Prior to embarking on the journey from Poughkeepsie to home for winter break, I was granted a luxury not often afforded to Vassar students. I faithlessly abandoned Deece dinner for a meal at the Culinary Institute of America, affectionately referred to as the CIA. Shout out to my grandparents for 1. volunteering to drive me home for the holidays and 2. getting reservations for the CIA’s French restaurant, Bocuse, months beforehand. While dining at the CIA is surely not something that can happen on a regular basis, for a well-planned splurge night, it really isn’t as expensive as you’d expect for excellent service and top-notch culinary fare. I opted for the prix fixe menu which consisted of a gourmet appetizer, equally edible entrée, and dessert, all for $45.

The Bread

For most restaurants, the free bread your server gives you to tide you over before your actual food arrives doesn’t merit a passing remark. The CIA is exceptional in many ways, and their bread is just one of them. We were offered a choice between a hard roll and hearty slice of sourdough. The sourdough balanced salty and sour flavors impeccably, leaving not a trace of overt tang. The crust of the roll had the perfect texture to yield a deeply satisfying, crackling sound as I broke in to spread the butter that I now consider the example that all other butters should try to follow.

cheese, wine
Lindsey Sample
Lindsey Sample

The Appetizer 

Fortunately, I didn’t have too much time to carbo-load before my first course and beverage arrived. Billed as an appetizer, I was floored by the ample serving, but any concern about losing my appetite quickly evaporated as I took a bite.

I don’t know if Bocuse considers its "Gnocchi Parisian and braised veal cheeks served with a mélange of mushrooms, braised kale, parsnip butternut squash espuma, and chips" a specialty, but as someone who had the joy of experiencing it, I think they definitely should. The tenderness and richness of flavor of the veal in the savory sauce made it difficult to determine where the meat ended and the other ingredients of the dish began.

The composition of the gnocchi sat comfortably in that ideal place between doughy and tough. At first glance, the wide variety of textures could be considered incompatible, but upon inspection (aka chowing down) the combination was nothing less than enthralling. 

squash, salad
Lindsey Sample

The Drink

The drink I ordered, a fennel apple spritzer, was equally impressive. The smooth mixture of seltzer, apple cider, and fennel was more refreshing than I anticipated. There was no sting or lingering acidity that comes with many other ciders. The touch of fennel that remained in the nose just after a sip was subtle and satisfying. 

coffee, cream, sweet, cake, chocolate
Lindsey Sample

The Entrée

You’d think at this point in the meal, I’d be content. That’s the same impression I was under until my waiter materialized with my entrée, lamb loin with a pita crust, that I’d all but forgotten about. The presentation was obviously carefully constructed: vegetables were piled delicately atop curried couscous and medallions of rare meat.

The flavor contributed by the Ras El Hanout jus, a light, gravy-like sauce infused with a blend of Moroccan spices, was strong; however, when paired with the slightly gamey taste of the lamb and a drizzle of yogurt-cardamon sauce, it didn't overwhelm the palate. 

beef, sauce, lamb
Lindsey Sample

The Dessert

The last stop on the evening's culinary journey was certainly a grand finale. Normally when presented with the dessert menu at a restaurant I politely decline and regret that particular decision the whole way home. However, when it's already built into the price of the meal and was likely to be the best thing I'd eat for months, there was no way I was gonna say no.

Picking from that dessert menu was the most difficult decision I'd made in quite a while. All of the gourmet choices were bound to be mindblowingly great, so I opted for novelty: the seasonal option of eggnog ice cream.

Encased by a a thin, white chocolate shell and served with blood orange sorbet, it encapsulated everything I could want from an ice cream at a fancy restaurant: homemade, unique flavor, creamy texture, and a presentation that involved both fire AND service on a stick. I'd never been more glad that I saved room for dessert. 

chocolate, raspberry, cake
Lindsey Sample

Ultimately, my dinner at the Culinary Institute of America was well worth the cost and I would definitely do it again if by some miracle I come up with the funds. If you (or some kindly, wealthier, older relative) can foot the bill, I'd highly recommend planning a jaunt, well in advance, to the CIA.