August 14, 2009

Escoffier - A satisfying French dinner at the Culinary Institute of America

EscoffierChoosing among several student run restaurants, we decided on Escoffier which has been the recipient of 3 stars from the New York Times serving up classic French cuisine.

It was a tough choice - with us almost heading over to American Bounty which serves Hudson Valley regional cuisine (next time!)

Side note - one thing I would definitely suggest for anyone stopping by the CIA is to make a grab a quick bite or even just take a look at the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe which sports some of the most innovative desserts I've ever seen.

Take a look at the menu - specialties include the "A glass of cake and a slice of milk" - A glass of our signature chocolate XS cake with a slice of milk micro-genoise.  A nice twist on a classic, right?

Anyhow - back to our dinner at Escoffier.  After passing by the "Jones Farm Cafeteria" - the place where the students get their meals, I was a little nervous to say the least.

It seems as though the culinary students were making burgers and fries, sausage heros, spaghetti and meatballs - basically everything I would describe as standard diner fare.  So there goes the myth that if you are a culinary student you must eat well everyday!  As far as I could tell their daily food was pretty much the same as any other university across the country...

The restaurants however are where the students get to practice their more advanced culinary skills.  Everything that comes out of the kitchen is cooked and prepared by the students - so one tip - don't go at the beginning of the year/semester.

We were lucky - we ate only a couple days before graduation, ensuring that our meal was pretty much executed flawlessly.  I've heard that the experience can be somewhat inconsistent depending on what time of the year you visit...

The ambiance is a bit dreary to be honest - very stuffy, very French, very old.  But I guess what do you expect from a school?

Even though it may have been an ill-advised decision - I went with the "Julia Child" prix-fixe.  $35 bucks got me a salad with a granny apple vinaigrette, beef bourguignon (I guess I don't have to make it now!) and an apple tartin. 

My boyfriend went with the sea scallops au gratin and the duck cassoulet.

apple salad
The salad was nice and crisp with the apples providing a really nice tangy sweet touch.  It was a perfect light way to start an otherwise heavy meal.

The scallops on the other hand were quite heavy due to the celery gratin.

sea scallops au gratin
While the gratin was deliciously buttery, the sea scallops themselves were actually quite devoid of taste and could have used a lot more seasoning. 

Onto the beef bourguignon.  The best part of the dish was definitely the rich sauce.

beef bourguignon
Much discussed in Julie & Julia, beef bourguignon is one of the most classic of French dishes.

However, beyond the wonderful thick sauce which I found perfect for mopping up with some nice bread, the beef itself is often cooked rather tough.

Maybe that is the style, but the stew ends up tasting not that different from canned beef stew!

On the bright side, the pearl onions, potatoes and carrots were cooked perfectly soft and sweet.

duck cassoulet
The duck cassoulet was definitely the highlight of the meal.  Carved tableside, the duck was perfectly cooked, fatty, buttery delicious.

Served over northern white beans stewed soft and accompanied by crisp pieces of fried duck fat and duck sausage, this dish was a delight from start to finish.

And clearly we weren't the only ones who thought so.  Out of the 6 people in our room, 3 people ordered it!

apple tartin
Finally, the apple tartin was just about perfect.  Mostly apples, not what I like to term "pie goo," the tartin was crisp on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside.  A wonderful way to end the meal.

All in all, I'd say Escoffier is worth it if you are already making a trip to the Hudson Valley.

But probably not a destination in itself if you are coming up from NYC where there are so many other delicious options for French food.

EscoffierCulinary Institute of America
1946 Campus Drive
Hyde Park, NY 12538

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