Casing Out the CIA

Who knew a visit to the CIA would be so delicious.

Not the site in Langley. This is the Culinary Institute of America, with three main restaurants and multiple other eateries – plus a brewery.

These restaurants are all within a less than two-hour drive of the Capital District. They may require reservations weeks in advance, but the food and experience are well worth the wait.

Located in Hyde Park, NY, the campus sits on a picturesque spot along the Hudson River and – especially after filling up at one of the eateries – a little walk through the campus may not be a bad idea.

This Hyde Park location is the primary campus of the CIA, which also has facilities located in California, Texas and Singapore.

The restaurant options at Hyde Park include: American Bounty Restaurant, with seasonal dishes that focus on food in the Hudson Valley; The Bocuse Restaurant, a classic yet contemporary French restaurant; and Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici & Al Forno Trattoria, an authentic Italian restaurant. Each of these restaurants require reservations, which can be made here.

If you make a spontaneous trip down and do not have reservations, there is the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe, The Brewery, and multiple other food options located in a student commons building known as The Egg (due to a large Egg sculpture in front of the modern edifice that overlooks the river and has patio seating where you can see nearby cliffs and mountains as well as various water craft making their way along the Hudson River.

The main restaurants are all student-staffed with student chefs in the kitchen and students serving you as hosts and as the waitstaff. Because of this, the restaurants are only open when the school is in session.

Here’s a rundown of what to expect at several of the eateries – if you manage to score a reservation in advance…

The Bocuse Restaurant:

Emerging from the parking garage and walking through the picturesque gardens – where it’s not unusual to find people taking wedding photos or holding other events – you enter the large building in front of you and are directed by signage and student personnel to the left. You go through a large glass door and are ushered into the sleek and chic restaurant.

My dining companion and I went to this restaurant for lunch and were pleasantly surprised to find that the dining area was not as busy as we were expecting. We were seated in a booth with comfortable, soft accent pillows and within eye sight of the kitchen, which is located behind a clear glass wall.

This was our first visit to the CIA and it did not disappoint. The host was friendly and the serving staff were attentive. We ordered multiple appetizers, our entrees, and saved room (somehow) for a French cheese plate for dessert. Our experience also included table-side drink service with specialty cocktails.

Lunch drew a more mature crowd, but there was at least one family in the room while we were there.

Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici & Al Forno Trattoria:

The beautiful Mediterranean-style edifice stands out on the campus. You’ll pass it on your right before you park. Coming out of the parking garage, enjoy the landscaped garden on the roof of the garage and then backtrack a bit by heading down some stairs to the restaurant itself.

The entrance of the restaurant has those oversized wine bottles you often see in Italian restaurants, old photos of students from past years, and an area to buy olive oil that is made in Italy and served with the meals.

It’s a romantically-lit space with a high ceiling and beautifully-colored glass chandeliers. There was a diverse spectrum of people there when we arrived – including large groups of friends, a bachelorette party, a few tables with young families, and several couples on dates.

My dining companion and I came on a special Pasta Night, which featured a fixed menu of a green salad, an antipasto, five authentic pasta dishes, and a bread pudding for dessert. We also ordered a bottle of wine for the table.

American Bounty Restaurant:

This restaurant I have not personally visited (yet), but it is located in the same main building as the French restaurant.

It is described on the CIA website thusly: “With a focus on the seasons and products of the Hudson Valley, contemporary and traditional regional dishes are brought to life at the American Bounty Restaurant in an honest and flavorful way. Rounded out with a first-class American wine list and comfortable warm service, this casually elegant restaurant sets the stage for an unparalleled dining experience in the New York’s Hudson Valley.”

If you go:

From the Albany area, there are a few ways to get down to the CIA: there’s the Taconic which is a beautiful and toll-free option on a nice day (though, given the amount of deer, the Taconic isn’t a very fun route at night or during inclement weather), there’s the leisurely Route 9 which goes right by campus, and there’s the reliable thruway.

Once you get onto campus, follow the signs to the restaurants and park in one of the two restaurant free parking areas located in a garage located under a beautifully manicured park in front of the main restaurant buildings.

Plan to spend well over $100, including drinks and the percentage that is automatically taken out and is like a tip but goes directly back to the educational programs. It’s not every day that you can try this quality cuisine and specially curated drinks.

The hours for each restaurant and eateries at The Egg vary.

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