Fri 11 Jul 2008
Even before I started writing about cheese for DCFoodies, Elizabeth and I had fallen in love with Cheesetique. Located on Del Ray’s Mount Vernon Avenue, it’s a great place to find all kinds of exotic and familiar cheeses from around the world. It’s where we first tasted Saint Agur – now one of our favorite blues. We’ve participated in a tasting class that paired double- and triple-cream bries with sparkling wine. And when I wanted to bring burrata home to New Jersey to share with my Italian family, this is where I came to buy it. Suffice it to say, we’re fans.
When owner Jill Erber announced that Cheesetique would be expanding into a nearby storefront three times its original size earlier this year, we were happy for her. But when she went on to say that the added floor space would allow her to open a cheese and wine bar, we were thrilled.
Four months ago, her plans came to fruition. Cheesetique now boasts a bistro-style restaurant offering panini, quiches, salads and soups in addition to the cheeses, charcuterie and wines you would expect six days a week. Take a look at the setup and check out some of their offerings after the jump.
As you walk into the shop, you can just see the cheese bar in the back, partitioned off from the retail section of the store by a wall of thick floor-to-ceiling curtains. On the left, behind the cheese counters, you can see a long white marble bar. A few stools allow for an up-close-and-personal dining experience, with the remainder of the space devoted to small tables. The butter-yellow walls are decorated with a few mirrors and an assortment of French food posters (the Laughing Cow always makes me smile).
The menu is updated regularly, and diners are encouraged to pay special attention to what’s listed on the chalkboard above and to the right of the bar. There you’ll find a list of the day’s cheese and charcuterie offerings, as well as any specials. At any given time there are roughly a dozen different cheeses available for purchase individually or as part of a make-your-own cheese board. They run the gamut, from accessible favorites like cheddar and brie to more obscure (but delicious) choices like honeyed goat cheese and Spanish manchego. The charcuterie offerings tend to be a bit more limited, but equally diverse. We’re still raving about a lomo (cured pork loin) we tasted on our very first visit.
Once you’ve made your selections (they’ll even wheel over a cheese cart so you can see what each of the offerings looks like), the servers set about cutting everything fresh and arranging it on a beautiful walnut serving board. In addition to your chosen cheeses, you receive cornichons, bread, grainy mustard and olives as accompaniments. Keep this in mind when making your selections – some cheeses go better with these salty, savory treats than others. And don’t be afraid to ask questions - the servers are all well-versed in the qualities and flavors of the cheeses they’re presenting to you.
To wash down all of these delicious deli delicacies, Cheesetique offers a range of red, white and sparkling wines by the glass or by the bottle. The list changes from time to time, but if they’re offering it on the menu you can be sure that they’re also selling it in the retail section of the shop. In fact, they even give a 10 per cent discount on all of the wines that are featured at the Cheese Bar, giving you an incentive to taste before you shop.
At this point we’ve tried quite a few meats and cheeses in our visits to Cheesetique, and we often find that the smartest thing to do is put yourself in the hands of whomever is helping you. Give them an idea of what you know you like and then let them lead the way with suggestions on other things you might enjoy. As far as the Cheese Bar’s menu goes, the panini and soups have been delicious on several visits. Peppadews and prosciutto made one sandwich sing, and the gazpacho I tried early on boasted a fiery note from diced jalapenos. Salads (and some sandwiches) have been less impressive, though their quality ingredients and fresh preparation mean that nothing we’ve had has been bad. At worst they’re simply forgettable. Thankfully, such experiences have been infrequent, and most of what we’ve eaten has been a treat.
Cheesetique’s Cheese and Wine Bar is open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 until 9 PM, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 AM to 2:30 PM for lunch and then 5 to 10 PM for dinner, and Sundays from 11 AM to 2:30 for lunch only. They are closed on Monday (as is the retail section).