Journalism is a dying medium. This we know, and yet people continue to write. We write because we want people to know about the great thing that we’ve discovered and we want them to know that we discovered it first–or we want them to validate that what we love (or loathe) is worth loving in the first place.
So it is with food journalism. When it comes to restaurant reviews, unless it’s in my neighborhood or it’s a chef of whom I’m already aware or it’s a place I’ve already been, the chance that I’ll read them is exceptionally rare–and I love food. That said, I’ve just wrapped a course in food journalism at the French Culinary Institute and as an assignment wrote a review of the school’s restaurant. I don’t plan on writing a lot of restaurant reviews here (though I’m sure the occasional one will materialize); but I thought this piece deserved a life after my teacher’s evaluation of it. And thus:
Road to Perfection
by Joe Sevier
I’d hoped to fully enjoy the evening: a night of dining with new acquaintances. By ten o’clock the company had proved divine, owing to the moment mid-first course when we all acknowledged what we really wanted: to dive into each others’ plates as much as our own. The food; however, was another matter.
A perfect bite of Salmon Tartar started the evening, after the disappointingly cold hunks of baguette. Resting on a thin slice of Kirby and topped with chive crème fresh and salmon roe, it was an amuse bouche both perfectly fresh and perfectly briny—a hopeful omen of the meal to come.
Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Lobster Salad followed with gusto. Tasting strangely, deliciously full of cauliflower, the creamy puree held an earthy backbone to the rich, lightly handled lobster. Another hit! Alas, then began the downfall.
When accompanied by the label “crusted,” I generally expect crustiness. What I got from the Horseradish-Dill Crusted Trout was a delicious piece of fish tasting fully of dill with the tickle of horseradish dancing on the sides of my tongue—though nary a thing I would liken to crust. There was a piece of soggy skin on the underside—better had it been removed. The accompanying Bok Choy was fine and the Mussels could’ve provided a nice relief, had they not been slightly rubbery, from the brightly flavored fish and sweet, lemony broth beneath.
Next, Rack of Lamb, which my server attested would be prepared medium-rare, unless I preferred otherwise—I did not. The chef, on the other hand, must’ve as the meat was under-seared yet overdone. Mostly tough, I cut away a large portion and took a pink bite near the end of the bone—gamey and crusty and tender and flavorful, the lamb had arrived, if only for a bite. Alongside: muddy, mushy, over-cooked artichokes and enoki mushrooms, pickled with fennel and a full brace of vinegar, which brought the dish some life but couldn’t save it in the end.
A gift from the chef served to perfectly cleanse the palate: Goat Cheese Sorbet. Creamy and lemony, sweet with a hint of mustiness from the goat, it was topped with a parmesan shortbread—a nice salty bite against the sorbet. Unfortunately two slices of red wine poached pear were slapped alongside. The anise flavor overwhelmed, the pear didn’t please and too bad for me, I’d already finished my sorbet.
I finished the evening with an Orange and Lemon Tart with Raspberry Coulis. A full citrus aroma filled my palate while the shard of sugar glass & rich, light texture gave me visions of chiffon pie and crème brûlée all at once. A salad of berries flecked with macadamias rounded out the dessert and served as the perfect ending to an acceptable meal.
Perfection is hard to come by. A few missteps along the way reiterated that mere students (albeit of FCI) were running the kitchen. Yet, as indicated by the bright spots in my meal, the chefs at L’Ecole are at least walking in the right direction.
L’Ecole, 462 Broadway, (212) 219-3300, www.frenchculinary.com
A breakdown of the star rating system
Restaurants are rated on a star system spanning no stars, meaning not recommended, to five stars, meaning transcendent. To wit:
no stars…..Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
…..Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.
…..What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.
…..I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
…..Resistance is Futile.
…..Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.