Counter Culture: Give this college cafe an A

10/23/2013 5:20 PM

10/23/2013 11:32 AM

“I sent my English teacher a love letter and she corrected it,” quipped Rodney “I Get No Respect” Dangerfield in “Back to School.” The 1986 comedy is about a successful but uneducated businessman who goes to college and learns some life lessons.

Our own campus experience last week fortunately didn’t devolve into a remake of that classic. Instead, we found ourselves politely sampling a serious all-you-care-to-eat smorgasbord of from-scratch dishes at the bargain price of $9.50 per person. It was in the open-to-the-public, professionally run, user-friendly dining hall on the campus of William Jessup University, a Christian school in Rocklin with liberal arts and sciences included in its curriculum. Student population: 1,100.

The Crossroads Cafe is managed by the Palo Alto-based Bon Appetit Management Co., which maintains 500 cafes at corporations and universities in 32 states ( www.bamco.com). Among its clients are Google in Sunnyvale and Oracle in Redwood City. The cafe’s main clientele is students and faculty, of course, but about 20 percent of the diners are nonstudents, said a university spokesman. Which is a surprisingly low number, given the quality and value of what’s being served. Obviously it’s one of those “best-kept-secret” situations.

The half-dozen students we chatted with had nothing but praise for their cafe, and with good reason. We think it’s as good or better than many of the traditional restaurants visited by this lunch-oriented column. Consider this typical dish: roasted chayote squash tossed with pineapple, red onion, cotija cheese and olive oil. And this one: torta panino with grilled veggies or shredded steak, cabbage, salsa, avocado, pinto beans, jack cheese, ancho chile and spiced Yukon gold fries.

“Everything is prepared on site, we change the menu daily and we have a farm-to-fork program (sourcing produce and protein within 150 miles),” said executive chef Davin Klippel, who came over from the Google campus a year ago and oversees a staff of 32 (some of whom are part-time). “We use sustainable ingredients that celebrate each season, and don’t go crazy with so many of them (in a recipe) that they camouflage the flavors of the dishes.”

Lunch pal Bruce Parks and I were impressed by the display, flavors and variety of the from-scratch spread. “I’ve decided to go back to school,” joked Parks, who once ran Tarts & Truffles bakery-cafe and two online bakeries with his wife, Judy Parks. “This is almost shocking.”

Offered is a buffet-style feast of food and drink, most of it served at stations throughout the spacious, high-ceilinged dining room. The long sandwich-and-salad bar features ham, turkey, roast beef and cheeses; a trio of soups (including the unusual chicken marsala); luscious roasted vegetables and chicken salad; and a cornucopia of fresh vegetables and fruits, vibrant with colors and waiting for splashes of five really good salad dressings.

We also loaded our table with plates of bone-in chicken thighs, legs and breasts roasted in lemons and herbs, served with chewy rice pilaf and garlicky sautéed chard with potato. We ladled tangy citrus-based sauce over the chicken and rice, prompting Parks to channel comedian Dangerfield: “This sauce is so good I want a cup and a straw.”

Oh, and we added a tasty hamburger and multiple slices of house-made pizza – one topped with sun-dried tomato and artichoke, the other with bacon and scallions.

We stopped short of sampling tostada bowls of spiced ground turkey and black beans with numerous condiments, but did go for dessert – chocolate and vanilla soft-serve ice creams, and freshly baked chocolate chip-studded chocolate cookies.

A look at the lunch menus for other days of the week include herb-crusted loin roast, mesquite-smoked St. Louis pork ribs, a mac ’n’ cheese bar (bacon is involved) and stir-fried steak with veggies, noodles and hoisin sauce.

One more thing: In early November, the cafe will introduce a special discount program to the public. Load $30 on to a meal card and get one free meal, plus 15 percent off all card purchases. Cards will be available at the cafe. High grades all around.

Tahoe food fest Nov. 9-10

Harrah’s and Harveys resort-casinos at Stateline at Lake Tahoe have had plenty of practice throwing parties. This time around they’re prepping the fourth annual South Lake Tahoe Food and Wine Festival, Nov. 9-10, a weekend of sipping and tasting for foodies and the culinarily curious.

Look for food-and-wine pairings, special dinners, cooking and winemaking demonstrations, cocktail-making lessons and seminars.

Saturday will be packed with highlights, with the Grand Market as the centerpiece. The Harveys convention center will fill with tasting stations serving the best dishes from the chain’s four-star restaurants. Plus, beverage stations will serve top-shelf spirits and Napa Valley wines, as entertainment continues in the background.

This year’s celebrity chef will be Robert Irvine, start of the Food Network’s “Dinner: Impossible,” “Restaurant: Impossible” and “Worst Cooks in America.” Irvine will host two events on Saturday: “Chef in the Kitchen,” a three-course dinner; and “Chef on Stage,” a presentation in the South Shore Room.

On Sunday, he will orchestrate the “Ultimate Tailgate” party, featuring barbecue, brew and blues.

For more information and to buy tickets: www.ltfoodandwine.com, www.ticketmaster.com (or 800-745-3000) or the Harrah’s and Harveys box offices.

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