American Bounty Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America

by Jason Roth on February 16, 2010

No, not that CIA. This is the one where a history of smoking weed and antiestablishmentarianism doesn’t necessarily disqualify you from acceptance. In fact, it might be a plus. What’s really cool is that chef wannabies like us get to eat there. And eat we did, at CIA’s restaurant featuring regional cuisine: American Bounty.

CIA is located in Hyde Park, New York, and you can stay in nearby Rhinebeck (a 15-20 min. drive), a cute little town with an artsy movie theater, antique store, art galleries, and the homes of FDR and Vanderbilt available nearby for touring. We stayed at the Beekman Arms, one of several “oldest inns” in America. The fireplace is a nice touch, and the low-ceilinged pub in the back is a nice place for a beer and/or burger.

The oldest "oldest inn in America" outside of New England.

The oldest "oldest inn in America" (outside of New England)

It’s impressive to visit the CIA campus, knowing the quality of chefs the school has produced. One can’t help but feel admiration for what amounts to a gem of civilization: when in some places of the world people are happy to get their gruel for the day, we have an institution that treats food as a science and an art.

Inside Langley. I mean Roth Hall.

Inside Langley. I mean Roth Hall.

American Bounty is one of several student-staffed restaurants at CIA, but really only one of two “fancy” joints, the other being Escoffier, the traditional French restaurant. Being in Hudson Valley, we knew we’d be getting foie gras no matter what choice we made, and figured American Bounty might be the more creative and interesting option. (Well, I say “we”, but since it was a surprise for my wife, she really shouldn’t get any credit for the decision.)

Let's look at this menu and see what these kids can do.

Let's look at this menu and see what these kids can do.

The ambiance was classy, and although a chef-instructor led the students in the kitchen, indeed the waiters appeared to be all students. Our waiter, who was to graduate in a week’s time, was unlikely to be the next Bobby Flay, at least for the time being. He forgot three items we ordered, and when I asked if the menu’s description of “slowly simmering” the short ribs was the same thing as braising, the busboy (and fellow student) stepped in to respond in the affirmative.

American Bounty

American Bounty

I’ve eaten at Escoffier, the competing CIA restaurant, several years ago, and remember a good but not great experience. The food this time at American Bounty, however, was excellent. The waiter forgot our salads, but no big deal: we began with two deliciously rich starters: a wild mushroom soup with chanterelle butter and an order of Hudson Valley foie gras. The soup was infused with mushroom flavor, and the latter was cooked perfectly.

Mmm, mmm good.

Mmm, mmm good.

The chances of me visiting CIA in Hudson Valley, and not ordering foie gras? Zero.

The chances of me visiting CIA in Hudson Valley and not ordering foie gras? Zero.

The smudge and drips on the foie gras plate were a bit much, but my mouth wasn’t complaining. Same with one of the salads, which suffered from a slight case of “too much effort” in the design and layout department. Again, taste was fine.

Salad, deconstructed?

Salad, deconstructed?

Since the waiter forgot our side order of spinach (give him a break, he probably had his mind on the staff party), I’ll skip the review of it and head straight to the entrees. Fortunately, American Bounty fails to suffer from main course implosion, that cringeworthy nosedive after a set of tasty small plates. We ordered two very different entrees, showing the breadth of the kitchen’s capabilities. We ordered the “Slowly Simmered Beef Short Ribs”, which proudly gilded the lilly (or fattened it) with polenta and marscapone, and the roasted hake sitting in a parsley and olive oil emulsion, with mussels, artichoke, and carrot.

The short ribs weren't braised, they were "slowly simmered".

The short ribs weren't braised, they were slowly simmered.

Hake in olive oil.

Next time you see someone eating fish sticks with a three-day old parsley sprig, hit them over the head with one of them and give them a map to Hyde Park.

The short ribs met the minimum qualification of falling off the bone, but also had the right amount of flavor in the sauce, stopping about two millimeters short of the “too rich to be edible” line. Then again, maybe it was just a diabolically conceived portion size. Whatever the case, rich and delicious. The hake was sauteed well and well plated, giving the fish a nice crispness while sitting in a seasoned oil/broth mixture that could have been too oily, but wasn’t. The three small mussels on the fish were a bit underwhelming, but the portioning of the vegetables made for a light and balanced dish.

We left American Bounty satisfied, and encouraged that the next batch of graduates, though not all cut out for the grind of front-of-house, would be delighting us in the not-too-distant future back here in the big city. I’m just thinking that a mandatory 14% service charge (which goes to CIA school activities) is going to seem laughably, and longingly, upstate.

Saying goodbye to CIA.

Saying goodbye to CIA.

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Kate November 6, 2011 at 5:37 pm

was just there this weekend and even had some of the same dishes you did! fois gras was amazing – I had no idea what it was. great food photo’s!

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