Wednesday, September 30, 2009

FoodTrek: Cheese, Glorious Cheese at Artisanal Brasserie

I had a serious case of lactose bedazzlement when I visited Artisanal Brasserie, newly opened in Bellevue's luxe retail fortress, The Bravern. I had been very fortunate to preview the restaurant before it opened, getting a peek at the space, meeting chef/owner Terrance Brennan, and seeing where all the lovely cheese would live behind climate-controlled glass, served on a chilled marble bartop. This caused much excitement to build. Finally walking through its doors with fellow blogger and Francophile, Ms. Radish and Rosé, the sight of the stocked bar du fromage and the massive leg of jamón ibérico was simply too much. The Prime was blinded by the science of cheese!

Raising the bar of meat and cheesy goodness - Photos by Wasabi Prime

The lovely people of Artisanal took great care of us that evening, especially in my cheese shellshocked state. The waitstaff are knowledgeable over the dishes and aware of preparation. The sommelier is the most charming fellow you'll be lucky to meet, and he'll steer you in the proper direction for a food/wine pairing. We were brought nibbles to sample, an amuse bouche of tempura style cheese, served up like a bouquet, sitting on skewers set in a rock salt and pink peppercorn-filled glass. Indulgent, simple, and comforting, we pulled each fried puff off the skewer and experienced the childhood joy of pulling each one apart, watching the melted cheese ooze between each pull, in between sips of bubbly sparkling wine.

Can anyone go wrong with fried cheese? I didn't think so. - Photos by Wasabi Prime

My mind buzzed with possibilities when I peered over the menu: meats and seafood all prepared in a French style, but dashes of modern twists -- I saw a pork belly appetizer served with a cucmber kimchi. This was Ms. R&R's second visit, so she had already experienced their lovely hangar steak and frites, along with their delightfully airy gougères, and she had nothing but buttery-good things to say about their rich and earthy escargot en croute. I pondered just getting a couple of the appetizers, but I decided to save that for a night in the bar area, having a bottle of bubbly and then snacking on things like the soft egg sardu, steak tartare, or the duck and foie gras rilletes. And definitely a charcuterie platter, as that Spanish ham was just taunting me the whole night. Let that be considered a plan of attack on my next visit!

Diving into some diver scallops - Photo by Wasabi Prime

This visit, we went with the diver sea scallops served with a blood orange grenobloise and cauliflower, and a chicken "under a brick" seared to crispy flat perfection with a potato puree and rich garlic jus. Nothing terribly fancy or fussy, just quality simple ingredients, prepared well, and extremely enjoyable as we snapped photos, talked food, and were reminded of the simple joys in life.

Chicken under a brick - it's bricken good! Photo by Wasabi Prime

Too sated to order dessert, we were still treated with a platter of sweet samples, compliments of the chef. It was the perfect end to the meal, a tray full of small bites ranging from buttery pistachio cookies, rich chocolate brownies, a light fruit jelly candy, and our favorite -- a buttery citrus petit madeleine. For a restaurant's menu too full of good choices, it was the best possible way to end the night with a sweet flourish.

So full... couldn't have another bite.. OH! Dessert? - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I always say the sign of a good restaurant is one where you're already planning what to order next, on a near future visit. I think I have the next three orders lined up in my head, and that's not even counting the neighboring Italian-styled Artisanal Table Pizzeria and Enoteca. This was my first experience at a Terrance Brennan restaurant and I was not disappointed. I've been a fan of his work for a long time, dreamily reading about his work at Picholine and all the ways he reminds us of the complexity and joys of cheese, and just food in general. I love the attention to detail in the restaurant, from the printed paper mats on the tables to the casual bistro elegance of the interiors. The printed napkin rings even have the recipe for their signature macaroni and cheese printed on the backside. They want you to walk away from the experience with an inspiration to have your own food adventures, and I think that's a commendable thing. The enjoyment of food is as much about the camaraderie of dining mates in a restaurant as it is the experience of making the food itself in the comfort of one's own home.

If God is in the details, the Almighty loves cheese, too. - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Happy fromagerie thanks to the people of Artisanal Brasserie. We had a lovely time and we appreciate your patience with us wacky food bloggers as we snapped away with our cameras at each dish of lovely food. I'm definitely planning another visit, as I know Ms. R & R was aiming to sample the Sunday brunch. Looking forward to hearing her report on her blog!

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  1. Beautiful photos! That cheese on a stick looks great, and the food looks fabulous.

  2. What an assortment of cheese. I just love cheese and those fried cheeses are just irresistible. The foods that you've posted are to die for. The scallops, the chicken and the desserts and popping out through my computer. Your photos are stunning too.

  3. That cheese counter is incredible, and what could possibly be wrong with deep-fried cheese? So weird it an't fail...

    Also, I, too, have been cruelly taunted by a ham on many occasions.

    It's interesting to see that the restaurant staff were happy with your photography. I've always been very nervous about this, and most of my in-restaurant shots turn out, well, a bit crappy, on account of the OK, but not really capable of decent low light shots phone camera I use, and the fact that shots tend to be sneaked when the waiting staff aren't looking. Normally, Jen keeps a lookout whilst I quickly take a photo, feeling guilty about it.

    I should be more open and just explain that I want to write about my meal, and that a picture paints a thousand words, but I'm nervous that restauranters won't take too kindly to us two-bit amateur critics panning their establishments (which I only very, very rarely actually do, and only reall when they've been rude to me, or similar).

    It's an interesting topic for debate - to photograph your meal in a restaurant or not? What's the etiquette?

    I feel a post coming on....

  4. A good story

    GK Chesterton: “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”

    Voila: This book is a poetic view of 30 of the best loved French cheeses with an additional two odes to cheese. Recipes, wine pairing, three short stories and an educational section complete the book.

    From a hectic life in New York City to the peace and glories of the French countryside lead me to be the co-founder of Ten years later with the words of Pierre Androuet hammering on my brain:

    “Cheese is the soul of the soil. It is the purest and most romantic link between humans and the earth.”

    I took pen and paper; many reams later with the midnight oil burning Tasting to Eternity was born and self published.

    I believe cheese and wine lovers should be told about this publication.



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