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 macarons, 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.)
The student library.
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.