Monday, January 24, 2011

NYC Restaurant Week 2011: L'Ecole, The Restaurant of the French Culinary Institute

Restaurant Week rolls around in NYC twice a year, and every time I am at a loss in deciding which place to eat.  There are sooo many choices, and most people's experiences are hit or miss (per Yelp), save those that are quite popular and acclaimed, but also hard to get (i.e., The Modern).  You cannot snooze when NYC Restaurant Week rolls around; restaurants book so quick, dudes.

So, I threw a dart in the air and picked L'Ecole for this season's RW dining venue.  L'Ecole features dishes prepared by culinary students of the French Culinary Institute that are in their 3rd and 4th years.  It seemed a potentially interesting venue, so Thanan and I snagged the 8:30 p.m. reservation spot which offered a 5 course menu.  They offered their typical 5 course menu, so it could be considered a positive on them providing familiar restaurant items.  It also appears the menu may vary nightly with the chef.  Here's the goods!

Amuse bouche: canape with a codfish mousse-puree; basically cracker with some mild creaminess.  

Escargot with Asian pear, gruyere cream and red wine-bacon reduction sauce.  Or so they told us.  It tasted like, what Thanan best described, French onion soup broth.  The escargot was not rubbery nor was it slightly chewy as it should have been.  The texture was completely off, and the appetizer left much to be desired.  

Smoked scallops with butternut squash puree, caramelized brussel sprouts and pomegranate vinaigrette.  The scallops tasted as if they were seared in bacon  fat, which was fine by me, but Thanan seemed underwhelmed.  The brussel sprouts were quite oversalted, and we both agreed that the butternut puree was the best item on the dish.  The sweetness  of the puree balanced the smokiness from the scallops.

Sauteed duck with mushroom-fennel ragout and cranberry-orange sauce.  What to say, what to say.  The sauce tasted nothing like cranberries and orange.  The only semblance of orange was gained from the few slices of fresh orange scattered on the plate.  The mushroom-fennel ragout was a confusing mound of sliced vegetables tucked underneath the duck.  The duck itself was cooked fine, but was hardly remarkable.  Thanan ordered the hangar steak and couldn't finish the tough meat.  The meat course was a general disappointment.

The digestive salad: an interesting plate of arugula leaves + poached pears in red wine + goat cheese ice cream capped by a cheesy cracker.  This salad was one of the bigger highlights of the meal (thank goodness).  Loved the poached pear slices, and Diana won't believe this, but I actually ate a good chunk of the goat cheese ice cream!  It was whipped and light and had just the faintest hint of goat cheese.

Dessert: pumpkin souffle with egg nog cream.

Thank heavens for dessert.  I think this souffle was the only real saving grace of the meal - it was so delicious.  Served piping hot, the egg nog cream melted perfectly into the airy, eggy souffle.  Pumpkin flavor was subtle but present and the souffle had a nice sugar crust to add crunch.

The service we received was also quite spotty; the restaurant wasn't even filled to capacity to excuse the lack of attention. We waited at times 15-20 minutes between plates. I could understand that for the souffle, but not for the tiny digestive salad. Thanan also ordered a coffee that never arrived.

All in all, I would not recommend L'Ecole for Restaurant Week or any regular week.  It's an okay experience if you want to try a handful of dishes and support culinary students, but for much bigger bang for your French buck, I would tell you to hike it up to Jean-Georges for a weekday lunch and eat your French foodie heart out.  Sure you get only two plates at $28 but it's so much more worth it.

L'Ecole, The Restaurant of the French Culinary Institute
462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013
L'Ecole Restaurant of the French Culinary Institute on Urbanspoon


  1. Hmm - I'm sorry to hear the meal wasn't that great. I went for lunch back in the summer and everything was really good (it was the 3-course prix fixe). Maybe the students are different now, though?...

  2. i know, sara! me too. thanan and i agreed that maybe it is better on a different night as there appeared to be a calendar in the menu with different chef names by night. my expectations might have been off too.

  3. awww sad because it looks so good!! and i love pear in anything - those poached pears are so prettily purple :)

  4. nice opinion.. thanks for sharing....