This past Saturday Sarah and I went to the Restaurant School for dinner. She had a tough week and needed to be treated. We had often thought about checking this place out, with its $21 three-course prix fixe for the European Courtyard French Menu. For those who don’t know, the Restaurant School is a culinary institute between 42nd and 43rd on Walnut St. in West Philly [where: 19104]. In addition to the school itself, it has two restaurants, a bakery and a market with sandwiches. The restaurants and the stores are run by the students under supervision from instructors. There are some rough edges, but overall we had a good time and a good meal.
We had a 6:30 PM reservation and we were seated promptly. The restaurant, as the name implies, looks like a courtyard complete with functioning fountain and facades of French homes. The place borders that fine line between classy and cheesy. I feel like if you pay attention to your immediate surroundings the place is quite nice. It is only when you scan the big picture does the place drift into being a bit Disneyish. The decor would fit in at Epcot Center.
We were given a nice surprise when we asked for the wine list. There are bargains here as well. We ordered a good bottle of Argentinian Malbec for $22. There were many choices of bottles from between $25 and $35.
For the appetizer I ordered the Terrine de Campagne, a generous slice of forcemeat of pork, ham, spices and chicken liver. It came with a lightly dressed arugula salad and cornichons. Forcemeat can be really great or horribly dry. This was prepared very well. It had a coarse texture, rather than the pate-like texture of some terrines. The flavors melded into a “meat flavor” like a forcemeat should. No one ingredient overpowered the others. Sarah had the Strudel aux Champignons Sauvages, a strudel of mushrooms in a port sauce with roasted shallots on the side. Overall the dish was good although the edges were a bit burnt. This turned what could’ve been a fantastic dish into a merely decent one.
We were warned by our very affable server that “the freshmen are in the kitchen tonight for the first time.” He apologized in advance for any mix ups or delays. Sarah and I both ordered the Cassoulet. A short time later the server came back and told us that despite assurances from the kitchen they were now out of Cassoulet. This is the danger of eating here. But everyone takes it in stride and has a good time. So, I ordered the Vivaneau ‘Pot au Feu’, a filet of red snapper in an aromatic broth and fresh veggies. The snapper was of high quality. The dish was prepared well, but I think a bit under-seasoned. A bit more ginger would have done wonders. Sarah had Crepinettes de Veau, a veal forcemeat meatball wrapped in caul in a white wine and onion sauce with carrots and fingerling potatoes. This was the highlight of the night. The meat was very flavorful and went perfectly with the sauce. You will need bread at the end to get every last bit. We were given bread no less than four times during our meal– all of it was excellent, but that’s a lot of bread.
For dessert, I had the chocolate bombe, a mousse cake covered in a ganache and filled with raspberry sauce. It was really fantastic, as was Sarah’s chocolate cake with cinnamon ice cream. These desserts make us really want to visit their bakery.
There are imperfections, mistakes, people accidentally throwing bread at you (really) and so on. We were patient with our servers, but let them know about the imperfections– after all, it’s an educational experience. But if you go into it with an open mind you will find a great bargain for eating out in Philadelphia. Sarah and I plan to return and see if we can get some of that cassoulet.