Restaurant Review: L’Ecole 5/5 stars!

L’Ecole
462 Broadway
Manhattan
NYC, NY 10013
Phone: 212-219-3300

L’Ecole is a student-run restaurant located at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan. This restaurant offers fine dining at a reduced price and is a great way for people on a limited budget to experience fine dining. What I liked most about this restaurant is that you are participating in the education of a culinary student by eating there. While diners sit out front in the dining room, there are students out back in the kitchen, gaining valuable experience while working as part of a kitchen brigade. 

I ordered the Prix Fixe lunch, which included 3 courses: an appetizer, a main course, and a desert. This was reasonably priced at $28. For my first course I ordered the escargot with Asian pear, gruyere cream and a red-wine bacon reduction. I was a little hesitant to order this because I had never eaten escargot before. Boy was I in for a treat!
This dish was served very simply and the escargot were cooked perfectly. They were tender to the bite and the sauce complimented the flavor of the escargot nicely. This was my favorite dish of the entire meal and I would order this again. Yum!

As a surprise my waiter also brought me a second appetizer, the Country pate with fois gras and truffles. I had been slighltly fixated on this dish because I had never eaten truffles (other than truffle oil) or fois gras before. What a thrill when it showed up at the table.

This dish appealed to the country girl in me and the best way I can sum it up, is to describe this as “Spam” for classy folks. This dish was also good, but it was served cold and for some reason I had it in my head that this would be a dish served slightly warm. It was still good nonetheless.

At some point a server approached my table and presented me with a little goodie, a puff topped with cranberry goat cheese and a thin slice of chive. Yum!!! Oh and let’s not forget the sliced baguette with butter!

Next up was the main course. I opted for the pan-seared rabbit loin, rabbit-chorizo terrine, and potato-fennel cakes. The rabbit loin was tender and the terrine was wrapped in bacon. Really, can you ever go wrong with bacon? I don’t think so. I ate most of this dish,but honestly I was really starting to get full and I still had desert to tackle. 

For desert I ordered the pumpkin souffle with eggnog sauce. Boy was I surprised when the waiter showed up at the table with the entire desert menu for me to try. He brought the pumpkin souffle, chocolate coconut cake, and a lovely little muffin with a handmade brittle and jam.   Really everything was to-die-for, but the pumkin souffle has a special place in my heart and is something I may try to recreate in my own kitchen for the holiday.

This was hands down, the best meal I had during my trip to NYC and not just because my 3-course meal, turned into a nearly 10-course meal. It also had nothing to do with the fact that after the meal my waiter let me know the entire meal was “on the house”.

For me, this meal was the best because it was memorable. My mouth still waters when I think about the texture of the escargot and the way each bite of the pumpkin souffle set off this fabulous holiday party inside my mouth. Every meal should be memorable like this one. L’Ecole will definitely be a regular stop for me whenever I am in the city. The food was affordable, flavorful, and prepared by people who are passionate about food. I will carry this meal with me for many years to come. Check this place out!

5/5 stars!

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NYC – Day 1 – The French Culinary Institute !!!!!

I arrived in NYC on Wednesday and checked into my hotel over on “Korea Way”. Anyone who really knows me, will vouch that there is nothing I love more on the planet than being surrounded by karaoke bars, noodle shops, and drunken Asians happily smoking cigarettes. I dropped my bags off at the hotel and decided to walk up Broadway to the French Culinary Institute, a whopping 30 blocks from my hotel.

Along the way to the FCI, I stumbled upon the Union Square market. This market was brimming with people at lunch and I spent a good deal  of time gawking at the towering stacks of brussels sprouts, radishes, and holiday goodies. I bought myself an apple and munched on it as I wandered around. If I lived in NYC, this market would definitely be a weekly hot spot for me.

My appointment with FCI was at 11 and I arrived a few minutes early. As I took off my coat and sat down, I spotted a familiar old friend located on the coffee table, “The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine.”

I was greeted by Will, my fearless tour guide and we hit it off. As it turns out, Will, much like me, is a big Warcraft fan and we spent some time complaining about how sad life as a druid has been since Blizzard released the latest updates. Aside from his video game expertise, Will was also extremely knowledgeable about every aspect of the FCI and it’s culinary programs. He answered all of my questions and brought the school to life with his narrative.

Honestly, I was so impressed by everything at FCI and I felt like Augustus Gloop inside Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory during the tour. I got to sample some student-made treats including chocolate and baguettes. I was also permitted to observe the students inside the kitchen classrooms at each of the various levels of the program.

One of my favorite things about the school is the extensive library they have on site. The library is brimming more than 4,000 culinary books, including every cookbook imaginable and many of the most popular industry magazines. Let’s just say the library at the FCI could keep this blog going for decades to come.

