Would appreciate comments re this restaurant at French Culinary Institute
Went some time ago so my experience is not recent enough to be helpful (I defer to other hounds). That said, I do remember it was a good experience. Also that I preferred it to the CIA in Hyde Park.
Like the previous poster, I haven't been there in a long while, but I used to go a few times a year (for long lunches) when I worked in Lower Manhattan.
I had my first osso buco there, and I still remember it. Even the bread was great.
It's high-end food at chain restaurant prices: The $28, three-course prix fixe lunch menu is your choice of one appetizer, entrée, and dessert.
Reservations are still a good idea.
If their standards are still what they were (and I have no reason to suspect otherwise) it's a good choice.
The food is good. Very solidly conceived and competently, if not brilliantly, executed. The service is significantly above par, but the celebrated mulled cocktails all taste very similar.
Definitely go with an open mind. There are certain hours where the professional chefs (instructors) are cooking the meals, and other hours when the students are cooking. This doesn't impact the preparation as much as you'd first expect. We've been several times, and sometimes it's a great way to get phenomenal french cuisine at a fraction of the cost, and other times (and it really is the minority of the time) you get what you pay for.
Overall though, we continue to go back because we absolutely love the concept of the teaching restaurant.
The menus are seasonal, and I generally wouldn't recommend the consumme as it's the only thing that I've found consistently sub-par, but other than that I highly recommend the experience.
I went a couple of months ago and tried the 4-course meal rather than the 5-course, which is offered later in the evening. I *believe* the 4-course is prepared by the instructors and that's why it costs the same as the 5-course prepared by the students? Anyway, it was what I would call creative food- lots of pairings that I would not have chosen but that worked out in the end. The service was excellent- attentive but not intrusive. My friend and I loved it so much we plan to come back with our respective spouses. I also like the rotating menu so you get to choose from a different list depending on the day.
Have always had excellent meals at L'Ecole, though not always stellar desserts. The value is outstanding, the service is exemplary, and the concept is superb.
I've only eaten when the students were cooking and found it to be hit or miss. When it's good, it's good and a terrific value. I was actually considering the place for my wedding (as there was an option for Top Chef's Lee Anne Wong to give a cooking demonstration to the guests). But I then had a terrible experience where the food wasn't that hot, and the service was really atrocious -- taking plates away before we're finished, no break between two courses but waiting 40 minutes between two other courses, nobody refilling our water glasses even though we asked. So I didn't want to chance it with something like my wedding.
To be on the extra safe side, I'd eat there when it's the instructors cooking as opposed to the students.