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favorite restaurant cheese boards??


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Picholine and Artisanal are in a league of their own within the context of New York. They're the only places in New York I'd be willing to hold up as good examples to a French gourmet. Most of the four-star-type places have acceptable cheese, as does Gramercy Tavern sometimes. There are a few places that do nice plated cheese courses where there's actual technique involved -- I remember some nice stuff at Town, for example -- and there are a few places that have tiny selections but do a nice job with them -- such as the Tasting Room.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Nina, I think for a cheese course to qualify as magnificent, it has to be better than what you could get by going around to a few good cheese shops and just buying cheese. There has to be some affinage -- on-premises aging to the right point of ripeness -- and maybe some supply lines that consumers can't tap into very easily. Nice accompaniments are a plus, which is where Picholine kicks the ass of Artisanal. This is one area in which Picholine excels beyond anything I've yet seen in France. It's a difference in philosophy; one on which I firmly side with Picholine. At Chanterelle I've never seen what would amount to magnificent in my book. Overall I think Chanterelle was a restaurant ahead of its time way back when but is now a restaurant behind the times.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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While I cannot recollect the cheese course at Daniel, below is an excerpt from L Brenner's "The Fourth Star" relating to the Grimes four-star review:

"Grimes devotes a paragraph-plus to cheese . . . . 'It is highly advisable,' Grimes counsels, 'to study the cheese trolley.' He then goes on to swoon about a Selles-sur-Cher he had one visit, and recounts looking for the same cheese on a subesquent trip to the Loire Valley (he should have looked right on Bleeker Street." :wink:

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Nina, I think for a cheese course to qualify as magnificent, it has to be better than what you could get by going around to a few good cheese shops and just buying cheese. There has to be some affinage -- on-premises aging to the right point of ripeness -- and maybe some supply lines that consumers can't tap into very easily. Nice accompaniments are a plus, which is where Picholine kicks the ass of Artisanal. This is one area in which Picholine excels beyond anything I've yet seen in France. It's a difference in philosophy; one on which I firmly side with Picholine. At Chanterelle I've never seen what would amount to magnificent in my book. Overall I think Chanterelle was a restaurant ahead of its time way back when but is now a restaurant behind the times.

True, it's been a while since I"ve been blown away by the cheese course at Chanterelle, but back in the day, oh man.

You know, I don't love Picholine. Not the cheese specifically, but the tables are too close together and I don't think the service is all that great. I've only been there twice and the food (besides the cheese) didn't blow me away that I recall.

However, when I went to the Taste of Tribeca event, Max Macallum (is that how you spell it?) had a table there, and he was cutting cheeses and he took the time to talk to every person...the cheeses were interesting and unusual, just like FG is talking about - very nice.

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It's been awhile since I've been to Picholine, I didn't particularly like the restaurant, but I particularly didn't like the cheese service which I found oppressive and self aggrandizing. The cheeses themselves are fine, generally superior for NYC, but not outstanding when compared to France. I believe that the department of agriculture still prohibits the importation of many raw milk cheeses that don't meet their criteria, and its hard to duplicate the regional orientation that makes many provincial french cheese trays so interesting.

What I don't like at Picholine is to be told in advance what a wonderful service they have, be put on a long queue to await the arrival of the trolley, then to have to listen to a long dissertation on each cheese, and then be restricted to 3 or 4 small slices or else have to pay extra. After ordering, the guy (I have a vague recollection that his name was Max) goes off for 5 minutes to put an elaborate plate together along with dried fruits and other add-ons of which I have no interest.

In France, the trolley arrives promptly, you ask questions if you have any, you point to what you want, get as many pieces as you want (typically 5-6) and if you have nerve, you can even indicate how big a slice you want. The whole transaction takes 30 seconds. In some bistros they still put the cheese tray on the table and let you serve yourself which is ideal.

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Interesting. I find the cheese service in many Michelin-starred places in France to be perfunctory and the lack of garnishes to be a flaw!

There are certainly some great regional cheese carts in France, though mostly not in Paris. But I think Picholine balances its lack of regionalism with a multinational selection you'd never find in France. In particular, many of the Spanish and British cheeses I've tried at Picholine have been the best of their kind and I've never had anything comparable to them in France. There are even some superb American ones on there, believe it or not.

There is only one relevant restriction on cheese importation: Unpasteurized-milk cheeses aged less than 60 days are prohibited in the United States. Everything else is fair game. And a few of the younger raw cheeses make it in anyway. You'll typically find two or three legally questionable cheeses on Picholine's cart on any given night.