Outside the library, I also got a sense of the expertise they have amongst the staff onsite. As I watched students in each of the kitchen classrooms, more often than not the instructors were right there in the middle of it all, assisting students and sharing their knowledge and passion. These interactions were inspiring to watch.

While I know that attending a full-time culinary program is not possible for me right now, I did stumble across a couple of really great food journalism courses. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be able to get back to the FCI and take one of those courses.

After my wonderful tour of the school, I ate lunch at L’Ecole, the student run restaurant at the FCI. Tomorrow’s blog will be all about my experience at L’Ecole, and the 10 delightful courses these people fed me. Stay tuned!

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Restaurant Review: Tao 1/5 Stars

Tao
42 E 58th St
New York City, NY

Tao has a gigantic Buddha in the back of the dining room and it reminded me of the Buddhist koan, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

Don’t let this place fool you, Tao is one big illusion. The inside of this place looks like some amazing Buddhist monastery, but really it’s just a giant tourist trap designed to drain Westerners out of their money. The pictures of young monks on the walls made me sad, a bit angry, and brought me to my senses. I’ve traveled to the poorest parts of the Buddhist world and I found this place very un-Buddha.

I wonder if Tao restaurant gives anything back to the community. The $18 people pay for a drink at this place could feed a whole Monastery in rural Tibet for a week. It’s shameful. Had I been at Tao alone, I would have walked out without ordering, but the people with me ordered some appetizers. While the food was okay, I’ve eaten better Asian fusion at The Green Elephant in Portland, Maine. I could recreate most of the dishes at Tao with ease, why on earth would I pay $100 for it.

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My visit to the FCI…

So yesterday I visited the French Culinary Institute and L’Ecole in NYC. As expected, it completely rocked my world!!! I desperately want to write about the greatness I experienced right now but have decided wait until this coming Monday to share all my photos and stories. My family is going to be joining me in the city tonight and my schedule is pretty tight from now until I fly home on Sunday.

Next week Downeast Kitchen is going to be back on track, sharing all the greatness from here in NYC and also diving headfirst into the sauces section of the FCI text.

I also have some shopping to do. Last week I started experimenting with the sauces section and my first 2 tries at the basic sauces were a complete failure. I just was too embarrassed to blog about it! LOL. I realize now that I was trying to rush myself through the process and that I am missing some required saucemaking equipment, such as a chinois. This is going to be my next mission here in NYC. Find a chinois and bring it back to Portland with me.

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Start Spreading The News: New York City

I hate to start off such an exciting journey with an apology for not writing, but I am going to. It’s been a difficult week on a personal level and I just wasn’t able to blog at all. I am sorry for that.

(photo credit – the Earl b blog – amazing work!)

Today I am embarking on a very exciting journey. I am currently sitting at the Portland International Jetport waiting to board my plane to Laguardia Airport in New York City.

My trip has gone surprisingly smooth so far. It only took me 10 minutes to get through the security checkpoint and I experienced no unnecessary frisking by the TSA. People keep saying there will be protests today at security checkpoints, but all is calm here in Maine. Really Mainers are too lazy to protest something like a TSA checkpoint. Now if the hot coffee and donuts ran out, it might be another story. I suppose the only threat I pose is to the Manhattan street food venders later this afternoon ;)

So I will be meeting with folks from the French Culinary Institute around 11 a.m. and adventuring around town after that. I am hoping to post again later tonight or in the early morning with the first leg of the trip. Stay tuned!

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Severino’s Variety – Home of the Best Maine Italian Sandwich

Severino’s Variety  
300 Cumberland St
Westbrook, ME 04092
Phone: (207) 854-9675

I realize there are several things I take for granted having grown up here Maine. I just assume that everybody gets to experience delicacies such as fresh seafood, red hot dogs, pier fries, or the simple joy that comes with eating a well-made Maine italian sandwich.

 As a little girl I remember visiting my Aunt Pat in Kennedy Park in Portland and as a treat we would wander up the hill to DiPietrio’s store to pickup italian sandwiches for lunch. If I was a good girl I would get to pick some candy out of the nickel box they kept under the counter. I have many great memories of eating italian sandwiches with family and perhaps this is why I am so passionate of the subject of who makes the best.

The italian sandwich is often incorrectly referred to by out-of-staters as a “grinder”, a “hoagie”, or a ham and cheese sandwich. These are similar inventions however they lack the specific combination of ingredients and vegetable cuts that are required to make a true Maine italian sandwich.

