You've got to give it to the French; they know what's imperative for a good meal. I don't think I've had a more indulgent brunch in my life, but believe me – the butter, the cream, and the flaky pastries were worth every highly caloric bite.
I dined with my friend Angela at L'Ecole Sunday at the French Culinary Institute, and we ate for a good cause too: all proceeds went to the American Red Cross for Haiti. L'Ecole offers a prix fixe brunch menu, and for $19.50 per person, you get a basket of fresh bread and pastries, an appetizer and entree. Let me talk about this bread basket for a second. Would a scone by any other name taste as sweet?? This scone was special: flaky, buttery, with blueberries and sanding sugar on top – it glistened in the mid-morning light. Disclaimer: if you have an aversion to carbs, give it up for this brunch. Trust me.
What's brunch without a punchy, alcoholic beverage? Not brunch, I say! L'Ecole has a fabulous list of specialty cocktails for brunch, so I got the "Blood Orange Sidecar" and Angela got the "Easy Like Sunday Mimosa" in peach; she went semi-traditional. The Blood Orange Sidecar was orange juice just like mom used to make…if your mom was an alcoholic. Cointreau, cognac, blood orange, orange bitters and fresh lemon certainly packed that "punch" I was referring to. A sweet and tart drink perfect for any brunch, I declare. And the mimosa was…a mimosa. Good, but something you can get anywhere.
Rarely would I order shrimp in the morning, but when it's butter-poached shrimp with andouille sausage and grits, I will reconsider. The grits were good, but the andouille sausage and shrimp made this dish. It was buttery and spicy – how can you go wrong? Butter makes everything better. So does cream. That's what I have deducted from this experience. Our other appetizer was a cumin-roasted butternut squash and almond soup, thickened with cream, of course. It was a very rich soup, and I would have preffered it a little hotter (though cream-soup experts suggest that a soup of this nature shouldn't be served too hot), but it was still very tasty. You could taste the cumin infused in it, but it wasn't overpowering, and I liked the crunch of the crispy shitake mushrooms and almonds on top.
Now for the pièce de résistance: the entree. Or entrees I should say. I was having trouble deciding what to order (a common problem for me), so our lovely waitress, Shibhon, suggested I get an omelette. Odd, no? Just an omelette? Well…ok. I did. I got an omelette with goat cheese, bacon and spinach (you know, keep it healthy), and Angela got eggs benedict (normally MY brunch staple). When our food arrived, something was off: eggs benedict, check. Omelette, check. And…Croque Madame? Surprise! Shibhon said I had to at least TRY the croque madame, so my response was, "well, if you're going to twist my arm…" For those of you who don't know, a croque madame is essentially the same as a croque monsieur, but with a sunny side up egg on top. So it's an open-faced "sandwich" of sorts with ham, bechamel sauce, gruyere cheese and a sunny side up egg on top. God bless the French and their obsession with all things butter and cheese. Everything was delicious, but that croque madame was a scene-stealer. I'd like to meet the person who wouldn't enjoy that. And if you're trying to be healthy, don't worry, it came with a small side of mixed greens.
An omelette is an omelette right? Wrong. This omelette was fluffy, cheesy and (shock) buttery. Thick cut bacon, creamy goat cheese and spinach all wrapped up in real eggs (and what I imagine was a nice slick of butter). It's funny, so many of us eat those damned egg whites all the time, we tend to forget how good REAL eggs taste. I certainly miss it. The eggs benedict were also good; normally I go to brunch and always end up wishing I got the eggs benny (because it's hard to screw up), but this was the first time in a long time that I was perfectly satisfied with what I got and not picking at everyone else's plates.
Now dessert is something I rarely order at brunch, but hey, I figured I already consumed close to 3,000 calories, whats another 500? We ordered the tart du jour, which was filled with passionfruit mousse in a coconut crust. It was slightly frozen which was a little disappointing, and the crust was very hard, but it still tasted good. If the mousse was softer, it would have been divine.
For $19.50 per person, I think L'Ecole's brunch is a pretty sweet deal. And speaking of sweet - they will be open for brunch on Valentine's Day as well, where they will offer the same menu but with specialty cocktails and complimentary chocolate truffles for dessert. What better way to the heart than through the stomach?