Friday, March 16, 2012

St. Andrew's Cafe Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY

The Culinary Institute of America is on my "Bucket List".  Maybe one weekend, when I am feeling flush, I'll go to their Skill Development Boot Camp.  But for now, I'll satisfy my urges by popping in on their restaurants when I am in the area.

This was my first foray into the land of our culinary future and it was a good one.

After a beautiful drive around the campus, I walked down the hill to the General Foods Nutrition Center where Saint Andrew's Cafe is housed. All around me, uniformed students went through their day. Wearing sparkling white chef's jackets, quick read thermometers in their sleeve pockets, backpacks and knife rolls at their side.  This really is foodie Nirvana!

St. Andrew's Cafe "embodies all that is good about the local, sustainable food movement. As much as possible, we draw our produce and meats from local farmers and purveyors and believe that we can dine well all year long by thoughtfully using the abundance of seasonal harvests."

It is a well lit dining room with a display kitchen.  Attentive student staff are on their best form, supervised by their front of house instructor (he's the guy in the grey tie). I had a great seat and when I started taking out my electronics, Blackberry and Nikon, I know that they were a bit worried that I'd be distracting (no flash photography allowed) but soon enough, I settled in to poking through my bread basket and perusing the menu.

It wasn't just local produce, but there were local wines as well.  (Now I have to start planning adventures on the Hudson and Duchess Valley Wine Trails)   I chose two local wines to pair with my lunch.

To start, I had the Tocai Friulano `10 $6.00/glass from Millbrook Vineyards and Winery in the Hudson Valley  paired with Autumn Squash-Apple Cider Soup $6.00.  It was a bowl of thick, intensely flavored soup, with a condensed, sweet apple overtone.  In between spoonfuls, the rich sweetness of the soup was cut by bright fruity acid of the wine so that my taste-buds were refreshed for another spoonful of goodness.  

It was a great combo to start, and the wine went on to work well with my second course: Maine Steamed Mussels with House-made Duck Chorizo, White Wine Broth, Roasted Peppers and Tomato Confit.  Here, with the subtle spice of the chorizo and the rich fatty/saltiness of the mussels, the wine acted as an enhancement to the flavors of the dish, adding more light fruitiness and contrast to the earthy spice of the broth,  rather than the bright, refreshing palate cleanser when the Tocai Friulano was paired with the richly flavored soup.

I know that this was lunch, and traditionally lunch is a light meal, but I was at the CIA, and I was prepared to have this be the only meal of my day.  So on I went to the next course, Grilled Beef from Meiller Josef Farms in Pine Plains, NY with Smoked Grafton Village (VT) Cheddar Gratin, Melted Leeks, and Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms on a bed of spinach $19.

The meat was fork tender and perfectly cooked.  I paired it with a glass of Chelois Casscles Vineyard `09 from Hudson-Chatham Winery in the Hudson Valley $9.00/glass.  Surprisingly, this was a sublime course.  after the intense soup, and flavorful mussels, I was sure that the Beef would be in your face flavor. No, the wine was light and soft with a subtle taste of bright cherry fruitiness and just as subtle undertones of earth.  I had never had the varietal Chelois before.  It is a French hybrid from 1946.  I liked it, and would always try more.  The beef tasted like good beef should, juicy, with great texture and filling.  I like that the students let the ingredients shine I could taste each component of the meal, and the silky meatiness of the Shiitake contrasted well with the textured juiciness of the beef. The potatoes were a slimline (very little cheese) gratin, so I wasn't rolling off my chair.  (but I did take home a substantial doggie bag for dinner).

Dessert was an easy choice for me.  I am partial to custard and "Nursery Foods" so I went with comfort food all the way:  Warm Chocolate Bread Pudding with Vanilla Sauce topped with a dollop of creamy goodness $6.00.  As you can tell by the picture, I had already taken a spoonful before I took the snap.  umm, there is something about chocolate and sugar and cream.... I really should have been more adventurous (because all comfort food begins at home, and I was at America's leading Culinary School) but it really was a good way to end a terrific back to basics meal.

A slide show from the day:

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