 A lot of locals will argue that Amato’s sandwich shop makes the best one in the state. I have to wholeheartedly disagree. While Amato’s does have decent food, they are a chain sandwich shop in Maine and for me this takes away from the authenticity of the sandwich. Their sandwiches lack that mom-and-pop flair and are very imbalanced when it comes to texture and flavor. There are just too many gosh darn tomatoes and the pickles overwhelming the overall flavor of the sandwich.

 Well I am going to let you in on a little secret folks. I know who makes the best italian sandwich in the state. They are located in Westbrook, on the corner of Bridge St. and Cumberland St.

Severino’s Variety is a tiny little mom-and-pop store that has been a fixture in Westbrook as long as I can remember. Back in the day, local kids would head to Severino’s and pay a quarter for a bag of sour pickle skins to snack on. Yum! This store is a little bit out of the way, but once you bite into your first sandwich from these people you’ll be glad you made the trip.

I believe Severino’s Variety makes one of the best Italian sandwiches in the state of Maine for a number of reasons. Their sandwich has the right combination of boiled ham, American cheese, and properly cut fresh vegetables including tomatoes, green peppers, onions and pickles. The pickles are great and don’t overwhelm the rest of the sandwich. All of this perfection is loaded into a soft,bulky and fresh submarine roll at an affordable price. A double ham and cheese italian is under $6 and could easily feed two people at lunch time.

Severino’s also has a couple of special shelves filled with homemade goodies. These are made by a woman named Donna. Donna is also the lady who usually makes the sandwiches behind the counter. My favorite treat is hands down the chocolate chip cookie whoopies. They are huge, but are perfect for splitting in half to share with a friend (or eat later).

 As a local Mainer, I really appreciate places like Severino’s that keep the authentic Maine italian alive. This is why I will drive 15 minutes out of the way for a Severino’s sandwich. I think you should too.

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Smashed Potatoes with Parmesan

I discovered this great recipe last week after thumbing past it in two of the major cooking magazines. There are several different recipes for this dish out there and each has it’s own little twist or trick.

The great thing about this recipe is it creates a potato that is crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. I prefer to use red bliss potatoes for their color and texture. I knew these little beauties were good when my husband went for seconds and thirds (and fourths!) at the dinner table.

This dish can be eaten as part of a regular meal, but is also perfect for a dinner parties or holiday gatherings. These potatoes can be prepped on a baking sheet 6-8 hours ahead of time and popped into the oven whenever you are ready.

Here is a link to a good basic recipe for smashed potatoes; however, I would make the below changes in ingredients and technique:

The trick to creating crispy potatoes is to use small ones. The potatoes I used were the smallest I could find in the bin at the grocery store and even still, they could have been a little smaller. Really you want a diameter of 1-2 inches on each potato.

Cooks Illustrated magazine (one of my favorites) shares a great tip on how to precook the potato prior to smashing it. Basically you lay out the potatoes on a deep baking sheet and cover them with about 1 inch of water, then cover the sheet with aluminum foil. Bake the potaotes in the over for a half hour at 500 degrees. Pull the baking sheet out of the oven, remove the foil, and let cool for 15 minutes.

From there I transfer the potatoes to a second baking sheet and used a basting brush to cover each potato with olive oil. I then use a large firm spatula to press straight down on each potato and “smash” it.

To make my version of this recipe, I season the potatoes with salt and freshly ground pepper, turn the oven down to 450 degrees, and return the potatoes to the oven for 30 minutes.  Pull the potatoes back out of the oven and add some freshly shredded parmesan cheese to each potato and also a little bit of thyme for color. Return to the oven again for another 10-15 minutes or until browned. Again, remove the baking sheet from the oven, let cool, and serve.

Yum!

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How I Make Homemade Dog Food (Part 1)

People are usually quite surprised when they learn that I feed my dogs a homecooked diet. I suspect that many people tend to have this idea in their head that real, whole food is “people-food” and kibble is “dog-food”. Really these misconceptions are not their fault and often times these ideas originate at the veterinarians office.

While veterinarians are highly trained in the physical care of animals, they have, at best, very minimal training in canine nutrition. Also veterinarians and their staff are paid quite well by the Science Diet people to sell these products to clients. I know this personally because I have friends who work in the industry, and they earn commission for pushing the products (ie Science Diet, Frontline, etc).

There was a bit of a battle with my own veterinarian when I told him I was doing a homecooked diet with my pugs. He was positive I would be bringing my animals back to his clinic, sickly and malnourished. He thought a “homecooked diet” involved me tossing the dogs a steak and calling it good. LOL.  This is so far from the truth.

It has taken a year and a half, but my Vet has actually started to come to my side of things. This past Saturday, he walked into my appointment with some canine nutrition websites for me and told me how impressed he was with my dogs and basically admitted that he was wrong. My pugs are the only adult pugs in his practice who are a perfect weight and in excellent health.

