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Jan 27, 2010 06:25 AM

CIA -- any intelligence?

We're looking to try it out this spring. I've checked the website menus and prices, but would like other's experiences to decided which restaurant. Would American Bounty be the most creative?

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  1. Great post britton. I too would be very interested to see what others have to say. We always say we are going to try one of the restaurants and just never find our way there. I'm glad you reminded me of this.

    BTW--I did see Ristorante Caterina de' Medici of the CIA profiled on the show Brindiamo and it looked quite nice.

    1. I have tried all three of their main restaurants. Overall I really enjoy the experience of the CIA. It's unlike any other restaurant experience and shouldn't be treated as such. First off it is a culinary school run by students who are learning. So service will not be as crisp as you might find at other restaurants in the same price range. However what might be lacking in the refinement of the service is more then made up for by the charm of the students. I really enjoy the passion the students display and learning about their studies. They are more then willing to engage in conversation if you start it. One time we even got a tour of the kitchen. I think if you go into the evening with the understanding that it is a school then you will leave having enjoyed a pleasurable dinner.

      The food like the service is a product of students. That said I have never had a bad meal at the CIA and have had many great meals. Again just set your expectations properly and I think you will enjoy the meal.

      Here's my run down on the restaurants

      American Bounty - My favorite of the three based on food and atmosphere. They utilize a lot of local Hudson Valley ingredients and the menu has always been interesting and well executed. There are windows into the kitchen allowing the diners to catch a glimpse of the action. The dining room is formal with a modern style. The dark wood walls remind me a bit of a steakhouse feel without being overly masculine.

      Caterina de' Medici - I'd rank second out of the three. The dinning room is a very large open space with the ceiling opening up to the second floor. The room can get loud so if you wanted a more romantic or quiet setting this is not the place. There is an open kitchen but its tucked into the back of the restaurant making it a little more difficult to watch. The food is very good but considering this part of the country excels in Italian cuisine it is not the best in the area.

      Escoffier - While Escoffier was my least favorite it was still a very enjoyable experience. It is a very classical french restaurant complete with the very formal service and dining room. My reason for not ranking it higher was for my tastes it was overly stuffy and somewhat old fashion because of the traditional style. From a teaching perspective I understand the reason for the traditional service but from a diners perspective found it odd. For example all of the plates are served under a fancy dome which are then all revealed together. If you are interested in experiencing that style of service I highly recommend it. The food was great, I have nothing but praise for the food. Its been at least 3 years and I can still remember the suveed chicken. How often can you remember a chicken dish 3 years after the fact?

      The students at the CIA are a real treat. The experience is unmatched and you will have some really good food.

      Reservations are harder to get on the weekend. If you can go during the week that is your best bet. Reservations can be made online but I have also had luck calling on short notice.

      4 Replies
      1. re: hudsonvalleyfoodblog

        Thanks so much hudson. Excellent synopsis. I appreciate your thorough answer and will use it as a guide when I do finally make it there.

        1. re: hudsonvalleyfoodblog

          The Escoffier also has windows that look into the kitchen, but only a few tables are situated for that view.

          I've eaten in all three of these restaurants, but my American Bounty visit was a long time ago. All three are worth visiting although I remember my Escoffier visit the best, mostly because it was so different from my typical restaurant in terms of the type of cuisine . I'd note they all change menus from time to time. Also, what can affect your experience but you can't control, is when in the student rotation you visit the restaurant. I believe the classes spend about two weeks in the restaurant, so your experience might be different if you hit it on the first night vs. the last night.. You just need to go with the right attitude about the experience.

          1. re: rjka

            To expand upon your excellent note regarding rotations, when I had the CIA as a marketing client American Bounty was the final stop on the rotation. Can't vouch that this is still the case but it was so a few years ago.

            It's a great dining experience in a lovely setting. Don't forget to allow time for the beautiful views of the Hudson River Valley.

        2. I use to attend the CIA dining series events all the time when I lived and worked up near Danbury... but the ride is just too much for me now.
          If you aren't familiar with their dining series events, here is a link:

          They only run these during the week in the spring but they sell out, so act fast if you want to get in on it. I loved the winemaker series - - - always had good wine and good food and a good education - - - but they have many other themes, too. I've been to enough of these dining series to have eaten in each restaurant and I never had a bad meal. (Note: dining series menu's are generally 4 or 5 coursed of a fixed menu).

          5 Replies
          1. re: foleyd7

            Thanks for the info foleyd7. The series looks quite interesting.

            On a related topic: Does anyone know of a nice place to stay in the area where the CIA is located? Thanks!

