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Eating School

October 10, 2011

Many thanks to Wendalicious for reminding me last week that SCCC’s Casola Dining Room is open and ready for its close up.

Actually, by now it’s been open a full week. And since you have to reserve your table at 10 a.m. on the dot, two weeks ahead of your desired dining date, we’ve effectively already missed three weeks of the ten-week season. Sorry about that. Still, seven weeks is better than missing out on it entirely, right?

What is this thing that I’m talking about? And why is it so hard to get a reservation?

SCCC is the Schenectady County Community College. This place is special for a few reasons. One, they have a culinary school. Two, Chef Christopher Tanner teaches there. Three, chef Tanner teaches a course on curing and smoking meats, and the results are available for sale.

Oh, and they also have a small dining room that is open to the public a limited number of days and weeks over the course of the year. Did I mention that this dining room may just be the best restaurant value in the region?

Part of what makes it a great value is the $3 corkage fee for each bottle of wine. Dinner is a three-course prix fixe of only $22, which includes tax and surcharge. There are some challenging restrictions. Parties are limited to a maximum of six people. And dinner is only served on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Plus, there are only two seatings each night, seven and seven-thirty.

What makes it fun is the students. They work the front and the back of the house, and some of them are incredibly earnest. Others are completely clueless. But most are trying. And honestly, given the overall level of food in the region, I’d rather have reasonably priced amateurish food by students who are really trying than overpriced poorly executed food by professional chefs.

At the end of the night you can give them constructive criticism on the comment cards.

Plus in the past I’ve enjoyed creating wine pairings for each course of the menu, which includes a choice of three appetizers, three entrées and three desserts. 

What is tricky is that SCCC has created separate documents for their dining schedule and their menus. Each week is themed, and you can download the calendar here. But if you want to see the menus, you’ll need to click here.

That’s awful.

So here’s what I’ve done for your convenience: I’ve highlighted the dishes I think look best for each week, to give you a better sense of the menu. These are the things I would order, say, if one of my readers were to have an extra spot at their table and invited me to join them for dinner.

When you look at these, remember that dinner is only $22.

October 24 features the food of Texas
Call 10 am on October 10 for Monday reservations

Appetizer – Texas Style Beef Chili:  a thick meaty beef stew seasoned with cumin and chilies served with crispy tortilla strips
Entrée – Shrimp and Grits: Texas Gulf Shrimp sautéed with andouille sausage and bell peppers served with creamy grits and asparagus with tomatillos
Dessert – Tres Leches: a light sponge soaked with a trio of milks, this Latin American favorite has crossed the border

October 31 features the food of the Mid-Atlantic
Call 10 am on October 17 for Monday reservations

Appetizer – Maryland Style Crab Cake: classic sautéed Maryland-style crab cake served with green tomato chutney and vinegar slaw
Entrée – Pan-Fried Soft-Shell Crabs: Soft-shell crabs coated with crab house spices and pan-fried served with vinegar slaw and German-American potato salad garnished with tartar sauce
Dessert – Rice Pudding: creamy rice pudding studded with raisins and dusted with cinnamon served with crème anglaise and a tuille cookie

November 7 features the food of the Pacific Northwest
Call 10 am on October 24 for Monday reservations

Appetizer – Lentil Salad: A blended salad of buttery lentils, mushrooms, bell peppers tossed with a mustard vinaigrette served on a bed of field greens, garnished with a curry lentil cracker
Entrée – Grilled Boneless Duck Breast: served with fig sauce accompanied by Brussels sprouts in hazelnut butter, mashed potato and wheat berry cakes
Dessert – Apple Diamonds: Puff pastry diamonds filled with pastry cream and Washington state apples topped with a rich buttery caramel sauce

November 14 features the food of the Southwest
Call 10 am on October 31 for Monday reservations

Appetizer – Pork Tamale: a savory mixture of pork, chili, cheese in a ground corn “masa” dough wrapped in a corn husk and topped with salsa cruda and sour cream
Entrée – Pecan Crusted Trout: sautéed pecan-coated trout served with pinon cakes and quelites (sautéed mustard greens) garnished with mango salsa
Dessert – Prickly Pear Cactus Sorbet: this magenta colored ice is served with a crispy tuille “straw”

November 21 is the same as above, but closed for dinner on Wednesday
Call 10 am on November 7 for Monday reservations

November 28 features the food of the Midwest
Call 10 am on November 14 for Monday reservations

Appetizer – State Fair Corndog: flavorful pork and beef hot dogs handmade by our Garde Manger students, coated with a cornmeal batter and deep-fried until golden brown accompanied by in-house prepared ketchup and mustard
Entrée – Milwaukee-Grilled Chicken Brats: accompanied by in-house made sauerkraut and red, white, and blue potato salad
Dessert – Michigan Cherry Turnovers: tart cherries baked in a flaky puff pastry served with a dried cherry and chocolate chunk ice cream

December 5 features the food of New England
Call 10 am on November 21 for Monday reservations

Appetizer – Lobster Salad Roll: tender pieces of lobster meat, tossed with tarragon mayonnaise, cucumber and scallions, served with Bibb lettuce on a grilled New England style hot dog roll accompanied by house made potato chips and a dill pickle spear
Entrée – Carpet-Bagger Steak: sirloin stuffed with fresh-shucked oysters, mushrooms, cheese, and herbs grilled and accompanied by mashed potatoes and sautéed green beans
Dessert – Boston Cream Pie: a light butter cake filled with rich pastry cream and a chocolate glazed topping

Wendalicious also mentioned something about the Casola Dining now being on Open Table, and that is very exciting news. I’m going to have to check my calendar for availability. But perhaps as the phone lines are generally jammed at 10am and all available seatings are gone soon thereafter, this internet thing might actually be a reasonably effective way to snag a ressie.

I hope to make it back there this semester. But if I can’t, I do hope that some of you adventurous souls brave it out and come back with your tales of eating school.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 10, 2011 11:18 pm

    I’ve been told not to despair…there are usually last-minute cancellations that you can snap up if you call the day before, or just hop on Open Table.

    Thanks for the mentions .

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