Also my female pug Olive has dangerous allergies that cause her face and neck to swell if she is exposed to an allergen. Since switching her over to a homecooked diet her allergies have been completely stable for at least 8 months (whereas prior to this she was having attacks at least monthly, but sometimes daily/weekly).

I think people like the idea of feeding real food to their dog, but their fascination with the subject usually ends once I explain the costs and time involved in such an undertaking. I spend approximately $120 a month on dog food, and 5 hours a month shopping for/cooking for my dogs. There is nothing thrifty about it. Honestly I kind of envy the people who can dip a bowl in a $25 bag of kibble and call it good. If it weren’t for Olive’s allergies, my pugs would probably be living on Purina One too.

Instead of titling this blog entry as “How To Make Homemade Dog Food,” I decided to title it “How I Make Homemade Dog Food”.  I did this because there are countless recipes and options out there for feeding a homemade diet.  What is right for my dogs, may not be right for yours. I spent at least a month, researching canine nutrition before I finally took the leap and made the switch. It was scary and my first several tries at a homemade diet were not successful.

Really the hardest part of doing a homemade diet with my dogs, was finding a protein source that my female pug could tolerate. She’s an extremely picky eater and will turn her nose up at most food. I tried chicken, beef, and veal and she did not thrive on any of the proteins. By a process of elimination, we eventually tried turkey and this ended up being the perfect protein for my dogs. I’ve been feeding my dogs turkey ever since. Every day is Thanksgiving in my house :)

When feeding a homecooked diet it is ESSENTIAL that you have the proper balance of phosphorus (ie protein/meat) and calcium (bone). Originally I was using homemade powdered eggshells as a calcium source on their food but I noticed they were not absorbing this very well and most of it would come out the other end. After visiting Planet Dog, a local store that supports homecooked and raw feeders, I discovered a great product called Solid Gold Steamed Bonemeal. This product (pictured above in the white container with the holographic label) adds a balance of phosphorus and calcium to your recipe. I can not stress this point enough. If you are going to feed a homemade diet, you MUST have a balance of calcium and phosphorus in the food. You cannot just feed your dog phosphorus (meat), they will be nutrient deficient.

To avoid nutrient deficiencies, I feed my dogs based on the concept of “balance over time”. I also feed myself based on this concept. I don’t need to consume every required nutrient in a given day.  Instead I balance out these requirements over many meals/days. Thus the reason why this is called “balance over time”. You can hit all their nutritional needs over a period of time, by alternating the ingredients in their meals. I usually choose ingredients from a list of foods that are safe for consumption by dogs. Also here is a list of food that should NEVER be fed to a dog. Variation is the key.

Sometimes I add brown rice, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I use sweet potatoes and kale in the food, other times I use carrots or no veggies at all. Sometimes I sit around crunching on an apple and sharing it with the dogs. I mix things up often to to make sure they are exposed to many different vitamins and minerals. Some people add organ meats at every meal, but I do not. I get worried about toxicity in my pugs. Instead I do a liver feed every week or so with the dogs.

Supplements are also a great tool for balancing out your dog’s diet.  I use a supplement called “Invigor”. This is made by The Honest Kitchen and is the green container in the above photo. Invigor is designed to support the proper functioning of your dog’s immune system. I chose this supplement because Olive’s allergies are basically a malfunctioning of the immune system and she needs all the support she can get in this area. I add Invigor  to their food several times per week and this supplement includes good stuff like kelp, astragalus, hawthorne berries, olive leaf, spirulina and watercress. Yummy!

My dogs have eaten this way for at least a year now and both of them are doing very well. The most important advice I can give you is to pay attention to your dog. They will be the best indicator as to whether or not their diet is working. Best of luck in your “homecooked” endeavors.

Shauna

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Sick Day

I just want to let everyone know that I am going to be lurking for a few days. I’ve come down with a nasty cold and have been not feeling well. I am hoping to be back on track with regular updates next week.

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Happy Bloggiversary!

Today I am  celebrating the 1 month anniversary of Downeast Kitchen!

Blogging has brought so much joy to my life this month, more than I ever could have anticipated and I want to thank each and every one of you who comes back, time and again, to visit and contribute. Thank you!

It’s been an exciting month full of how-to’s and local restaurant reviews and I have some exciting things planned for the coming month.

Downeast Kitchen is currently being developed into a standalone website, but will still have the same content as always. I am hoping to go live with this by the end of the year.

Also coming up in a few weeks will be my weeklong culinary excursion to NYC, including a tour of the French Culinary Institute.

I am very open to feedback, requests, and new ideas for this website.  Feel free to email me anytime at downeastkitchen@gmail.com to share.

Have a super Tuesday!

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