L’Ecole at the French Culinary Institute

14. May 2008 American, SoHo 0

462 Broadway corner of Grand Street
about $120 for two, with four drinks, with tip

L’Ecole’s five-course dinner is probably the city’s lowest-priced prix fixe at $40, but at that unbelievable price, how does the food taste? Well, like $8 apiece. The restaurant prides itself in using sustainable seafood but I missed any information about their meat and vegetable sources. I assume they buy everything from the farmers’ market, but I wonder how they afford to charge less than $10 a plate if that was the case.

An appetizer of asparagus with crumbled chorizo sounded great but came out tasteless. I understood that the pan tomate with Manchego cheese was included to round up a Spanish-inspired dish, but they were disconnected here and the triangle of a sandwich needed to spend a little more time on the grill press.

The scallops were presented well in a row of shells topped with roe. They would have made great amuse bouches as they were actually lighter than the ones we received made of pancake batter.

I looked forward to my trout served in a curried mussel broth on a bed of baby bok choy, but the fish was under-seasoned and no amount of curry rescued it from blandness. The fluke was immemorable with braised cabbage and mushrooms. My Cornish hen needed some sauce to make the white meat taste like something. I thought the rhubarb that came with the duck would have been a perfect accompaniment because I’ve always cooked and eaten Cornish hens with tarty flavors like pomegranate. The duck triumphed as the best dish of the night. The duck breast was perfectly seared while the leg was braised with rhubarb presented, oddly, like Lincoln Logs. However, the bottom half of a side of rice was dipped in the leftover duck sauce and was an unnecessary addition.

We were pretty much satiated with mediocrity by the time we had to order our desserts, so we opted to share the cake with blueberry compote because it came with olive oil ice cream. We just didn’t want to waste any more food.

At L’Ecole, the ingredients used were not a problem. I’m sure there are talented students at the International Culinary Center, but they need to tighten their execution and add some finesse in their cooking to translate what they want to convey on their diners’ plates. I half-expected a professor in the kitchen tasting everything before going out, but it seemed like the students were pretty much on their own. Our waiter was really accommodating, but his every move was ruined by the too-lazy busboy who haphazardly stacked up all our utensils on our plates before briskly taking them way after each course–he just couldn’t wait to get out of there. We couldn’t either.

Related post/s:
SoHo needs better restaurants. Spend your $40 at Bar Bossa instead. At least, they’re consistent.
Savoy for local ingredients