            1. re: ttoommyy

              I have only been to Escoffier and really loved the experience. We went in the summer when they were offering a special Julia Child inspired meal because of the movie Julie and Julie. They had the regular menu too, but I noticed most of the tables were ordering from the Julia Child meal.

              Our waiter was so friendly and at the end, when we asked, he took us for a tour of the kitchen and introduced us to the head chefs and explained about the different working stations in the kitchen. There is one head chef in charge of the food and one head chef in charge of the drinks. The waiters are student to - they work back of the house and then front of the house or vice versa.

              1. re: ttoommyy

                If you'd like a historic place there is the Beekman Arms in Rhinebeck but I've never stayed there. Otherwise there are a bunch of chain hotels in Poughkeepsie. I believe the residence inn is the newest.

                1. re: hudsonvalleyfoodblog

                  If you can, book a tour of the CIA. It is student led and extremely insteresting. We loved the American Bounty. Also, the apple pie at the Apple Pie Bakery is truly the best I've ever had. We're still talking about that pie. No reservations and it is open for breakfast or lunch.

                  1. re: DaisyM

                    apple pie bakery also started putting other foods on their late afternoon menu, i know they've had sweetbreads and skate at that time...

            2. CIA is a real treat. Last year I had a wonderful experience at Caterina De'Medici. Delicious garganelli bolognese, bright and fresh tuna carpaccio with capers, tender, pink veal loin braised in Asti and creamy tiramisu. I am looking forward to trying American Bounty and Escoffier

              Apple Pie Bakery is simply phenomenal. I had the pulled pork sandwich, a tad sweet but meltingly tender and wonderfully porky. I had lovely macaroons, excellent apple pie, decent german chocolate cake and a knockout carrot cake as a BBQ pork chaser.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Pookipichu

                I haven't been in awhile, but my faves were Escoffier and then Caterina De'Medici. I have not been to American Bounty.

                Although I enjoyed the food at Escoffier more, the experience at both was outstanding.

                1. re: anonymouse1935

                  My hands-down favorite in the CIA is the Apple Pie Bakery. I could just sit and gaze upon the baked goods all day. Do not leave the premises without trying a Mudslide cookie.! I also enjoy browsing in the bookstore.
                  All the restaurants are wonderful and your choice should be based on your food likes. That said, I do feel the tension of the waitstaff and I really prefer the more laid back bakery.

                  1. re: lucyis

                    Thanks for your response. I feel like the Apple Pie Bakery will be my downfall as I cannot pass up baked goods. I am obsessed with them. Baking them, looking at them (I have tons of photos of pastry shops in Italy from my trip last month) and eating them! lol

                    1. re: ttoommyy

                      This post has got me obsessing about the apple pie again! I called them before Thanksgiving to see if they would ship one. Unfortunately, they weren't set up to do it. Perhaps they will next year.

              2. Went to American Bounty this weekend and it was wonderfu:, the food, the setting, the space, the service, the weather. But the best thing about this place is talking to the students. Their regimen is tougher than West Point across the river.. and their passion and sacrifice for a culinary career brings a lump to my throat.

                Interestingly, no tips allowed, though a 14 per cent add on to your bill to cover graduating day expenses for students. Since students are rotated every fourteen days (that's right a new staff in back of house and the front every two weeks) best to go towards the end of the cycle. When you make reservations you can find out,

                Sort of like not going to a teaching hospital for elective surgery in July when the newbies come on board. Tho Bad day at CIA can be defined there as just not being absolutely perfect. Perfection is what every student accepts as standard.

                American Bounty Restaurant
                1946 Campus Dr, Hyde Park, NY 12538

                1 Reply
                1. re: louuuuu

                  That's been our experience as well. The most fun is speaking with the students about what they've done, where they're going, plans, etc. One of the fun things has been to talk about favorite instructors, as I've taken enthusiast classes with many. It might be hard to plan your meals around the timing of the rotations and it doesn't always work out (sometimes for the better). We were there at the beginning of a rotation once at Caterina and the server appeared polished and professional already-she had worked before school in a fine dining restaurant in NYC and she was already up to speed.
                  As far as tipping-they used to have, if I recall correctly, an automatic 10% and then you could add a discretionary additional amount that would go to the student. There might have been some issues regarding fairness, etc. (probably not dissimilar to many restaurants) so they went to this system a while back and most of the money goes to graduation, uniforms, etc. What they lack in polish, experience and knowledge is more than made up for in earnestness, enthusiasm and eagerness to please. Like anyone, if you offer a little patience, encouragement and appreciation, they rise to the occasion. Glad you liked going there.