Terrance Brennan is one of the few Superchefs who manages to be approachable without being, well, cheesy. If only more chefs (and fashion designers?) could be like him. His various spin-off brands make perfect sense. Huge stash of cheese in Artisanal's cave? Line of cheeses dubbed "Artisanal." Creator of innovative but simply constructed dishes? Microwaveable gourmet meals sold on Fresh Direct. And not once has he told his fans how to decorate a powder room.

His makeover of Picholine gave me a reason to travel to the wilds of the Upper West Side, to that faraway land just a few blocks north of the Time Warner Center. Since I hadn't been to Picholine in any of its former incarnations, I brought a friend who is a regular at Picholine past and present. "They changed the sconces," she said of the new decor. "That's pretty much it." The new paint that made some critics gasp "purple!" didn't have the same effect on me. It's a muted lavender, and it goes well with the beautiful chandeliers. Lavender could only be considered radical in a land north of 14th Street.

But there are some truly radical twists on the plate. The one we found most intriguing was the celebrated sea urchin panna cotta (photo from Grub Street, since I don't take food photos at 3-star joints, sorry). It's visually stunning, with contrasting black caviar, a perfect raised oval of orange-y sea urchin panna cotta, and the neutral color of the surrounding "chilled ocean consommé," which did look like the bubbly tip of a wave running up the beach. "It tastes like the sea," my chef friend sighed. The sea urchin panna cotta almost made me wish a new trend in aspic would result... would such a thing be possible, or even good? I'm willing to eat it, if more chefs are willing to experiment.

The warm Maine lobster appetizer didn't win many points for originality, but it delivered on taste and decadence. Vanilla was a nice and subtle addition to a tried-and-true butter poaching formula. I went for a half portion of the squid ink linguini as an appetizer, because I'd read that was good. Though the sauce did have a nice paella-like quality as advertised on the menu, I experienced some order envy when surveying my dining companions' choices. Mine just seemed boring by comparison.

Somehow we managed to locate a relatively inexpensive wine on Picholine's expensive list. The excellent, complex 2005 Acacia Carneros Pinot Noir went for $66, though you can buy it for $24 at Sherry Lehmann if you want to try it at home.

When the entrees came round, my chef friend was enthralled by her wild mushroom and duck risotto. The rice itself was more al dente than the Café Gray version in my copycat chef recipe, but the risotto as a whole had a similar creaminess. Black truffle butter gave it an especially nice flavor that I can only categorize as bosca, which is the more evocative Italian word for "forest." In Italy, woods, earth, leaves, the scent of mulch underfoot are all in one word.

Venison in parsnip "pain perdu" was also an excellent ode to the winter months. Deeply flavorful but not gamey, the venison came prettily sliced and spiraled out on a plate, dressed in a huckleberry jus, which seemed to be a creative twist on duck with cherry sauce - the two tastes complemented each other similarly. Again I went with what I read and ordered the skate choucroute garni. Surprisingly, skate makes a great "wrap," which is good, because what else are you going to do with this fish? The sausage/sauerkraut wrap filler was nearly as good as Kurt Gutenbrunner's at Blaue Gans. But I wouldn't put this dish at the top of my own list of Picholine faves. It goes to show you: don't listen to food critics. Including me. Had I just ordered whatever caught my eye, I may have ended up the Master Orderer of the night.

Then, the moment we'd been waiting for: the cheese. The dapper celebrity fromager Max McCalman came round with the cart and spent a generous amount of time explaining the cheeses. Without him and Brennan and their brainchild Artisanal, would New York be so obsessed with cheese now? I doubt it. We ordered a tasting of eight cheeses, and Mr. McCalman helpfully provided us with a cheese menu with our picks marked off, as well as pens to take our own notes. I wish more restaurants would do this, because I never remember the cheeses in the morning. The standout selections were an end-of-season sampling of Vacherin Mont D'Or, the sort of liquidy Swiss we tried at Gordon Ramsay, and an excellent cow's milk cheese from County Cork, Ireland, called Ardrahan.

A flurry of sweets arrived at the end - little chocolate fudge squares sprinkled with a few flakes of sea salt, teensy little crunchy cannoli filled with almond butter cream. Throughout the meal, Picholine displayed a lot of generosity with these little touches - the garlic and fennel bread sticks that are expertly made in house, the sweets at the end, and the excellent service throughout. We rolled out of the new space and back into the wilds of the Upper West besotted with food and wine and very impressed with Picholine.

35 West 64th Street, between Central Park West and Broadway