L'Ecole at The French Culinary Institute
Had a business lunch there and got a tour of the school. Fantastic facility! The restaurant was great-service was perfect. Pate de foie gras, duck seared and confit, mussels in corn chowder, baked Alaska with passion fruit were all superb.. Though I didn't pay, the prices were amazing. This is maybe the best deal for the quality in the city.
I am in full agreement with you. My family went there for my father's 70th birthday - and my father can be quite difficult to please! We loved it. It's a little noisy, but the food and service were spectacular, the wine list offered quite a selection - and the prices blew our minds!
What I also noticed is there is space for larger parties (approx. 10-12 people). The next birthday dinner I'm suckered into planning will definitely be at L'Ecole.
I think for the price, L'Ecole is a pretty good deal, as much for the fine dining ambiance and service as anything. It's a nice place to take friends from out of town who want to be impressed and want a story to tell when they go home. I agree that some of the dishes could be described underwhelming, but that's not to say they're bad. And besides, the prix fixe is 4 or 5 courses depending on the seating (that's 8 to 10 samples if you're there with someone) so you're bound to really enjoy a few things, at least. Things I've ordered from there have ranged from good to very good to excellent.
I finally got to go to L'Ecole last weekend after years of procrastination, and I would highly recommend it. The atmosphere is much more welcoming than your typical set menu establishment, and the service, at least for our table, was fantastic. The food seems well thought out and well executed, and the menu changes on a regular basis (not sure of the timing) so I imagine that keeps things fresh in terms of selection.
While I know many Chowhounders don't like L'Ecole, we've been a good handful of times and enjoy it. I agree with some of the other posters that it is a very good meal for the price. I've liked everything I've had each time as did the others in our party. Yes, it's a school, but we've never had a negative experience there in any way.
I also enjoy the CIA restaurants in Hyde Park.