After eating the majority of my lunches and dinners at student run kitchens, I didn’t know what to expect from The Culinary Institute of America’s American Bounty Restaurant. It opened its doors in 1982 as learning restaurant, where students can gain knowledge by serving actual customers rather than just us students. This portion of the curriculum is called “restaurant row”, where students are only weeks away from graduation. When our Gastronomy professor offered us the opportunity to enjoy the bounties of Bounty, I couldn’t resist, a free meal is a free meal, and a free meal at one of the CIA’s award winning restaurants is a treat indeed.
Upon entering the restaurant I was overwhelmed with masculinity. The décor was deeply colored with heavy wood furnishings and dark leather backed chairs. If I had ever been in the 21 Club, this is what I imagine it would be like: elegant and classic, but rich. In contrast to the smoldering tones, you have gorgeous windows, which bask light down upon each table as if a celestial glow is anointing your food. Roth Hall, which houses American Bounty, was formerly a Jesuit Seminary, which the college purchased it in 1970.
We were warmly greeted by the student staff, which graciously checked our coats and backpacks. Despite the fact we were their fellow classmates, the level of professionalism never wavered.
When we entered the main dining room, there was ample seating to accommodate many guests, but as we were an early reservation, the quiet hum of the room further amplified our boisterous voices, eagerly awaiting our afternoon delights.
The menu was truly tempting; my dining companions and I tried to strategize, so we could taste as many dishes as possible. For my main course I immediately knew I wanted to have the Roasted Lamb Chops, with Cranberry Serrano Chutney, Plantain Sweet Potatoes Purée and Cranberry Sauce. But deciding on a starter was tricky. I was eager to explore my newfound love of oysters, but the pleasure was so recent, I didn’t want to diminish the memory so quickly, so I decided on another favorite of mine, beets. The Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese Salad with Oranges, Pistachios, Composed Salad and Balsamic Vinaigrette were calling out to me. You can frequently find a roasted beet salad with goat cheese on many menus but I was looking forward to see what the students could do to make it sing.
When my salad arrived, I was over whelmed. The plating and presentation was gorgeous. Four slices of golden beets were layered and stacked with an herbed goat cheese between them, then cut in to perfect quartered wedges, which were nestled on a bed of bull’s blood. When the beets entered my mouth, I immediately wished the cheese was a little saltier, but as the bite continued to dissipate on my tongue, I could sense the delicateness of the golden beets, which would have been lost if the cheese were too overpowering. The flavors were perfectly balanced. The dish impressed me and I hope it will still be on the menu by the time I am on “restaurant row” because I would love to learn that layering technique. The rest of the dishes ordered by my classmates were superb.
Our plates were cleared away, quickly, and quietly then reset for our main course. Lamb is another item that was recently added to my repertoire and I take every occasion to eat it, especially when I know it will be of high quality. When it arrived, the presentation was again beautiful and the portion size was large. Four healthy chops crisscrossed at the bones resting on a bed of purée. To my frustration, the chops were just at medium when they were placed before me and by then end of the course, they were decidedly at medium well. I ordered them medium-rare, which was a bit of a disappointment, but that quickly faded when I ate the purée; it was magical. The plantain and sweet potato combination was perfection. It reminded me of satay sauce, which I adore. It was a great complement to the cranberries and the lamb, which despite being overdone was still juicy and tender.
For dessert, I decided to stick with my absolute favorite, Crème Brulée. Their version was infused with Honey and Thyme. Thyme is one of my favorite savory herbs and I am always a fan of sweet and savory applications. After our main was cleared, and when our dessert silver was set, I noticed everyone else had a spoon but me. I was a little confused. I asked our server why she gave me a fork and she insisted that Crème Brulée was always served with a fork. I wasn’t going to disagree with her, but asked for a spoon instead, which wasn’t exactly the correct size for the dish; it was too large. The crème is only about one inch deep in the ramekin; so a two and a half inch spoon is a bit too cumbersome in my opinion enjoy it properly.
Overall, I found my experiences at American Bounty to be wonderful. The lunch menu was an excellent value for the price, plus a 14% gratuity is added to the check and those proceeded go to fund grants for students in need, like myself. If you are in the Hudson Valley area, it is worthwhile to make a reservation at American Bounty or any one of the other student-learning restaurants on campus. You patronage will help to usher in a new era in American cooking.
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