ESCOFFIER RESTAURANT (CIA)
Address: 1946 Campus Drive, Hyde Park, NY 12538
After taking my cooking class at the Culinary Institute of America in the morning, my family and I had decided to try out one of the CIA’s restaurants, since the Hyde Park location is about 2 hours away from home, and there probably weren’t many occasions where we would journey all the way up there. We placed a reservation at the Escoffier back when I registered for the cooking class, to ensure that we would be able to be seated. Since my cooking class ended right around 2:30 p.m., we hung around the area until 6:00 p.m. when the restaurant opened for service. Things were going pretty well when we got seated at our table, but not long after things started to go downhill.
We had two people that would attend to our table for the duration of the evening: one of them responsible for serving us drinks, changing out our utensils, and serving us bread (Person A), and the other person was our waiter. It was noted almost immediately when our waiter never introduced himself to us when he came to our table; he just stood there and started to tell us the drink specials for the night. The lack of introduction already started to make things kind of awkward. After we had placed our order, our waiter left without taking our menus, so we gave them to another waiter to take back to the front. Not long after that, some waiters brought out an amuse-bouche of a whitefish ceviche for everyone at the table to open up our palates before the courses started.
After placing our order with our waiter, Person A was responsible with the utensil adjustment based on what we had ordered. It became quickly apparent that he had messed up the placements, since my mom ended up with a steak knife even though she ordered cod, and I got left out of a steak knife when I had ordered a beef tenderloin. After realizing, he then took away all the utensils and started the placements over again. However, it was during this time that our appetizers came out from the kitchen, and all of us were served food without having utensils on the table, which is certainly frowned upon from a service standpoint.
For my first course, I ordered the “Charlotte d’Asperges, Chevre au Fines Herbes” (Asparagus and Goat Cheese Charlotte), which I found to be quite delicious and extremely nicely presented (take a look in the gallery above). The asparagus was well-cooked to retain that slight crunch and the goat cheese had a great consistency, contrasting the flavor of the asparagus really well. My dad also remarked that his cream of mushroom soup was also very delicious and had consistent flavor throughout.
The second course I went with the Filet de Boeuf (Beef Tenderloin), which was accompanied by a potato purée, sautéed mushrooms, glazed carrots, and a confit shallot. The tenderloin was cooked well, having a good flavor and staying moist. The tarragon sauce that got poured on the top also made for a very nice pairing. I also got to try some of my mom’s pan-roasted mustard crusted cod, and I have to say that I was really surprised at how good it was. The mustard flavor only came in at the very end and didn’t overpower you when you first eat a piece of the fish.
After the first two courses, we were surprised when some of the waiters came back to our table and started to place entrées in front of us again. You could imagine our confusion since some of the other waiters had just finished removing our plates from our second course. However, the error was quickly rectified and they went over to the proper table to deliver the food. Our waiter came back after that to take our dessert orders (upon which he forgot to take away our menus again). Both my brother and I went with a caramelized apple tart paired with vanilla ice cream, while my parents were splitting an order of bananas foster. When our waiter rolled out a cart to prepare the bananas foster tableside, I was impressed and excited to see the demo. However, when it became apparent that he didn’t seem to know what he was doing, the maître d’instructor stepped in to show him how to do the demo. When I tried my apple tart, the apple was really good, but the tart was extremely tough to cut and chew, which made it rather difficult to enjoy an otherwise pleasant dessert.
Now, I understand that restaurants at the CIA (such as the Escoffier) are staffed primarily by the students entering into their final term before matriculating from the institute. However, I hold a pretty high standard for a restaurant such as this one, from both what I have heard as well as the fact that it is at the CIA. I think that everyone in my family agreed that the quality of the food was very good; the bottom line is, however, that the front of the house really fell flat on this one. A number of mistakes that occurred throughout our meal just added up to heavily detract from the overall experience.
I have the utmost respect for both the CIA and the programs, and still hold them in very high regard (especially after such a positive experience this morning taking a cooking class). I was just disheartened that the experience at the restaurant didn’t really come close to matching my expectations.
Here are my rankings for Escoffier:
Food: 4 / 5
The main courses coming out of the kitchen were executed well and full of flavor. The only exceptions would probably be the tough tart, the bananas foster, and some borderline-stale bread.
Atmosphere: 3 / 5
The décor of the restaurant is absolutely stunning, really giving you a welcoming feel to it. However, that overhanging sense of awkwardness by our waiter not introducing himself and continued mistakes during service detracted from the experience.
Service: 2 / 5
From sit-down to exit, the meal took a total of about two hours, which is a little on the lengthy side. Those small mistakes that the waiters were making also detracted from the professionalism of the restaurant, especially in a fine dining establishment such as this.
Price: 3 / 5
The price for the food leans on the high-end side, something to be anticipated for a fine dining restaurant. However, the level of service that we received and overall atmosphere didn’t help to justify the cost spent on the meal. Next time, I would rather take that same amount of money and try one of the higher-end dining establishments in New York City.
Overall: 12 / 20 (60%)