Food That Pops (Not So Much in This Case): L’Ecole

As cheesy and petty as it may sound, L’Ecole should change its name to L’No.

Restaurant Week, which occurs biannually, is an opportunity for people to get lunch or dinner at a fixed price in some of the ritziest and most expensive restaurants in the city. It should be an event that celebrates food, even if it is discounted, and restaurants should strive to showcase their best dishes. This is especially true for a restaurant like L’Ecole, which isn’t exactly famous or well known by any stretch of the imagination. Restaurant Week should exist to let people taste something that they wouldn’t normally be able to afford. So if a restaurant decides to go simple with a chicken or a steak dish, it’s expected that it will be exceptionally good.

The restaurant itself is beautiful. The interior is spotless and has a classic feel to it. I felt welcome when I walked in and genuinely enjoyed my window seat. The restaurant was full of other diners, who didn’t seem to be too disappointed. I was hopeful, even though I had already heard that Restaurant Week isn’t worth the money. The waiter came over promptly and gave a menu to my companion and me. He was knowledgeable about the dishes and was pleasant without being pushy. It was a three-course menu for $25, and I ordered the miso grilled quail as an appetizer, a five-spice steak as an entrée, and a pumpkin soufflé for dessert.

Pumpkin Souffle @foodthatpops
Pumpkin Souffle (Photo courtesy of the author, @foodthatpops)

As we waited for our meal, a complimentary amuse-bouche—a small appetizer—came out. It was a dashi broth that tasted like the miso soup from my local sushi restaurant, but with a bit more of an unpleasant fishy aroma. I took a sip and put it to the side.

Awhile later, a bread basket came out, which I hate to say was the best part of the meal.

Finally, the quail arrived. I wanted to ask if this was an elaborate joke: Four pieces of rubbery looking gray quail with a yellow couscous in the middle. Some dots of mystery sauce surrounded it. The quail, which looked like a piece of fake plastic food, still had some feathers on its skin. It had no flavor and was dry as bone. There was no punch of miso, as I was expecting, and the couscous fell flat. Some dried berries added an old-lady perfume taste, accentuating the poor quality of the dish.

My hopes were higher for the second course because I didn’t think it could get any worse. A steak is something that should be done with ease, especially at a “French” restaurant. Then the steak came out, and I knew I was in for another disaster. My medium-rare steak was medium well, tough, and spiceless. The shallot sauce was just there, coating the steak, and the shoestring sweet potatoes were also bland and tasteless. This dish, as with the quail,  tasted like it had sat under heat lamps for hours.

Once again, the waiter took my still-full dish and walked away. It then took at least twenty-five minutes for my dessert to come out.

The pumpkin soufflé with eggnog sauce was not as offensive as the previous dishes, but it was nothing special. Think of a pumpkin spice latte in soufflé form: not particularly flavorful and full of sugar.

As the meal wound down, we waited another twenty minutes for our check. A small plate of what looked like store-bought cookies was brought out. I had to use the restroom, and as I walked away, I saw my companion reach for one. When I came back, she urged me to try one, but I saw that she only nibbled on hers. She confessed that the cookie tasted like lemon and fish. She had gagged in front of the waiter, and wanted me to see how bad it actually was. I didn’t.

As we were leaving, the  manager walked over and asked if we were being helped. Little side note: During our meal, he walked around to every other table and asked how everything was going, ignoring us completely. He did clearly see us, though. But he might have overheard me telling my friend that I felt sorry for everyone who had a dinner reservation.

When we finally walked out of there, I made a vow: I will never do Restaurant Week without through research and confirmation that it will be a good meal.

As for L’Ecole, which I was actually yearning to try for the past couple of years, I say au revoir.

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