Culinary Institute of America Satisfies Older Adults
Posted on July 16, 2014 by Sulekha Zaug
Nothing makes people happier than good food served with a scenic view, right?
Recently, residents at Atria on the Hudson had vowed to visit all three restaurants at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. In true Hudson fashion, they not only enjoyed their meals, but also critiqued each restaurant and compared their culinary experiences.
After a bumpy, one-hour drive north, we arrived at the “CIA” (as trendy New Yorkers like to call it). We were amused to notice that once on campus, the street signs were aptly named after herbs, including Parsley, Sage, and Thyme. After parking the bus, we took a few moments to admire the sweeping views of the Hudson River from our elevated vantage point. The Mid-Hudson Bridge and the Walkway Over the Hudson were just to the left, and directly behind us was our destination for the day: Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici.
As we entered the Italian restaurant, we noticed the room had an authentically rustic, Tuscan feel, with picturesque paintings on the wall. It felt as though we’d stepped into an Italian villa. The menu was prix fixe during Restaurant Week, so we could choose one appetizer, one entrée and one dessert. As the appetizers were being served, the group started to relax and raved about every exquisite bite. The highlight was when the entrées arrived. A parade of waiters appeared, carrying dishes topped with sterling silver lids that were gently placed in front of each one of us. Every lid was lifted simultaneously to reveal an artfully decorated culinary creation.
Suddenly, everyone was a food critic with nothing to criticize. The ladies who had been struggling with their initial wine decisions now wanted a wine that would pair perfectly with the entrée. Servers continuously refilled water glasses and answered questions about the menu. We even learned that each member on staff rotates jobs weekly, so the waiters we enjoyed that day were the chefs the previous week and would serve as the hosts the following week.
Most of us ordered the pork chops. The group decided that generally, pork chops were a blander meat choice – so they wanted to see what the CIA could do with it. Needless to say, no one had any trouble completely cleaning their plates!
I immediately made reservations for the next month for the French restaurant known as The Bocuse.
The hosts at The Bocuse welcomed us graciously. A maintenance man was helpful enough to escort a few of the residents with walkers through a back entrance of the building to an elevator that opened at the restaurant’s entrance. We were again given the private room. This restaurant had a modern feel with contemporary furniture, empty walls, lots of stainless steel and a giant glass wine rack that took up an entire wall. The menu was `a la carte and we were surrounded yet again with extremely patient, knowledgeable waiters. We had a copy of the menu in the bus on the drive up so everyone had an idea of what they thought they wanted. However, once the menu was in front of them at the table, everything changed. Black truffle soup, torchon of foie gras, and butter-poached lobster were just a few of the tantalizing appetizers to choose from.
The group decided to try things they had never had before. The black truffle soup was a popular pick and was served in a puff pastry. It had a deep, earthy taste. In typical CIA style, every bite was full of flavor and almost beyond description. Braised rabbit and rack of lamb were favorite choices for entrées, but the pièce de résistance was when our waiter came out with a hand mixer and something smoking. He proceeded to hand-make his own special ice cream for the whole table, using only cream and the smoking liquid nitrogen! It was sweet, creamy and delicious. Everyone left happy, full, and unable to decide whether they liked this restaurant or the Italian restaurant better.
For our last culinary stop, rather than a private room, we reserved two tables in the main part of the third restaurant: American Bounty. As the name implies, this restaurant features an abundance of regional dishes that are locally sourced, with a focus on seasonal foods and signature Hudson Valley ingredients. With an `a la carte menu again, most of the group selected one appetizer, entrée and dessert. Residents were having a great time discussing menu options and the differences among all three restaurants on our CIA culinary tour. Here, the ambience was unremarkable but comfortable. As always, the staff was superb. Some residents ordered embellished salads that resembled sculptures; they were reluctant to even dig in! The wild mushroom soup was spectacular, as was every entrée ordered, including pan-seared farm chicken, farm duck and sea scallops. Desserts included strawberry Napoleon, lemon tart and even fried chicken ice cream! This was deemed by our group of critics the best of the three, though the decision was difficult. The next plan of action is to do it all over again.
As we were driving back to Atria on the Hudson, I looked around the bus and noticed almost everyone sleeping off their lunch. Just in time because, as we pulled in, residents would have to scramble to nab their favorite tables for dinner!