It's fun to discover a hidden gem of dining pleasure when you are travelling.
My wife and I were in NY for a week -- a week of visiting friends & family, seeing museum, and most importantly -- shopping (her) and eating (me).
Madge wanted to do a lap on Canal St. in search of bargain imitation handbags (Xmas gifts for family-- don't tell) in red, purple, black and green. I found a couple of sports jerseys which didn't cost lots of greenery.
While walking up Broadway a couple of blocks up from Canal, I spotted a bunch of young people standing around smoking. Nothing unusual in that, except they were all wearing tall chef toques.
I walked around the front of the building and spotted the entrance and menu for L'Ecole. It was in the late afternoon after lunch, but I stopped in and asked the hostess about the prix fixe menus. She advised me to call for reservations. That evening my sister had even warned me she heard it was not that great. That did it, I HAD to try it.
The next day I called and made a reservation. This time, Madge was doing some shopping at Bloomingdale's, so we could hop on an express train to Canal St.
The 4/5 express train was fast, but the meal was leisurely. L'ecole is an oasis in the hectic city.
The food. It was tasty, intricate, but intense. The restaurant is run by senior and advanced students from The French Culinary Institute.
We were one of the last two couples left in the restaurant at the end of lunch. Service continues to 2:30, last seats at 2:00. One of the head chef/instructors came by, and I asked him some detailed menu and ingredient questions. The menu describes the main dish well, but the accompanying items are left to the diner to inquire as they may change day-to-day. The menus are changed every 3-4 months.
We volunteered to take us on a tour around the school and cooking school. On the way out we ran into our old friend, a voice we wake up to on Saturday, Scott Simon of NPR. We chatted for a few minutes then took and interesting tour led by Chef Allan.
We will definitely return, probably for the 4/5 course prix fixe. And even better. It has always been a belief that finding a good restaurant at $100-150 for a couple is both expensive and NOT fun. Finding a wonderful experience where a couple can get out for $50-60 is fun and enjoyable.
Braised Belgian Endive Stuffed with Swiss Chard Nice-Style. Very nice. The stuffing reminds you of a ravioli spinach/rocotta/pork stuffing, but not heavy. It was nice to eat Nice-style.
Roasted Beet and Celeriac Salad with Pine Nuts (Vieille France) pleased the red-headed beet fanatic across the table.
Grilled Marinated Tuna with Caramelized Squash and Brussels Sprouts was served on a bed of
lentil puree which complimented but didn't overwhelm the delicate tuna taste. On the side was a thimble-sized serving of spinach souffle, also accompanying was a three-layer scalloped potato with ham slices in between. Nice accents to the main entree.
Ginger-Marinated Pork Filet with Sweet-Sour Sauce, while sounding simple, this was very well executed and also served on a lentil puree bed, must have been the lesson of the day.
Choices needn't be many when they are this good. Crème Brûlée Trio had individual small bowls of chocolate, strawberry, vanilla ( w/vanilla bean). Enough to share and give a variety of flavors to savor.
Black Currant Poached Pear with Black Currant Sorbet (Provence) was a perfect end to a great meal.
Good wine pairings are advised by the staff. But the service can be spotty. Our waiter, told us he usually plays bartender. And it showed. Also, on the bill he didn't remove a glass of wine which had been changed. This was solved afterwards kindly.
But we cut some the staff some slack. L'ecole serves a delicious meal in a beautiful environment, for not a hell of a lot of money. And something that's should be savored in today's market.
We will definitely return on our next trip, on a different day to try more of their offerings.
L'Ecole diners enjoy prix fixe lunch ($20.04) and dinner ($29.95) menus, in addition to à la carte offerings and daily specials. Restaurant hours are:
Monday Friday, 12:15 - 2:30 pm for lunch
Monday Wednesday, 6:00 - 9:30 pm
Thursday Saturday, 5:30 - 9:30 pm
Reservations are recommended (212-219-3300).
New York, NY 10013-2618