A few years back, not long after I had moved to the Hudson Valley, an acquaintance informed me that not only was there “a branch of the CIA” here, but that its restaurants were terrific. “Really?” I politely said, wondering doubtfully to myself how good a government-issued meal could be. It wasn’t until another person told me of a restaurant in the region with a “CIA-trained chef” when I realized that there really must be more to this story.
I learned, of course, that the CIA in Hyde Park does indeed have some wonderful restaurants. And at this time of year, from January until early April, the Culinary Institute of America offers some really unique dining experiences in its Winter Dining Series, which features more than two dozen themed lunches and dinners in three of those four restaurants. Each special event has a fixed menu, and diners should expect to share their table with other dining enthusiasts. At lunches, a glass of wine or beer is provided, and at dinners, wine and beer are carefully selected to complement each course (and limited to that course). Coffee or tea is included.
This is the 23rd year that the CIA has offered the series, and while some of the events are returning favorites, others are new for 2014. This year, each of the restaurants will highlight a signature event to be featured in both a lunch and dinner version.
The American Bounty Restaurant, which specializes in contemporary and traditional regional dishes created with local products of the Hudson Valley, will host a “Beefsteak” dinner on Wednesday, January 29 at 6 p.m. ($85 per person) and a lunch version on Thursday, January 30 at 11:30 a.m. ($45). The event revives the old tradition of the beefsteak banquet, popular with mid-19th-century men in New York City who would gather together for raucous, all-you-can-eat-with-your-fingers political fundraisers, the diners sitting on crates to consume manly quantities of beef and beer to the accompaniment of brass bands.
The Culinary Institute’s communal tables will welcome both men and women, and accompanied by singing and cold beer, the menu will offer shrimp cocktail, lump crabmeat with Russian dressing, burgers on toast, raw veggies, roast sirloin with blood-and-butter gravy, mustard-crusted potatoes and vanilla ice cream profiteroles. And unlike the original beefsteak banquets, silverware will be available (but not mandatory, we’re told).
The Bocuse Restaurant is the Culinary’s sleek and contemporary French restaurant, whose signature event will celebrate “L’Anniversaire du Restaurant Bocuse” on Tuesday, February 11 at 6 p.m. ($95) and Wednesday, February 12 at 11:30 a.m. ($55), honoring the restaurant’s first anniversary with the exact menu served to legendary chef Paul Bocuse and his friends Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud and Michel Richard at the restaurant’s official opening in February of 2013. The classic signature dishes of France’s notable chefs will be reimagined using ultramodern techniques, the menu including foie gras, black truffle soup, lobster with champagne and caviar, filet mignon and grapefruit sorbet with vodka and chocolates.
The signature event of the Winter Dining Series at the CIA’s Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici, which serves authentic regional Italian cuisine, will be “Black Tie and Truffles,” an opportunity to savor “the culinary gold” from Italy in each course and even concluding with (dark chocolate) truffles. The dinner will be held on Wednesday, March 26 at 6 p.m. ($95). The luncheon will be held on Thursday, March 27 at 11:30 a.m. ($55). The entire experience is enhanced by an a cappella opera group from Bard College, and festive attire is suggested. The menu includes Piemontese flan of black truffle, butternut squash and fontina (dinner only); risotto with Dover sole, white truffle and Parmigiano; roasted veal loin with black truffle sauce, root vegetables and a truffle gratin of turnips; and dark chocolate black truffles and hazelnut mousse.
There are quite a few special events on tap for the series over the next several months. Early reservations are suggested, as these fill to capacity quickly and some of the offerings are sold out already. For a complete 2014 CIA Winter Dining Series schedule, visit www.ciarestaurants.com. Reservations can be made online or by calling (845) 471-6608 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
CIA Restaurants, 1946 Campus Drive, Hyde Park; (845) 471-6608, www.ciarestaurants.com. Read more about local cuisine and learn about new restaurants on Ulster Publishing’s www.DineHudsonValley.com or www.HudsonValleyAlmanacWeekly.com.