De Nouveau à L’école

In food on 10/17/2010 at 10:10 am

We’re hitched! The destination honeymoon for us is Singapore and Vietnam, home of beautious beaches but even more wondrous street hawkers, sidewalk vendors and night markets filled with luscious, unctuously spicy and strange food!  But until we’ve saved enough pennies in a year or two, we’ll settle for a celebratory meal at L’Ecole.

The resident French expert knew we were going ‘back to school’ upon receipt of this lovely dinner invitation. I had to babelfish it. The name is quite apropos since this place is the restaurant of the French Culinary Institute. Recalling our experience at the restaurant school in Montepelier, we had high hopes.

Hey, who turned out the lights? We four were seated in the back of the room, mayhaps because we were instructed to dress casual, while our dining companions showed up in business attire. Ha, joke’s on us.

This elegant room divider made translucent by skeletons of beech tree leaves separated us from the servers, who seemed to be hovering over us the whole night. I certainly don’t think it was because we were busy browsing a scrapbook of photos given to us by one of our hosts instead of reading the menu and deciding what we were going to munch on.

Many moments later, our resident wino decided on a favorite grape: barbera. It was rich and bold, but still crisp and went to my head nicely after a couple sips. Was it hot in there or was it just me?

Here, everything is prix-fixe, except you can do add-ons, like the a la carte favorite meals du jour of the school’s professors, like Jacques Pepin.

An amuse bouche of tuna tartare with a fennel chip. Nice and mild, which was the theme of the meal.

I ordered the cold meat platter. I bet the Swedish guy put it on the menu. It reminded me of the smörgasbord spreads on my trip to Scandinavia back in the day. The cube of foie gras in the middle was like eating cold meat butter. It was so rich even though I only ate a quarter of it. My Singlish companion enjoyed the square on the bottom left, which seemed like a headcheese dotted with vegetables. The sandwiched paté was stringy and vaguely meaty, and the one on the top right was more salami-eque.

This crusty bread accompanied my appetizer, and was drizzled with a fragrant dose of hot pig fat. Mmm..mmm…good, didn’t even need the mustard.

More pig here, a thick slice of beer belly. It was broiled but not as flavorful as the pork belly sandwich we ate at a vineyard BBQ upstate last weekend.

The winner of best-ordered meal this night was the other half. The escargot app came de-shelled in a cute snail baking device. The lights were quite dim so we couldn’t peep the full glory of the well-cooked and tender but still QQ garden giblets.

The entrees were not really anything to write home about. We dined on slabs of meat, both lamb and cow, all adequately cooked rare. The special dish of the bunch was the other half’s seared bass, the lime and herbs sang throughout the flesh of the fish. The small sprinkling of hot pink on top of the green onions is amaranth flower. Each sprout was citrusy yet floral at the same time, with notes of radish and beet.

If by digestive, they mean they want you to puke out what you just ate to make room for dessert, then this ‘digestive’ perfectly served it’s purpose. It is a flavorless damp apple scone with saccharine white peony tea. Yuck is another good term for it.

Here is the optional cheese course for an extra fee. We did not partake. I mention this because the oma cheese is from the Von Trapps, they of Vermont and ‘The Sound of Music” fame. We didn’t know the Von Trapps made cheese too (in addition to being Bavarian innkeepers). Our photographer friend mentioned he watched the movie for the first time a couple of years ago while bedridden by pneumonia and hopped up on morphine in the hospital. It was his own personal ‘Oz and weed’ moment.

This free raspberry-topped shortcake popper was better than the desserts we ordered: creme brulee and brown butter cake. The shortcake was just dense enough, moist and not too sweet, unlike the creme brulee.

The other half’s pecan chocolate tart was nothing to write home about, but the passion fruit ice cream it was paired with was pitch perfect, a tart zinger of an ending to cut through the demure, verging on fatty-blasé, meal it followed. Avec jeju!

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