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American Bounty Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America

Where I’m from “CIA” means only one thing, what is known as “La cia” in Italian.  It’s the halls of spook central located in Langley, Virginia.  When I moved to New York and started meeting people in the culinary industry, I had to get used to “CIA” meaning The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, rather than some shadowy, secret government entity.  It still makes me do a double-take from time to time when someone says, “He/she went to CIA.”

View from the terrace at CIA

This weekend through the New York Social Network, a handful of folks and I left the bustle of the city to head up to a dinner at this other CIA at their restaurant American Bounty, a destination that has long been on my list of places to try.  This was a fantastic way to meet a few new people, catch up with some that I already knew, and enjoy a great meal and lovely day out of town.  En route to our meal, we stopped by a local winery, visited a farmstand, and crossed the Hudson River via the walkway in Poughkeepsie, all while working our way up to the main event.

Tasting the 2008 Syrah at Robibero Family Vineyards

Fall colors and produce at Jenkins-Lueken Orchards

I hadn’t looked at the menu selections for dinner, but one of my companions had.  She seemed to be anticipating the deliciousness of the meal even before we left Manhattan.  Once we arrived, we took a quick spin around the terrace overlooking the Hudson.  I recognized the view from some of the camera shots taken during television shows broadcast from this location, but to see it in person was just amazing.  This really is a beautiful area, and it is a shame I don’t just hop on a train to get out here more often.

Walking into Dinner

Walking into the building, I just had a sense of awe and wonderment at all the culinary talent that has passed through these halls.  In the cases leading up to the entrance to the restaurant were an array of old kitchen and baking utensils, which I found very interesting to see.  When we arrived, we waited in the lounge to be seated and examined the menus at the host stand to see what we would each be selecting for dinner.  American Bounty sources ingredients from the Hudson River Valley area and focuses the types of dishes that are more regional American in flavor.

Crispy Artichokes with Basil Mayonnaise

When I first looked at my appetizer choices, I saw that they had ricotta-stuffed zucchini blossoms, one of my favorite things to eat.  Unfortunately, they were no longer on the menu.  Instead, I picked these Crispy Artichokes with Basil Mayonnaise.  Despite all my efforts, preparing artichokes at home is still not something I’ve really mastered.  Frying anything in my apartment is a recipe for disaster and a huge mess to clean up, so I thought this was a good choice.  They were wonderful, crunchy leaves, tender hearts, just enough sea salt to make them sort of like the best potato chips I’ve ever eaten.  Dipping them into the creamy, herby basil mayonnaise moved them up to the level of incredibly tasty.  I could have stopped here and been fine.

Grilled Center Cut Pork Chop with Gingered Tomato Jam, Spicy Mustard, and Garlic Mashed Potatoes

My choice of mail dish was also along the lines of the appetizer.  Following the criteria for something I don’t have all that often and that I wouldn’t necessarily make at home in my own kitchen, I went with a big, center cut Pork Chop.  The meat was meltingly-tender with the sticky-sweet glaze a perfect balance to cut through the richness of the meat.  The tomato jam was quite good, but I thought that the glaze was fine on its own.  The creamy sauce on the side didn’t add that much to it, either I felt.  I enjoyed the mashed potatoes even though I thought that they were more puree style, and they did need a bit more garlic for my taste.  My only other niggle about an otherwise delectable dish is that I had asked for the pork chop to be a little bit pink so that it would stay really juicy and moist, and it arrived more on the well done side.

Back Yard India Pale Ale

To go with the first two courses, I had opted to try a Back Yard India Pale Ale from Cooperstown Brewing in Milford, New York.  I wanted to keep my drinking choice local, if I could, and also thought that with the main course, beer might be a better partner than wine.  I was not disappointed and might have found a new beverage to keep on hand in my fridge.  The malty, caramelly tones of this beer were a perfect balance for the crispy, salty, fatty artichokes as well as for the buttery-rich, sweet pork.  Being an ale meant that it didn’t overwhelm or under-perform as a drink to go along with this meal.

Kunik Cheese from Nettle Meadow

I was hoping that we’d be given at least a few minutes to digest before moving on to dessert, which were were.  We were also offered a cheese course featuring an array of American artisan cheeses.  A couple of the people at our table were so drawn into the cart that was brought to view that they picked out ones to try.  My dinner companion was nice enough to let me sample some of the Kunik cheese that he selected from Nettle Meadow.  Made of goat’s and cow’s milk, it had the smooth, creamy texture of the latter and a bit of pungency from the former while still being slightly sweet.  It melted tenderly on my tongue and made me almost wish I’d gotten some for myself.

Warm Chocolate Cake with Pistachio Ice Cream and Toffee Sauce

Profiteroles with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce

What I was really saving room for, however, was dessert.  I wanted to see what creations we’d have to choose from given how many great chefs have come from this program.  The top photos is of the dish that I ate.  The bottom photo is the selection of the person who sat next to me and is probably what I should have chosen.  I thought that the Chocolate Cake was a bit dry and uninspiring, my dinner companion also confirmed the dry aspect, and I wish that the Toffee Sauce had been more than just a smear at the top of the plate, as it had wonderful burnt-sugar, nutty notes to it.  The winner on the plate was the Pistachio Ice Cream which was really delicious and had a great pistachio flavor to it.  The cookie crumbs on which it sat were unnecessary and distracted from the creamy sweetness of the ice cream.  I didn’t get to try the Profiteroles for myself, but the Chocolate Sauce smelled hearty and cocoa-filled, much like the kind my mother use to make.

Bellies full and palates satisfied with our experience dining at CIA, we settled our tab and piled into the van to head back to Manhattan.  We all agreed that it had been a very nice day out and that American Bounty lived up to expectations.  The service was well run, the food (despite some of my critiques) was really delicious and at a good price point, and the atmosphere was perfect for a small group.  This would be a great stop on a longer weekend excursion to Hyde Park, fitting in the Franklin D. Roosevelt house and library as well as some of the other scenic sites along the way.  I’m hoping that I get a chance to enjoy another meal there soon.

Buon appetito!

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