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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

Gourmet Mediterranean tastes meet City College dining room

The Channels Food Pages | STAFF REVIEW
A raspberry mille feuille with vanilla cream and strawberries, served with raspberry coulis sauce on Thursday, Feb. 23, in the John Dunn Gourmet Dining Room at City College.

Not usually one for fancy dining, I’d go for a Costco pizza any day, so having a meal in the John Dunn Gourmet Dining Room made me feel out of place.

I already felt intimidated by the four forks on my table as I walked in on Thursday evening on Feb. 23. My server Andrea Duarte, a second-year culinary arts student, informed me that each fork was for each entree of the meal I was about to experience. Music by Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole set an easy ambience.

The room’s earthen colors reminded me of a California desert on a warm evening, with eggshell-blue walls, chocolate-brown napkins, beige leather seats and branches of barren trees peeking over the divider.

That evening featured a menu prepared by culinary arts student Sharene Treffinger as part of the course CA 204, “Advanced Restaurant and Culinary.” Treffinger’s menu, titled “Taste of the Mediterranean,” consisted of four entrees and dessert.

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Slices of house-baked bread with a small plate of butter began the meal. The cup of Caribbean coffee that I was served tasted no less extraordinary than the Pacific Bold K-Cups I drink in The Channels newsroom every day. Starting off the meal with these simple staples helped ground me to my roots of conventional cuisine, but the fancy dining was just about to start.

The first course was a serving of ratatouille topped with slices of sunchoke and served with toasted crostinis.

The ratatouille, a colorful assemblage of diced eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini and squash, was so yummy and easy to eat that even the pickiest eaters wouldn’t know they were eating vegetables. No wonder children in France are served this dish almost daily.

The crostinis were like thin, stretched-out slices of crunchy croutons. The sunchokes, which reminded me of country potatoes, were irresistible, and I popped them into my mouth one after another.

Each entity in this course was delicious, but I didn’t think the flavors mixed together to complete one dish.

The second course was an asparagus risotto served in a parmesan reggiano basket. On top lay two short asparagus stalks crossed like the palm trees at the In-N-Out drive thru.

The pungent cheese smell was immediately noticeable and the taste was intensely sharp even for small crumbs. The combination of white rice beans with asparagus was startlingly enjoyable that it hardly occurred to me that I was eating vegetables.

I liked that this was another easy dish to eat, even for picky eaters, though I don’t think the sharp parmesan and asparagus flavors complemented. Nonetheless, it was definitely a basket full of surprises.

The third course was a piece of seared grouper fish nestled on a bed of puree which tasted like whipped gravy, with hidden capers and Kalamata olives underneath. It looked like a fish laying eggs. The grouper was served with roasted cherry tomatoes and sliced artichoke hearts that looked like rosebuds.

The fish was seared well but would have been bland had it not been for the pairing with savory capers and olives.

The final course was a chanterelle mushroom cooked in Moroccan spices on a bed of roasted vegetable couscous. It was also served with a garlic eggplant puree and two yellow baby carrots from the horticulture garden.

The zesty spices tied all the ingredients together consistently and the familiar flavors reminded me of home-cooked dishes. There were also many warm summer hues of reds, oranges, yellows and greens splashed about the plate like a painting.

The flesh and juicy mushroom resembled meat and was even shaped like a piece of ham. The couscous packed a punch of flavors into my mouth and immediately I knew this course was my favorite dish of the evening. I would order the couscous every time.

Dessert was a napoleon with layers of raspberries and vanilla crème, topped with powdered sugar. A circle of raspberry sauce was drawn around the plate that reminded me of the Target circle.

The pastry layers were flaky and the cream was subtly sweet. The raspberries produced a slight tang as they squished inside my mouth. Though the dessert was simple, it was a nice way to end the meal after having had four courses of countless ingredients.

The flavor combinations of some dishes were confusing to me, but overall I appreciated how versatile the menu was, from substituting the lamb with the chanterelle to accommodate my vegetarian needs, to serving foods even the pickiest child would eat. Each course engaged all of my senses with eye-popping colors, pungent smells, chewy and crunchy textures and various flavors.

The courses stayed consistent with the menu’s Mediterranean theme with a taste of a different country in each dish. With the novelty and variety of the ingredients, it was clear Treffinger put a lot of thought into her menu.

The meal was a delicious change from my usual grub and I would definitely return to the Gourmet Dining Room.

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