A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Friday, May 20, 2005

May 20.

Dinner -

L'Ecole - 462 Broadway, Soho
Steamed Clams with Roasted Red Pepper, Hazelnut and Ham; Sauteed Codfish Fillet, Yellow-Tomato Tarragon Emulsion; Sauteed Beef Fillet with Spring Vegetables, Red Wine-Marrow Sauce; Digestive Salad; Apple-Rice Pudding Tart; a glass of Riesling

For a few months, I flirted with the idea of culinary school, imagining only the idyllic aspect of being a chef. Wowing people with my inventive ideas, creating a scene where people could enjoy themselves, cultivating a relationship with regular customers, always experimenting and innovating my cuisine. But I knew the reality was often grimmer, with stressful, chaotic kitchens, low wages for years, constant pressures, and tough hours. So I decided to eat and write and leave the cooking in more skillful hands.

Still, my appreciation for the profession ranks right up there, so a visit to L’Ecole seemed necessary. Students at the French Culinary Institute run the show at the Soho restaurant, so diners get a chance to support some of tomorrow’s stars. The value, a measly $31.50 for five courses, is another big draw.

Vince and I paid L’Ecole a visit on Friday. Our hopes were high, because he’d already been there once before. The menu, which rotates on a daily basis, looked promising too, with enough variety between the choices. Our server was friendly and the room, though not very special, was nice enough. It looked to be a solid meal.

I started with the steamed clams, an impressive opener that nailed an elaborate sauce. Slightly spicy and very flavorful, the red pepper broth gave the clams a shot of energy and verve. The sauce appealed to me so much that I even found myself dipping my bread in it to get another taste. All in all, a great appetizer.

I had much less success with my seafood course, the codfish. Just as the clams stood out for a great saucing, the codfish distinguished itself with bad saucing. A violent rainbow of tastes, the emulsion was an overwhelming mess. Like a frazzled multitasker, it was trying to accomplish way too much at once. The fish itself was cooked well and would’ve benefited from a simpler and more confident preparation.

The beef fillet was a better dish, the stewed carrots and peeled tomato tasty touches. But the beef was also very standard, the peas seemed almost frozen, and the thinly sliced potato nest wasn’t particularly good. Thus, I downgraded it to average and maybe even disappointing.

In deference to the French ways of eating, the next course was a digestive salad, a small plate of mixed greens in oil. It seemed strange to revert to such a light course after two heavier ones. But in the spirit of novelty, I forged ahead and ate my greens. There’s very little I can say about this dish, either positively or negatively, but still think salad belongs at the beginning of the meal.

Finally, Vince and I both finished up with the apple rice pudding tart, an inventive hybrid of two standard desserts. I don’t especially care for rice pudding so my enjoyment of this finale was limited. It was well-made and tasty enough, but I like to be wowed and like much of my dinner at L’Ecole, it only earned some respect. It also reemphasized just how challenging it is to be a chef and how much there is to learn. 5/10


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2:09 AM  

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