Blowhard, Esq. writes:
Before Paleo Retiree and the Question Lady headed to their Fortress of Solitude for the winter, we met up for lunch at L’Ecole, the student-run restaurant of the International Culinary Center in SoHo. While the front house staff are professionals, the kitchens chefs are studying at the ICC school located on the floors above the restaurant. PR had been bugging me to go for weeks, touting it as one of the best deals in the city — a three-course lunch for $32. In the New York of 2015, that basically qualifies as a miracle, at least for any restaurant south of, oh, 168th St. It’s almost too good to be true.
A few shots of the dining room. It was a busy afternoon so the three of us sat at the bar.
The bread was good. More about it a little later.
We had a choice of three appetizers. I got the warm petatou with goat cheese brûlée, mâche salad with basil vinaigrette, and tomato compote. It was delicious, I cleaned my plate and could’ve easily eaten another.
For the entree I got the hangar steak bordelaise with Brussels sprouts and pommes dauphine. The potatoes were essentially fancy tater tots only with a crispy skin and creamy interior. I enjoyed the Brussels sprouts too, but the steak was disappointing. The medallions were lukewarm, a little tough, and not well seasoned. The bordelaise was tasty, though. I had a bite of PR’s grouper and thought it was much better.
There were three desserts available and we got one of each in addition to a dessert special that wasn’t on the menu. Below is the unlisted special. I don’t remember exactly what it was. Some kind of candied pear with edible gold leaf, a dollop of cream with raspberry sauce, and vanilla bean ice cream. Whatever it was, it was wonderful.
Despite a misstep here and there, a good time was had by all. And hey, did I mention it was only $32? After our meal our bartender/server graciously offered to give us a tour of the kitchen and school upstairs. The first picture is the kitchen area where all the appetizers are prepared, the second is the meat and fish station.
A student prepares those delicious dessert pears. Good job, monsieur.
A baker was getting ready for an event the following day. No one will notice if I steal one of those macaroons, right?
A wall of alumni portraits. Some major talents graduated from ICC including Jacques Pépin, Jacques Torres, Wylie Dufresne, and David Chang (whose Momofuku Noodle Bar is a regular stop on my tour for out-of-towners.)
Some sugar sculptures decorated the student lounge.
The school’s Wall of Fame.
The amphitheater where students make various presentations and observe demonstrations.
More student projects, this time cakes.
The day we visited happened to be the last day of instruction. Many of the classes were holding their final exams and professors were grading the projects. By the way, I now know what heaven smells like. When we got to the final floor, we all gasped at the delicious aroma — the warm, yeasty smell of fresh bread, croissants, and other goodies. The air was so thick you could almost eat it.
A great way to spend an afternoon, and I’d heartily recommend it but for the fact that the restaurant permanently closed the next day. The 30-year lease on the building expired last year so the landlord promptly quadrupled the rent. The ICC was able to negotiate a price to keep the school open, but the restaurant would no longer be economically viable. Instead, students will now apprentice via paid externships at various restaurants around the city. Sigh: another day, another victim of the Manhattan real estate bubble.
- On my last food adventure, I sampled three kinds of NYC pizza.
- EP on two New Zealand spiced rums.
- Back here I recounted an epic high-end meal in Las Vegas.
Wow! you are eating gold now.
I am SO jealous, ENVIOUS. And hungry. Did I see cookies on a plate in the background with the dessert course? I’m disappointed that the hanger steak was not so good. I like hanger steak. I like Brussels Sprouts. 3 little “Tater Tots” Dass all? Shame.
Another victim of leisure class colonization (the source of the soaring demand that’s inflating the real estate bubble). We’re used to seeing movie theaters and musical instrument stores being replaced by a mozzarella bar, but now the foodies are beginning to eat their own, as it were.
What’s going to be left? I just read that the last record store on St. Mark’s has closed. So in case there was any doubt, now it’s official: New York City sucks, even for the culture vultures who could overlook all the foreigners, fags, bums, and Tower of Babel cacophony.
New York used to be a place that you’d visit every once in awhile to enjoy their unique offerings — not actually move there. Now it’s like everyone who would possibly consider visiting there (the self-styled cultural elite) has decided instead to reside there, or at least into the metro area. Quadrupled rents, here we come.
BTW, I googled “new york sucks,” and all the complaining articles are from this decade. I required the results to include an earlier year like “2004” or “2007” and there was only a complaint or two on the whole first page of results. By now the leisure class pandering has become so pervasive that even those who staked their identity on New York being the mecca of coolness are starting to abandon ship — ideologically, and probably residentially as well.
That note about the lease being up after 30 years may explain why there’s such a sudden wave of discontent starting in the 2010s. If you got in before the major ramping-up of transplants, strivers, rents, etc., of the 1990s, then your lease would have begun no later than sometime in the ’80s. Add 30 years, and here we are in 2015.
During the 2000s, most of those old-school places that opened in the ’80s were still enjoying lower-than-market rent, although those that opened in the ’70s would not have been so fortunate (they would have lasted through the ’90s, at least).
By now, the only safe places opened up in the ’90s or later — well into the lame-ification period of New York history.