L’Ecole

Every year, my friend, Helene and I celebrate each others birthdays by planning a special day for each other.  It is a really wonderful way to celebrate the day and certainly it gets harder each year to come up with something good.  Today was her birthday so I did the planning.  I have to say, it was a winner.

We started out the morning being completely luxurious and had 80 minute massages at Bliss Soho.  We literally rolled out of there down the street to L'Ecole for lunch. 

L'Ecole is the restaurant of the French Culinary Institute in NYC.  They are open for lunch and dinner and brunch on the weekends.  The students are the chefs, wait staff and maitre d' for the meal.  Obviously teaches them about working and running restaurants.  They serve a 3 course menu for $28.  Not only can you not beat the price, the meal was absolutely delicious. 

First thing out is the bread basket.  Sliced pieces of fresh baguettes.  Everything is made on the premises.
The service was really attentive and the food came out pretty quick.  The bread came after a little taste from the chef.  I always love that.  In a white spoon was a bite of crab meat with a smoky yellow pepper coulis and a tiny tiny dollop of creme fraiche.  It was delicious and the smoky flavor kicked in at the end which made us both realize that the meal was going to be really good.

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For the first course, we both got the same thing.  Frisee salad with sauteed mushrooms, tiny cubes of butternut squash, thinly sliced grilled cauliflower, sliced cherry tomatoes, haricot vert and walnuts mixed with a champagne vinaigrette.  The presentation was so perfect that I wondered if they used special chop sticks to place each vegetable in the right place.  Light, flavorful and a nice combo of vegetables.  Excellent, really.

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For the main course, we each did something different.  Helene had the Italian seafood soup.  Calamari, white fish, scallops and shrimp cooked in a light tomato broth with pieces of braised fennel.  Really nice, tasty and light.

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I had the sea bass.  A thick fillet of sea bass, crispy skin side up layered over a puree of celery root and apples and cut up broccoli rabe.  On the side was a rich smoked shallot brown sauce which took the dish to another level.  Classic French cooking.

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They knew it was Helene's birthday and they went with it.  They brought us out an extra main course, courtesy of the chef.  It was one of the specials of the day.  Ravioli stuffed with chopped radicchio and ricotta topped with a Roquefort cream sauce, sprigs of arugula and crispy Parmesan pieces.  It was delicious.  The Parmesan pieces added a bite that changed the entire composition of the ravioli.  Yum.

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For dessert, they really went over the top.  In a large white bowl came the chocolate walnut cake with a dollop of eggnog mousse over the top with a caramel sauce at the bottom of the bowl.  Stuck in middle of the cake is a caramel dripped structure for presentation.  On the plate they wrote Happy Birthday in caramel and of course a candle.  A nice touch.  The dessert was fantastic. 

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We also ordered the gingerbread pudding.  The pudding is shaped like a mold, almost hard on the outside.  You crack into and the gingerbread pudding oozes out.  Candied walnuts are served around the pudding with a caramel ice cream on the side.  Sinfully delicious. 

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They gave us an extra dessert which was the chocolate porcini cake.  More like a rich brownie.  This didn't do it for either of us.  It almost tasted like a pot brownie but substituting mushrooms for the pot.  Of course, there was the small cookie plate too.  The best thing on it was a housemade peanut butter cup.

I am not sure either of us knew what to expect but we were both pleasantly surprised.  A lot of food for lunch but hey, it was a celebration.  The food was really good.  So good that I'd think about going back for dinner although it is a 5 course meal which is a lot of food.  It was also told the lunch is better.  I might have to find out for myself.

In the end, just when we thought it couldn't get better, they get us each a fresh baguette on the way out to take home.  Gotta love that.

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