While cycling at the gym, I texted Paul on the neighboring treadmill, “Dinner out?” With our fridge stocked with dinner options, and the clock already well past 6 pm, no good reason existed for this impromptu meal out. Especially since lately a lot of my best-laid home-cooked dinner plans have fallen by the wayside with late work nights.
But I was tired of having sad, harried dinners out; too-late takeout meals accompanied by the glare of a work laptop screen with barely a nod to my spouse. Instead, it was time for a life-affirming dinner. In fact, a life-affirming dinner was long overdue.
Have you tried the life-affirming dinner? Reader, I recommend it. I think it was Petula Clark who sang, “When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go have a life-affirming dinner.” Or something very close.
I’ve had some of my best meals when seeking a life-affirming dinner. We found our beloved, now defunct, Graffiato that way. The only goal of a life-affirming dinner is delight. Your life-affirming dinner may look different than mine. I’ve found mine often features a new restaurant, glasses of wine, laughter, and good company. Mental health is restored; through good food and relaxation the future seems full of infinite possibilities. That’s how we ended up at Cheesetique in Del Ray, in search of a life-affirming meal. Happily, it delivered.
Long an Alexandria dining stalwart, Cheesetique opened in 2004 and expanded with a cheese-centric restaurant in 2008. Since then, they’ve opened restaurants in Shirlington and the Mosaic district. We had our one and only visit to Cheesetique when we first moved to Alexandria in 2015. We sampled a few cheeses from their well-stocked counter, but we didn’t dine. The attendant frustrations of dining in Del Ray kept us away. But since little is as life-affirming as cheese, we decided to return to Del Ray and to Cheesetique.
Part restaurant, part neighborhood cheese, wine, and specialty shop, the front portion is devoted to the store, while the back and outside patio are reserved for dining and bar patrons. We were seated at a small corner table and the ambience reminded us of a Parisian bistro. The crowded bar buzzed with diners sampling cheese plates, fingers curling around the stems of wine glasses. Service was efficient and friendly and mid-meal someone came proffering a cheese sample of goat gouda. The perfect meal is that where your cheese is interrupted by a chance to consume more, bonus cheese.
A life-affirming meal demands food be savored, and more than could possibly be consumed comfortably be ordered. As such, we started with mac arancini, cheese curds, and a side of Lactaid, followed by French onion soup, a side of lobster mac and cheese, and the cheesesteak sandwich. We washed this down with a sublime white Bordeaux, and sturdy glasses of red Bordeaux and Pinot Noir. The outstanding white Bordeaux tasted like fresh tart apples and honeyed lemon and we made sure a bottle of it accompanied us home.
The mac arancini features their famous, award winning mac and cheese formed into deep-fried balls of creamy, truffle-laden goodness. While lacking a slight bit of salt, once accompanied with marinara or garlic aioli they provided a savory bite. The fried cheese curds, however, put the mac arancini to shame. Lightly battered plump curds of bright orange cheddar squeaked satisfyingly between our teeth and our mouths filled with airy tempura-style batter and gooey, molten cheese. Each curd was a perfect specimen on its own, but the spicy, pungent garlic aioli was so good we couldn’t resist eating half a curd plain and dipping the other half in the aioli.
I could have eaten nothing but curds quite happily all night, nay all week, but we eventually transitioned to entrees. The French onion soup topped with nutty Gruyere scratched the itch for a decent French onion soup, but had nothing on the truly great ones like our beloved Le Bistro soup. The lobster mac and cheese had a peculiar sweetness; perhaps an overabundance of nutmeg or the use of a sweet rather than dry sherry was the culprit. Either way, the grainy texture and odd flavor meant it remained largely untouched.
Fear not, the cheesesteak more than made up for this Cheesetique culinary blip. Sandwiched between fresh ciabatta bread, slathered in garlic aioli, rested tender, marinated slices of flank steak covered in creamy, funky Taleggio cheese. Combining the familiar flavors of a cheesesteak with a touch of the unfamiliar created a completely addictive and craveable sandwich.
Sated and quenched, we decided to peruse the store portion, grabbing our aforementioned bottle of wine, Spanish peppers, anchovies with red pepper, and the bizarrely flavored Iberico ham chips. Knowing we’d get to enjoy more of the Cheesetique experience at home, only lent to the excitement and pleasure of the meal.
With promising items like pimento cheese nachos, poutine tots, and a full specialty grilled cheese menu left to explore, it’s obvious we will be returning to Cheesetique soon.