I was tickled to read a New York Times blog post by Mark Bittman about a restaurant I visited while in Paris in 2007, Restaurant Astier, and its wonderful communal cheese platter. This table-sized tray of dozens of cheeses -- each one stinkier and/or moldier than the last -- was one of my food highlights while in France.
The way it works is this -- the cost of the cheese is worked into the prix fixe price, and the platter is passed around from table to table, generally at the end of the meal. I remember eyeing it enviously as servers brought it from one set of happy diners to the next, hoping that it would be my turn next. Finally it arrived and I joyously cut into a wedge of fuzz-topped chevre, a silky Brie, and several others, the names of which fail me now. All I remember is that despite having finished a filling meal, I couldn't get enough.
If you're ever in Paris, I highly recommend Astier for this experience alone.
This is the second time in the past few weeks I've read about a place I've been fortunate enough to frequent on my travels -- in the recent issue of Saveur, its list of 12 Restaurants That Matter (in the U.S) included the sister establishment to Diner, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Though I haven't been to Marlow & Sons, which sits right next door to Diner, eating at the latter was an amazing experience.
The Marlow & Sons forerunner occupies an old Kullman dining car, and you can choose to sit in one of the booths or sidle up to the bar to nosh (which is what my sister and I did). The menu of the day is scrawled on the back of a piece of receipt paper, and it's all about what's seasonal and local. Both our meals were delicious, and I'd make the trip to the hip and happening Williamsburg to dine there again in a heartbeat.