Cheryl came up to NJ to see me this week. Yay! To celebrate, I took advantage of my dinner for two on the house at L'Ecole. It's a perk they offer to prospective students for touring the school. The food was, quite simply, some of the most delicious I've had the pleasure of eating. The concept's pretty simple. L'Ecole is the restaurant affiliated with FCI and run by the students. They work in every station of the kitchen, from chopping vegetables, to making sauces, to planning the menu. This is how FCI students become industry-ready, rather than doing an externship at a local restaurant. Pretty cool.
So, Cheryl and I arrive at the restaurant around 8:15 for our reservation. We're shown to our table, which is right in the center of the dining room, which means we get a full view of everything that's happening. Our waiter, the charming Matthew, brings us our menus and asks whether we'd like tap water or bottled. When in NYC, get the tap water. It's some of the best tasting in the country. At this point, I also inform him of my celiac and ask him to direct me to the items on the menu that are safe for my consumption. He disappears to the kitchen and comes back with good news, there's little on the menu that I can't have. That means I require a few extra minutes to make my choices for my appetizer and fish course (I already knew which meat course I wanted). In the meantime we order our wine. A lovely, minerally trebbiano (Masciarelli, Trebbiano d'Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Italy, 2006) for me and a pinot noir (the variety of which, I don't remember since I didn't order it) for Cheryl.
Matthew returns and we order. I go with what they're calling a mojito salmon as my appetizer. It's the special for the night. Salmon cured in curaçao (or rum, Matthew's unsure) and laid over a tomato topped with herbed cream cheese and onions. Cheryl opts for the tomato tart with goat cheese, olive tapenade, and arugula. My favorite part of the mojito salmon was biting into the herbed cheese and getting chunks of sweet onion. Cheryl's tomato tart was a gorgeous display of yellow and red tomato. So far so good.
The fish course is next. Cheryl opts for braised marlin served with chorizo, clams, kale, and saffron potatoes. I decide on seared black bass, basil risotto, confetti tomatoes, and anchovy dressing. To my surprise, when our fish course comes out, it's is also accompanied by a plate of salmon with fennel confit, pickled ramps, and mussel sauce, compliments of Matthew. "This is the other gluten-free fish course on the menu tonight, and I wanted you to have it on me," he explains. The bass was pretty good, and the risotto was, of course, lovely, but I have to admit, Matthew knew what he was doing. I fell head-over-heels-in-love with that salmon. The flavors were layered and clear and comforting. When he came by to see how I liked it, I told him simply, "If I died right now, that salmon would be enough." He left our table looking decidedly pleased with himself, and rightfully so. I was still thinking about the salmon the next day.
After the fish, which I'm convinced was the highlight of the meal, came the meat course. I went with pan roasted lamb loin served with lamb jus, figs and asparagus and a side of goat cheese polenta. Cheryl opted for veal paillard, haricot verts, wild mushrooms, and spinach parmesan puree. My lamb was cooked perfectly to my taste, and there was just the right amount to satisfy me, but not overfill me considering the previous two courses, and the polenta was creamy and tangy from the goat cheese. Cheryl's veal was a little less perfect. While the veal itself was delicious, the dish came covered in some sort of greens that reminded me of an edible jungle on a plate. And she only unearthed two haricot verts. Taste got the dish an A, but execution landed it in a C.
After the meat course, we were given a digestive salad composed of mixed greens and manchego cheese. This course was intended to aid in the digestion of the other three courses and cleanse the palate a bit before dessert, so it was what you'd expect from something like that and nothing more.
Dessert for me was mascarpone parfait with strawberries and a sauce made from aged balsamic vinegar. The original dish included ginger snaps, which the kitchen was kind enough to omit for me. Cheryl went with a warm chocolate tart and caramel ice cream. I was having a hard time deciding between the parfait and the passion fruit baked alaska, but considering how much food I'd already eaten, I went with what I deemed to be the lighter of the two dishes. To go with dessert, I order a glass of tawny Port for both Cheryl and myself (Dow's 10 year tawny). I like that it's both fruity and almost creamy. It has the same mouth feel, to me anyway, as melting chocolate. It sort of coats your mouth and leaves a sweetness that's balanced by the alcohol.
After dinner we headed back to Jersey, very full, a little tipsy, and extremely pleased with our experience. I over-tipped the generous Matthew, left a rave review of the restaurant and the staff (obviously), and promised to return before I became a student myself. Good night, amazing company, and delicious food. What could be better?