To become a successful chef, one usually spends many years as the understudy before getting the opportunity to take the reins. A long, drawn our journey from mastering one task to having your name on the menu. This is especially true in New York, as only the finest culinary minds make it to the top, and those who finally get to open restaurants often have illustrious resumes.
Then there’s L’Ecole, which simply means “school” in French, located in the first floor of the French Culinary Institute in Soho. At L’Ecole, students get to demonstrate their classroom knowledge by putting food on the plate. The idea is certainly sound, as this not only provides a stage for students to shine, but also creates a moderately priced restaurant where future Bobby Flay’s and David Chang’s can showcase their skill. Does it all work out, lets find out.
I made a reservation for eight at 8:30, and upon arrival had to wait at the bar. During this time, I glanced at the food arriving on people’s tables, they certainly looked the part. Meanwhile, I was less than thrilled by the service up front, as we did not get seated until half an hour later. If the maitre d’ was a student, that’s not a passing performance.
The menu was very straight forward, choose an appetizer, a fish course, a meat course, and a dessert. There’s also a fifth “digestive salad” course. We all made our orders promptly, and waited for the food to come while discussing whether the wait staff were students.
Appetizers came quickly, a bit too quickly which made us wonder which components were freshly prepared. The wait staff seemed to have no idea which plate belonged to which diner, and had to shuffle around quite a bit. Eventually they did get it right, and found 2 extra orders, which were left as complimentary for everyone to share.
This mismatching of plates and people occurred again for the fish course, then once more for the meat course. The arctic char was absolutely delicious, and was perhaps the highlight of the evening. Most of the dishes were a tad on the salty side, but overall the quality and execution was good. Pity that the service didn’t leave a good impression. The red wine didn’t arrive until we were mostly finished with the meat course.
Right before the dessert, a digestive salad was served. While the salad tasted good, the portion and plating was slightly comical to call it a course.
As desserts were served, our waiter apologized for the poor coordination. “The students in the kitchen are having a slightly messy day”, he said. In defense of the students, the front of the house isn’t exactly performing either.
All in all, this is an affordable way to enjoy some decent french food, and a very interesting concept. However I would not come here for dates, or to wine and dine anyone you want to impress, for the risks are too great for those occasions.
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L’Ecole (Make a Reservation)
New York, NY 10013