The prices are too high, it's true. And Max is an oddball. I like the other guy better.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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So the latest topic column for New York listed "favorite restaurant cheese..."

Being from Philadelphia I wondered why would New Yorkers be discussing cheesesteaks? Maybe they were talking about that chef selling round cheesesteaks with the fancy sauce.

Now I realize the thread is about cheese trays.

Never mind.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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One thing I like about the French manner of serving cheese is that it is quite normal to eat cheeses of any kind with a knife and fork rather than with bread or biscuits. In those last critical stages of a large meal, it is a mistake to take up precious stomach room with mere starch!

The cheese trolley I have never seen surpassed is the heavily-laden behemoth at Le Mas in Longuyon near the Luxembourg border in the Lorraine. Madame Tisserant goes regularly to the markets at Lyon, where she stocks up with cheeses in various stages which complete their affinage in Le Mas's cellars. And she doesn't stop loading your plate until you beg for mercy!

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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What kind of garnishes do you prefer in the presentation. Unfourtanately we dont really have much of a cheese scene around here (other than a few small shops and Whole Foods, which do offer tons of great cheeses) and thusly I have never seen a cheese cart!

My only experience with cheese courses is at Mistral in Seattle where as part of the tasting menu, a cheese course with about 5 or 6 different selections is given to the table. This plate usually has some kind of fruit that goes with the cheese.

Thoughts?

Ben

Edit: Duh, by around here I meant Seattle. oops.

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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An assortment of fresh breads and cracker-type things. In addition to fresh fruit of many kinds, there are all the dried fruit possibilities: Medjool dates, figs, apricots, etc. Nuts, of course. Various pastes and mixtures such as quince paste (a personal favorite), that date-and-nut glop that comes in a rectangular block, chutneys, pesto, olive tapenade, and more. Me, I'd also like to see things like cured meats served along with the cheese course, but I'm in the minority on that I'm sure. Then there are some very specific combinations, like some cheeses are flattered by shaved truffles and others go nicely with tiny sliced boiled potatoes. I'll try to think of more.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Steven, I'd relish (as it were) all your suggestions -- providing the cheese course was the only course there was!  :biggrin:

Mr. Whiting, did you consider your relish to be eaten with beast and fowl?

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What I don't like at Picholine is to be told in advance what a wonderful service they have, be put on a long queue to await the arrival of the trolley, then to have to listen to a long dissertation on each cheese, and then be restricted to 3 or 4 small slices or else have to pay extra.  After ordering, the guy (I have a vague recollection that his name was Max) goes off for 5 minutes to put an elaborate plate together along with dried fruits and other add-ons of which I have no interest.

I like all that. By the time the cheese course is ready, we usually don't mind a few extra minutes between courses.

Except the restriction on number of slices. But we went during white truffle season last year, and ordered a couple of appetizers each split in two for the four of us (a pasta dish and an egg dish). When they shaved the truffles on top, they were like the Everready bunny (kept on going and going). Clearly, each half appetizer got a generous portion of truffle.

So, all in all, a very fairly priced meal!

beachfan

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thanks!

i think there are so many great issues being explored. first of all, i think it's telling that at least a couple of non-new yawkers posted replies here, expressing interest in what's going on with cheese courses in nyc (& beyond). this speaks to the growing popularity of it as well as the need to maybe go on for a 2 or 3 minutes (maybe not 5, as is the case at picholine, apparently) about each cheese, carefully reading the guests so as to not underestimate their cheese IQ & bore them (which is what savy service should be about anyway)......although the typical guest at chanterelle may be familiar with the nuances of loire valley chevres, in general mainstream culture hasn't been as engaged with the artisanship of cheesemaking (i don't think the usda & commercial dairy industry want us to be), as has been the case in other countries (namely france, another place i have not been).....that point doesn't have much to do with my original question, but those thoughts entered my mind as i read us complaining about the price & wait & having to hear someone ramble on about cheese. i'm happy to hear someone share their passion & knowledge for it in this country!!

but i'm not beyond recognizing underripe cheeses. i went back to artisinal after someone pointed this out to me (a fellow egulleteer), and, sure enough, a couple of them had not reached their prime. not to mention the terrible service, which was not made up for by the disappointing cheese. plus, the food sort of sucked (for what i was expecting, again). why go somewhere just for one component of the meal?

other question--how is gramercy tavern's cheese tray? i've heard they have a couple of phenomenal cheeses, but what about the accompaniments & cheese service there?

as far as cheese accompaniments--i enjoy at least three different styles of them, and it always depends on the cheese i've ordered. there shouldn't be just one garnish for every type of cheese being offered, just like there's no one wine or beer for every cheese....and nuts are key, providing textural contrast.

