by Sam Worley
The menu is taken up mostly by cheeses, to which are appended little descriptions that range in helpfulness: "Fresh cream, grass, luscious." They're available by the piece or on plates of three ($16) or five ($25); so are items off a shorter menu of cured meats ($25 for five, too—that's the whole list); and so are three selections of house-made charcuterie. One wishes for some way to more broadly sample the menu—a mixed plate of cheese and meat would be a benefit. So, for that matter, would a glass of wine cheaper than $10, but wine prices are the same across the board: $44 a bottle, $10 a glass, and $5 a half glass. (A half bottle would be nice too!)
Minor problems with the menu, of course, don't necessarily have to do with what's on the plate, where there are some major mishaps. Like somebody making the gobsmackingly bad decision to pair a pretty mild cheese—Crave Brother's semisoft Petit Frere, not nearly as funky as our server let on—with pickled peppers, against which no nuance will stand. Just avoid the peppers? Their juices had leaked all over the cheese. They weren't very good peppers, either, which pointed to a larger problem the kitchen has with pickles: even cornichons tasted of little more than vinegar. So, for that matter, did a plate of Spanish anchovies, served on crostini. Have you ever had an anchovy that didn't taste anything like fish? Me neither. A minor miracle, I suppose, but not a very delicious one.
The anchovies are one of a small handful of prepared dishes here. On a menu of "not so small" plates there's fondue, grilled cheese, and duck leg confit. Roasted ham is overdone and chewy; the potatoes with it are chalky; the dish's only salvation is in the Raclette, one of the classic foot-cheeses, that's been melted over it.
Amid all the chaos, it's startling to find a charcuterie menu that's uniformly good. Duck rillettes are served in an elegant cylinder topped with creamy sweet potato puree, creme fraiche, and bits of crispy kale; chicken liver mousse is ultradense but subtly flavored; and country paté is garnished with a chestnut mousse so intense it tastes like chocolate. Nice bread, too.
2947 N. Broadway, 773-472-4781, pastoralartisan.com