A couple weeks ago I took a trip to a place I haven’t been in sometime, a place that you wouldn’t think had any sort of formal connection to fine dining, this place is called Hyde Park, New York. I lived in Poughkeepsie from about 1998 to 2000 basically playing in a band and ruining my life. I still have some really good friends there, but when I was living on Academy St, attending hardcore shows at the Chance and writing some of the worst rap verses of my life, I was never really tipped off about the CIA right up the road in Hyde PARK. What is the CIA you ask? Why it’s the Culinary Institute of America and this place pumps out top-notch chefs. Think of it as the Hogwarts of cooking, because when you step inside, that’s what it feels like, but instead of everyone having a wand, they have a knife or spatula. The CIA houses a few restaurants on site and one off site, all with students preparing meals under the supervision of their professors. One of these restaurants is called Bocuse, and it is obviously French. I went around lunchtime and was pleasantly surprised and actually blown away by the meal I got. The following is a small passage taken from the “About” section of the Bocuse website…
French cuisine is ever evolving. For centuries chefs have taken classic preparations and advanced them to reflect the era in which they work. When it came time for The Culinary Institute of America to re-imagine its French restaurant, we got our inspiration from world-renowned French chef Paul Bocuse. Recognized as the father of modern French cuisine, Chef Bocuse is widely credited with introducing cuisine characterized by lighter, more delicate dishes that focus on quality and freshness with an increased emphasis on presentation. He was one of the first to emerge from behind the kitchen door, to bring the face and personality of the chef into the dining room for the public to see. Because of him, people started identifying restaurants with the culinary creations of particular chefs. Reflecting today’s contemporary sensibilities, the menu focuses on deep flavor, unique preparation, and enticing presentation. Service is casual yet elegant. Even tableside preparation is more modern. For example, you’ll marvel at the dramatic use of liquid nitrogen to create velvety, hand-churned ice cream. The Bocuse Restaurant provides a culinary journey through France.
As I walked into Bocuse it definitely did NOT feel like I was in any sort of learning setting or place of academia, this place was sleek and sexy. I sat down, perused the pre fixe menu, and settled in for one of the better meals I’ve had since the start of 2016, shall we
I started off light, feeling my way through the menu, because I knew I was going to go off, I stared with the fried goat cheese plate. This goat cheese was absolutely perfect, creamy, not rubbery like some goat cheeses can be. Served with a nice chunk of Kabocha squash, this was the perfect little dish to get my feet wet. Some may say, “Hey Benn, you don’t know whit about varietal heirloom squash, or squashes.” My reply would be, “Yeah motherfucker? I know I don’t!” So ill tell you this, the Kabocha squash is the one that looks like a green pumpkin, so there you go, in your face. Next was the foie. To foie or not to foie? Is it inhumane? Is there any good way to defend the production of foie gras? I don’t know, and I’m not going to tackle that debate here on my blog! All I know is that the tasty piece of foie I made sweet tongue love to was bigger and puffier than I am used to. Paired with a beautiful smaller (Parisian) gnocchi, this was perfect. To my fledgling understanding, Parisian gnocchi, or gnocchi à la Parisienne, is a smaller more pillowy version of the Italian mainstay. I might as well have smashed my head straight through this dish, breaking apart the table with it, and dying from blood loss, because it was that good, moving on. The star of the starters was the red prawn. These prawn were red, just like shrimp, but far bigger, and firmer and almost crisp. The flavor combinations that went on in this dish were absolutely insane. Crispy cured speck on top, Coca bean ragout on bottom with what appeared to be nectarine? This by far was my favorite dish of the whole meal and I wish I had two servings.
One awesome feature about Bocuse is the soundproof window in to the EXPANSIVE kitchen, which is sparking and pristine as you could possibly be. I sat right at the window, I even gave thumbs up to various students as they walked by, some acknowledging me, others ignoring, one even dabbing. Out came the entrees, first was the scallop dish. This dish was more of an art project than a meal; I almost didn’t want to break it with my fork. To my knowledge. mousseline is similar to hollandaise but you can add things to make it your own, and obviously less citrusy. These scallops were smaller but for this type of dish it was very fitting. All through the mousseline were small tasty specks of a pork crumble; this is when I asked for a spoon. This strip steak was top notch, rare inside, charred tasty outside and cut into triangles. There was a small cube of potato cake in the corner of this dish that was phenomenal and seasoned with something salty, but there was other things lurking on this plate that needed attention. Marrow encrusted endive. Belgian endive is a vegetable that in fine cuisine, I feel has gone the way of the dodo, and I am overjoyed to see it rear its pretty little nutritious head. This endive was crusted with bone marrow, fuck me right? Excellent idea chef! Now for the real kicker. Gruyere foam. When the dish came to the table I saw a mound of something I could have swore was whipped potatoes or something. This was not potatoes, it was cheese, and it is prepared by running it through the same canister you would whip cream, and it was cold, my mind was blown.
Nursing the healthy sweet tooth I have, and eating at a French restaurant, I knew two desserts were in my future when I walked in the building. First lets talk about the Pear Charlotte, beautiful presentation, even better taste. A nice circle of cheesecake and a good portion of pear compote dominated the dish. See those little orange balls? Those are hardened pieces of carrot foam, a perfect cleanser to this otherwise tangy dessert. My favorite was the next dessert, the gateaux. This was a very interesting dish. Rule of food critic thumb, sometimes when a pastry chef concentrates on looks and presentation, some taste is lost. This dessert was an exception to the rule. Panna cotta atop a chestnut and brandied cherry cake? Beautiful taste combination. Tangerine ice cream on the side was the clincher, but there were other pieces on this dish not mentioned. A yuzu or citrus gel, an apple jam, and a small purple, putty-like piece of candy I really would like to think was taro, probably not.
This meal was intense and awesome; the fact that it was prepared by students was mind-blowing. Everybody needs to step their game up because these kids are coming for your jobs. I hereby give Bocuse…
Join me next week when I travel to the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn NY to review Smith Street’s own Battersby.