by Michael Barbieri
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What is raclette?  Well, by definition, raclette is a hearty Swiss peasant dish featuring raw cow’s milk cheese, melted and scraped onto roasted potatoes and a few slices of crusty bread.

Luckily, for hungry New Yorkers, Raclette is also a delightful, cozy bistro in the East Village, where servers bring half-wheels of cheese to your table, and hand scrape the melted top layer directly onto your food.  And trust me when I tell you; the rich, gooey goodness just enhances all of the accompaniments of the plate, creating an experience that foodies - especially cheese lovers, will not soon forget!

Located on East 12th Street, off Avenue A, this quaint little eatery is not fancy, by any means, but rustic and comfortable - wood floor and tables, wood-paneled walls of white and beige on one side, whitewashed exposed brick on the other.  Tiny sconces and recessed lighting give the place a pleasant glow, and there is a simple bar, with three built-in metal barstools at the far end.  With only about 15 tables, the place fills up quickly; its popularity bolstered by a video of the cheese-scraping process that circulated on Facebook.

As with the decor, the menu at Raclette is simple.  There are Tartines - open-faced sandwiches, much like flatbreads, each with a different topping, and Croques - more like conventional sandwiches, they’re buttery and lightly broiled.  You’ll find Mains, like Chicken Paillard and Salade Nicoise, and some side dishes.  But the stars of the menu are the Raclettes.  There are several variations including the traditional Savoyarde - roasted new potatoes, cornichon pickles, and pickled white pearl onions, the Mediterranée, with roasted asparagus, cherry tomatoes, and baguette slices, and the Parisienne, which features skirt steak, mushrooms, asparagus, and potatoes.  All of the raclettes are topped with that fabulous melted cheese.

My husband and I headed down to Raclette, and were shown to our table immediately.  They don’t have a full bar; only beers and wines, so we stuck with the bottle of water that our server provided.  Vincent started with the Tuna Tartine - light chunk tuna, with blanched string beans, sliced grape tomatoes, a bit of red onion, and hard boiled egg, tossed in olive oil and Mediterranean seasonings, sitting on slices of garlic rubbed baguette.  The tuna, while tinned, was very high quality - store-bought American brands can have a slight metallic aftertaste, but this tuna was firm, with a clean flavor.  The dressing on the toppings was subtle, allowing each individual ingredient to shine, and while it was a bit messy to eat, the flavors were fresh and light.  I began with the Croque Havana - citrus-roasted pork, bread and butter pickles, dijon mustard, and some of the French raclette cheese, on a toasted Cuban roll.  The pork could’ve used a touch of salt, but was still very juicy, and the butteriness of the crispy roll gave the croque an irresistible texture.  The dish was accompanied by a simple arugula salad, dressed in a light vinaigrette.  A bit of the arugula added to the sandwich, gave it a peppery acidic bite that made the flavor pop.

For our entrees, I chose the Raclette Complete - roasted new potatoes, cornichons, and pickled pearl onions, along with jambon de Paris - a lean, delicate, not too salty ham, prosciutto di Parma - an Italian ham with a nutty, slightly saltier taste, saucisson sec - a French, dry cured sausage with subtle notes of garlic and black pepper, and viande séchée - a sliced, dry cured beef with a lovely depth of flavor.  Just as soon as the plate was delivered, our server came along with the raclette and scraped a good portion onto my food.  I found that by combining a bit of one of the dried meats with a chunk of potato, one of the pickles, and some of the melted cheese, I created a perfectly balanced bite - sweet, nutty, salty, acidic, and earthy.  It was an immensely satisfying dish!  Vincent ordered the Raclette Burger - an 8 ounce patty of ground sirloin, seasoned and grilled to perfection, on a brioche bun, served with lettuce and tomato, and sweet potato fries.  The burger on its own, was amazing - juicy, beefy perfection.  But with the addition of the raclette cheese, it went from amazing to sublime!  Definitely one of the top 5 burgers I’ve ever eaten!

Now, a quick word about their cheeses.  They have several from which to choose.  There’s the French Raw Milk Raclette - not as strong-flavored as, say, Swiss cheese, it’s nutty, a bit fruity, with a mildly salty finish and a subtle pungency.  My current favorite is the Truffle Raclette - all the delicious qualities of the regular raclette, but shot through with bits of black truffle.  This cheese has that almost indescribable loamy/sweet/pungent truffle flavor and aroma, which fills your mouth and nose upon the first bite.  Just fabulous!  Lastly, there is a White Wine Washed-Rind Raclette, which has sweeter notes than the other two.  Despite their subtle differences, they’re all wonderful, and complement the food beautifully, so the choice is up to you.

Lastly, we decided to share one of their desserts, but ended up sampling two: the Blackberry Thyme Cheesecake - with a graham cracker crust, and bruléed top, it came with a drizzle of lemon curd and macerated blackberries.  We also tried the Banana Cheesecake - topped with an orange gelée and candied hazelnuts, with a swirl of caramel sauce and candied banana chips on the plate.  Fresh banana was mixed into the cheesecake batter, and the citrus note from the orange gelée cut through the richness of the cake itself, balancing out the sweetness.  Both were yummy, but we honestly couldn’t finish them, as we were stuffed and happy at that point.

Since my first visit to Raclette, I’ve been back twice.  And yes, the food is simple but stunning, but the thing that’s knocked me out consistently, is the service.  Everyone, from the hosts at the door, to the servers, to the managers, have been friendly, fun, and helpful.  I’ve noticed that during busy seatings, the food takes a little longer to arrive than you might expect, but in such a cheery environment, that’s hardly a problem.  

I’ve been told that the restaurant has recently been negotiating with a new supplier, and that they’ll soon have seven - count ‘em, seven different cheeses on the menu.  Additionally, they’re looking for a second location, as their popularity has skyrocketed, and a larger space is needed.  

I’m looking forward to more return trips, and seeing what Raclette has to offer in the near future!  

For more information, go to www.raclette.nyc

Michael Barbieri

Food & Entertainment Writer