A dinner at l'Ecole overcame all expectations of what $30 could buy you in a New York restaurant. l'Ecole is a restaurant of the French Culinary Institute. We expected the food to be quite good if not consistent since it was prepared by students, but at the price of $30 for a 4-course dinner, we were willing to risk it. We were running late since the traffic was awful all the way from Boston to New York. I called l'Ecole and told them that we will be an hour late. They graciously agreed to hold our table on a busy Saturday night. When we finally made it, we got a wonderful table for two by the window without a minute wait. Unlike most restaurants in New York, lEcole does not cram two people tables a foot apart from each other. Its nice to have dinner with your date and not the diners next to you for a change. The décor was simple but pleasant with beige color washed walls, slightly dimmed lighting and candles.
The service was attentive, honest and not pushy. We decided to order the food and ask our waiter for wines by the glass to match our selection. The food-wine matching is a fickle art, so not all the wines were optimal matches for the food. However all the wines that our waiter recommended were excellent, and we loved the variety of tasting 4 different wines between two of us. Our waiter made sure that the wine was always served before the food so that we had a chance to try the wine alone. The food experience started with the outstanding bread basket. Baguette was crusty and holey, and sourdough was earthy and flavorful. Even my husband, the bread snob, proclaimed that this was some of the best bread he ever tasted. Since it was a hot summer day, we both ordered cold vegetable appetizers: a chilled red pepper soup and a vegetable terrine. Both dishes were perfect in their simplicity, letting the summer vegetables shine with their bright flavors. As wonderful as the appetizers were, the highlights of the meal were the entrees. The grilled tuna was perfectly rare and juicy. A red pepper stew, roasted garlicky potatoes and very flavorful basil pesto were perfect accompaniments. All the flavors came together like one and created a dish that was rich with flavor, yet light and summer like at the same time. Duck with berry sauce was outstanding. The breast was done medium-rare and was deliciously tender under the crisp skin. The leg confit fell apart at the touch of a fork. Fresh seasonal blueberries added a wonderful touch to the sauce and were complimented nicely by the Syrah we were drinking. When our waiter told us the dessert specials, the passion fruit cheesecake immediately got our attention. Since my husband ordered it first, I decided to choose another dessert so that we can explore more of the menu. I chose a plum tart with blood orange sorbet. The tart, consisting of flaky pastry topped with thinly sliced plums, and blood orange sorbet were both delicious, but did not really complement each other. I just pretended to have 2 small desserts and ate them separately with great pleasure. The cheesecake was a true masterpiece though. The passion fruit flavor combined with light and creamy texture is just heavenly.
We were so amazed at the high quality and consistency of the food that we asked our waiter whether all the dishes were indeed prepared by students. He said that students prepare the lunch menu, and the five-course dinner menu served after 8pm, but the four-course dinner menu that we had is only served until 8pm and prepared by professional line cooks. So if you want the best French meal $30 can buy in New York, 6-8pm menu at lEcole is a real find.
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