousness of this dessert, it was simply too rich for my tastes. Nevertheless, it was accompanied by one of my favorite legumes, little pieces of hazelnut, and also paired with a sweet zinfandel wine that softened the chocolate overload. I made it through about half of the marquise before I decided I couldn't take any more of the richness. I believe my dining companion finished his entirely.
I should mention that each dish, not just the dessert, was appropriately paired with a complementing red or white wine, and sizable glasses of each, for a "tasting" menu. Overall, I might recommend Artisinal if you can get one of the bloomspot deals, or if you can save money by ordering from their wide range of prix fixe options, but otherwise I can't say I would be very quick to return.