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That's what I wanted to point out about Whiting's comment: It's not as though you have to eat a groaning board full of a hundred condiments, but most cheeses are given an additional dimension by intelligent pairing with one or two other substances. You get to try them plain, and paired with other stuff. It's just another thing a restaurant can do to enrich the experience, and I consider it especially important to do that when you're serving a bought product.

The only thing I'll add about this notion of cheese knowledge is that few Europeans have a clue about many of the cheeses on Picholine's cheese cart, so they might want to spend some time listening. The average frequent customer at Picholine probably knows a few things about Spanish cheeses that the average maitre-froma-whatever at a Michelin-starred restaurant in France is oblivious to.

And I'm telling you, there are some cheeses from North America that are very serious. I was at Gramercy Tavern last week or maybe it was the week before and they had this boerenkaas knockoff from California and it was tremendous. I've never had a real boerenkaas as good as this fake one. It was so good, we had a major breakdown of etiquette when the serious cheese eaters at the table started pilfering the non-serious peoples' portions of the stuff. I had a sheep cheese in New Brunswick last month that was insanely good, as in on my last trip to France I didn't have a single cheese as good as this one. I made the guy at the restaurant give me the label off the wheel and I know I have it somewhere, not that you'd likely be able to get it outside of New Brunswick. And Quebec, well, forget about it. They've got some bad ass cheeses there.

The Gramercy Tavern cheese service isn't bad -- it's excellent by American standards, which isn't saying much but is saying something -- and the person who is taking care of the cheeses now seems to be on the ball in terms of assessing ripeness and all that. There are no accompaniments other than bread, though.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I recently had the tasting menu at Gramercy, which included the cheese board. Unfortunately after eight preceding courses my limited short term memory was full to bursting (as was my belly), and I struggle to remember the specifics of my choices.

None the less, I do recall that the selection was excellent, with sheep, goat, blue, young, mature, French, English, American and more all represented. I am a cheese lover rather than a cheese connoiseur, so many of my choices were new to me(we had five in all). Where I could make direct comparisons, the cheeses seemed well aged and kept.

The two that stood out were an English stilton (served slightly firmer than is the norm in blighty, where a stilton can almost be spread on crust bread), and a very young grassy goats cheese.

Service was knowlegable, and the 'tour of the board' was eloquent and not overlong. Extras were sparse, but there was a tangy block of quince paste.

It's all true... I admit to being the MD of Holden Media, organisers of the Northern Restaurant and Bar exhibition, the Northern Hospitality Awards and other Northern based events too numerous to mention.

I don't post here as frequently as I once did, but to hear me regularly rambling on about bollocks - much of it food and restaurant-related - in a bite-size fashion then add me on twitter as "thomhetheringto".

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I have to say that I find cheese boards in the US in general and in NY in particular to be universally underwhelming and sometimes actively nasty. I am not sure why that is, apart from the nannying of a government that thinks that people are not grown up enough to decide if they are going to take the risk of eating "real" cheese.

Even the otherwise estimable Grammercy had an execrable board the last time I was there. A blight on an otherwise perfect evening.

I posted on the other board about this an two people recommended Artisnal and Picholine. I was very disappointed when I tried them.

I am not sure if it was just that there is no feel for how to serve or indeed care for cheese or if I have just been unlucky.

Like Nesita, it is often the highlight of my meal, so any suggestions for my next trip across the pond would be very welcome.

S

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Simon, my experience is similar as to the mediocrity of American cheese offerings including GT. Steven's post, however, does make me think that Picholine may have reached a higher level since my last visit although I still don't believe that I could tolerate the service.

I do feel strongly that for my taste cheese should not be garnished. Fine cheese has strong and complex flavors that stand alone and adding dried fruits and nuts and such like detracts. There also appears to be a consensus developing that cheese is one of those foods that doesn't go well with wine, although Robert Parker tries to make the case that although it doesn't go with red wine it does with white. I personally don't agree, and I for one usually have only the most minimal interest in matching wine and food, being much more interested just finding the wine that I reallly want to drink.

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Marcus, I'm not arguing for a view of Picholine that includes improvement over time. If you didn't like the cheese cart when you went you won't like it now.

I see nothing wrong with the option of a garnish. Perhaps this is my American bias, but I usually like choices even if I don't utilize them. And in some cases I'd argue that the right garnish is essential, for example I can't imagine liking an aged Idiazabal better without quince paste than with. Likewise Port or Sauternes with blue cheeses.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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