Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Je me souviens (I remember)

I stole away a Friday afternoon to have a cozy lunch at
L’Ecole – the restaurant at The French Culinary Institute. It was wonderful to be back in the neighborhood but strange not to head straight to the kitchen but instead escorted to a table for two.

The seasonal lunch menu, prepared by FCI students, features three courses. The restaurant was buzzing with activity as I imagined the kitchen was too. It is astonishing to think about the shear number of people that must interact and work together to just please one guest. From expeditors to senior chefs from culinary students to other food stations from waiters to the maître'd from dishwashers to bussers. A tightly manufactured piece of machinery where the weakest cog can easily bring down the house. All of this crossed my mind even before the bread arrived.

After ordering cocktails, Marc and I took a serious look at the menu. After some slight debate and wheeling and dealing such as “if you order the tartare I will get the cavatelli and then we can share both” scenarios we decided on our courses. The Arctic Char Tartare with Walnuts, Stilton and Yorkshire Pudding and the Cavatelli with Rock Shrimp, Fava Beans and Ricotta Salata were speaking to us as "must-haves." The char tartare (say that fast three times) was silky and we both agreed the Stilton could have had a stronger presence. As for the cavatelli (the pasta nemesis from my own FCI final) was well balanced and had a good sampling of flavors.

We were eagerly excited about our main courses: Seared Duck Breast and Braised Leg with Fingerling Potatoes and Sour Cherry Sauce and the Pan-roasted Lamb Loin with Goat Cheese Polenta, Asparagus, Figs and Lamb Jus. I reminisced about the duck and lamb even before it approached the table – thinking about my own student experience preparing similar dishes at L’Ecole not so long ago.

When our entrées arrived my lamb was perfectly pink surrounded by a gorgeous pool of lamb jus – one taste and it brought me back to the wondrous and deeply flavored sauces I learned how to make as an FCI student. To say it was satisfying and nostalgic would be too sophomoric – let’s just say I was proud to know where I had come from.