At the 1982 opening of the American Bounty Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), James Beard, the man who lays greatest claim to legitimizing American gourmet cuisine, said: “Whatever furthers the feeling of what we have, what we grew up with and what we hope to have is very precious, very dear to my heart.” This larger-than-life endorsement indicated that Beard believed that the restaurant, by exposing diners to topnotch American tastes and techniques, could help prove that Americans had kitchen moves as smooth – and a cuisine every bit as valid and versatile – as the French. It was a pioneering idea.
The American Bounty celebrates its 30th anniversary this year: three decades of green, mean American haute cuisine, composed of the best ingredients from the Hudson Valley and beyond, prepared and served by student chefs who continue its legacy. A toast is certainly in order. Make lunch or dinner reservations, come visit the Hyde Park campus and order a glass of Kingston-born American Bounty Anniversary Ale: a celebratory beer introduced last week that’s available for a limited time only.
Anniversary Ale is a pitch-black blend from brewmaster Tommy Keegan of Keegan Ales in Midtown Kingston, conceived in conjunction with CIA staff. Like the cuisine that it was designed to complement, this brew is all-American, made with Cascade hops from the Yakima Valley in Washington State and American Ale yeast, and aged three months in whiskey barrels from a Hudson Valley distillery.
Anniversaries past have been commemorated by special wines from New York and California winemakers, said CIA Beverage Operations manager Noelle Guagliardo. “This time, we wanted to try something different,” said Guagliardo. “We went up to Kingston and [Tommy Keegan] shared his beers with us. There were a lot of glasses on the bar – a little bit of this, a little bit of that – to make our own blend.” The final draught is a combination of Keegan Ales’ Old Capital, a yeasty golden ale, and Mother’s Milk, a dark and thick stout. The mix is then barrel-aged to bring out the bourbonesque notes of vanilla and oak. It’s “deceivingly dark,” but drinks like a crisp ale, with hints of coffee and oatmeal.
To imbue the brew with a complex finish, Keegan performed a temperature-controlled aging process, moving the barrels back and forth from the brewery floor to the refrigerator, similarly to how bourbon is aged. Out in the warm brewery air, the barrels expand, bringing forth the whiskey traces trapped in their oak fibers. In the refrigerators, barrels act like sponges, absorbing the liquid within to further infuse the beer with an oaken flavor. This do-si-do action imparts a whole new dimension to the final flavor, resulting in a beer that’s wholly unique and dangerously drinkable.
“I was hoping to keep another keg on tap for myself at the bar,” said Tommy Keegan. “It doesn’t drink as dark as it looks: It’s light, crisp, oaky. It’s still heavy enough to hold its own against strong flavors, but it’s also light enough to be able to drink out on a deck under a setting sun.”
It pairs pleasingly with American Bounty’s Slowly Simmered Beef Short Ribs ($26) with soft polenta, sun-dried tomatoes and mascarpone; and House-Smoked Hudson Valley Duck ($28) with curried onions, spinach and mango chutney. It would be just as refreshing along with the Restaurant’s special 30th anniversary dinner entrée: Dry-Aged Strip Loin ($29) with risotto cake, bleu cheese and wild mushroom ragout. For lunch ($16 to $20 per entrée), you can’t go wrong with the short ribs or crispy duck leg, of course; and I’d like it with pan-smoked chicken breast and grilled smoked pork tenderloin alike.
Whatever your choice of pairing, make sure to make a reservation soon: Over four cases of Anniversary Ale were sold in the week after its debut, out of 72 cases total (24 bottles per case).
The American Bounty Restaurant is located at 1946 Campus Drive in Hyde Park. This student-run restaurant is overseen by maître d’ instructors Heather Kolakowski ’02 and Courtnay Kasin, and chef/instructors Robert Mullooly ’93 and Theodore Roe ’91. It is open year-round, in accordance with the CIA academic calendar (with breaks for holidays and a brief summer vacation). Hours of service are Tuesday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for lunch and 6 to 8:30 p.m. for dinner. For reservations or questions, e-mail [email protected] or call (845) 471-6608. Read more about local cuisine and learn about new restaurants on Ulster Publishing’s www.dinehudsonvalley.com.