This is a blog entry that's been in my back pocket for a few months, and will finally to see the light of day. The man friend and I went to New York for his sister's baby shower and I proposed on the way up that we stop at the Mecca of cooking schools, the Culinary Institute of America. After all, I only think of this, foie gras, and some painters when I think of the Hudson River Valley.
Life magazine has called it the "Harvard of haute cuisine," but I viewed it as the life I could have had if I hadn't viewed an English major as my ticket to professional success and had $120,000 to burn. I looked at each building, bush, and vista of the Hudson River with longing, wondering what sort of brilliant culinary thoughts would have passed through my brain had I not instead attended a school that valorised football much more highly than the noble French sauces.
When we arrived, we went straightaway to the Bocuse Restaurant, named after a famous chef from Lyon, France whom I've mentioned before in a similar reverie-type-state. He's a legend and the restaurant commemorating him was the only logical choice at a school that celebrates paragons of cuisine. So, imagine the depths of my despair and consternation when we were told it was too late for lunch service and to try another restaurant on the campus; the staff called over to another on-campus restaurant and put our name on their list.
The man friend, who adeptly handled these terrible news, and I (who reeled just a tad) wandered over to the Ristorante Caterina De' Medici, an Italian restaurant heavily sponsored by Colavita. While we waited for our table we toured the school's beautiful campus, bearing the news of our slightly sidetracked lunch well. We wandered the herb garden, soaking in the beautiful and impressive view of the Hudson River just below us, and admired the esteemed patronage of the school, which included the Marriotts, the Hiltons, and of course, Colavita Olive Oil.
When we returned to the restaurant, we were told it would take a while yet to get a table, so we decided we wouldn't mind sitting at the bar. While our two spots were being prepared, we waited at a charming indoor patio table and sipped wine that the kind waiters brought to us before we fully settled in. We had the impression that students here were graded on their hospitality at ever turn, as we felt very welcome and more than just amateur food critics.
When seated, we sat directly in front of the wood-fired stove, perused the menu and listened to the experienced chefs--all of 20-something years old--banter and discuss their food experiments. When the waitress arrived, the man friend, in an unprecedented blog feat, surprised me greatly and almost inspired tears: after we couldn't narrow down our choice of appetizers, he told the waitress we'd take them all. "When else will we be back here?" he asked, logically. Never, probably; it was magical.
I wish I had written this up when it actually occurred--back in September--to give a faithful rendering of everything we saw and ate; there will be some egregious detail-missing. But alas, the story must be told. We started with a sort of tomato soup with chunks of bread. It was thick--a robust broth and chunky tomatoes--and almost like a spaghetti sauce rich with fresh tomatoes and basil. Setting it apart though, it was delightfully chewy with the hunks of bread that hadn't fully soaked in the beautiful sauce.
Appetizer number two--of six, remember--was a light bruschetta. The bread was grilled and we began to realize that logistically and spatially, we might face some challenges. (Notice we have the benefit of the raised freeway equivalent of plates.)
Dish three was burrata, a pretty challenging plate to tackle on its own, let alone, again, with three more plates coming down the pike. It was fresh and lovely with a side of fresh tomato and so simple.
Dish four--the favorite, I recall, of the man friend--was eggs in "purgatorio." A roasted tomato sauce was covered in a sunny side up egg and Parmesan cheese. Exquisite and so gooey with sinful yolk. I think it was full of stewed leeks too.
Dishes five and six are an odd color pairing but worked, one better than the other. On the left, two types of melon with prosciutto. For some reason when I was little and drew with my crayons down to their poor nubs, I loved the color combination of pink, green, and yellow (orange, whatever). The manifestation of my childhood color preferences was made better with crushed pistachios. The crepes worked.. less well. I believe they were mushroom, but were too chewy.
After six--you saw all of them--appetizers, we still miraculously had room for lunch. The man friend had proposed a pizza, a deliciously thin, crusty, sausage one that was baked right before our eyes in the wood-fired stove. We make pretty solid progress on that unsuspecting pizza, knocking out whatever remained of the rest of our meal while we were at it.
With the espressos came little nibbling cookies, exquisite little lemon and almond things; three types in total. Since it was the end of the lunch service, our waitress offered to let us take home some extras, which we delivered to the man friends' parents. They, among others, were kind enough to listen to our gushing tales of this delicious meal.