AMERICAN BOUNTY, CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA
Hyde Park, New York
It seemingly doesn’t matter what road we take from Long Island to get up to Hyde Park since both times we’ve done the trek it’s taken us nearly two hours. The fact that we also had miserable weather to boot increased our travel time even more. Why even tolerate a two hour plus drive for lunch? The $19.95 prix fixe lunch menu beckoned and we simply couldn’t pass up the chance to try a different restaurant at CIA. Unlike our visit in April when the campus was deserted, this time school was in session and the restaurant’s and the school’s hallways were packed with students, parents and people who simply wanted to have lunch.
First impression: the dining rooms of American Bounty aren’t as “designed” as Caterina de ‘Medici. It has a couple of fairly functional rooms to eat in but overall it reminded me of eating in a non-descript hotel dining room. The two students assigned to us that day and “playing” waiter were competent but hadn’t been properly prepped by the Maître d‘/Instructor on any special offers. Yes, they knew the prix fixe lunch specials but weren’t aware that the school’s website was touting a wine flight at the recession-friendly price of $6.00 for three 2 oz pours from CIA’s own Greystone Cellars.
Once I, the lowly diner, brought them up to speed on what the promo was that day, one of our student waiters went to the front of the house and shortly thereafter three glasses – a chardonnay, a merlot and a sauvignon blanc were put before us. Following the wine came three of the tiniest butter pats I’ve ever seen to go with some great chewy sourdough bread.
Granted at $19.95 the menu was a bit limited but since Lynn and I both eat anything, there’s always something we can find that’s different or still manages to excite us. Appetizer choices that day included a salad, corn chowder or gnocchi. Entrees were salmon, a pork chop or cioppino. After sipping some of the wine, we opted to start with the gnocchi. A few minutes later, two dishes of gnocchi in a red sauce were brought to us. The gnocchi was a little bit undercooked to my liking (I don’t like it mushy) but we ate it. Truthfully, the dish was a bit boring.
The last time we had lunch at CIA there was a huge pause (i.e. down time = what’s going on in the kitchen?) between our appetizers and our entrées. This lunch would prove to be no different. After waiting nearly half an hour, our cioppino, a classic Italian fish stew finally arrived. Placed before us in big bowls were decent portions of mussels, clams, a single scallop and a small piece of fish (halibut perhaps?) swimming in a sauce that looked eerily similar to the tomato sauce dotting the gnocchi we had consumed earlier. Placed ceremoniously on top of the stew was a piece of “grilled” bread that while pleasant to look at was too soft to do what it was supposed to do – mop up some of the luscious fish stew sauce at the end of the meal. (The bread was actually so soft it acted like a sponge and became nearly cake-like and thus falling apart when it hit the liquid.)
I love nearly all fish – raw and cooked. The young chefs at American Bounty that day managed to overcook the poor crustaceans; the mussels and clams were chewy, the sole piece of fish dry, the lone scallop was the only fish that was properly executed.
We weren’t overwhelmed but we kept going. Dessert isn’t included in the $19.95 lunch special but since we had been sitting directly in front of the pastry chef’s station in the kitchen and had watched the “chefs” not only do their thing but also suffered through a parade of diners “oohing and ahhing” at all the goodies in the window, we didn’t think it would be cool if we bypassed dessert.
We ordered dessert that even though it looked good (maple bread pudding with a dollop of ice cream and two unripe strawberries with some strawberry syrup) was essentially tasteless. Really, it wasn’t sweet, it wasn’t sour, it was just there.
So restaurant #2 at CIA wasn’t as good. Maybe the kitchen was too busy? Maybe they had the B team cooking? Maybe the kids were flunking? Or even worse with graduation looming in a few days maybe they had already lost interest in the craft they had chosen to pursue? The irony though of having an “Italian” meal (gnocchi, cioppino) at the “American” Bounty restaurant wasn’t lost on us.