Allen Pierleoni

Counter Culture: Epicure restaurant is just one attraction at Sacramento State

Thinly sliced herbed pork loin and provolone at Epicure restaurant on the Sac State campus
Thinly sliced herbed pork loin and provolone at Epicure restaurant on the Sac State campus apierleoni@sacbee.com

Unless you’re among Sacramento State’s alumni or you attend classes or work there, you may not give the 360-acre campus much thought. That would be a mistake, as this town within a city is a destination for concerts, art exhibits, theater, sporting events and lecture series, as I was recently reminded.

For instance, the play “Darkside” (conjoined to Pink Floyd’s classic “The Dark Side of the Moon”) is being staged through March 13 as part of the University’s Arts Experience program. Plus, historian, writer (“The Great Sioux Nation”) and feminist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz will appear Wednesday, March 9. (For upcoming events, www.calendar.csus.edu, 916-278-4323)

Not only all that, but the well-shaded campus is a scenic walkabout and a chance to connect with the energy that crowds of younger people bring to an academic-social setting.

I was mulling this over with former Bee staff writer Dixie Reid, now with the university’s public affairs office, sitting at a window seat inside Epicure, the most formal restaurant on campus. President Robert S. Nelsen dines there “a few times a month,” according to his office. His go-to is gnocchi.

We were looking out the windows, watching the nonstop river of students flow past (there are nearly 30,000), when Dixie casually announced, “Here comes the condom cart.”

Whhhaaat? Yep, a guy walked past pushing a cart full of giveaway condoms (“Safer sex supplies”), which we agreed is quite a progressive and win-win program.

On-campus eateries necessarily cater to students’ on-the-run lifestyles. Sacramento State has its share, including Gyro 2 Go, Mother India Express, Saigon Bay Express and coffee-snacks kiosks galore.

On the other hand, the open-to-the-public Epicure is a place to pause with cloth napkins and cordial table service. The room is comfy, and an inviting-looking outdoor patio just opened (but could temporarily close, weather pending). Epicure’s menu is straightforward but somewhat intriguing – salads, soups, sandwiches (roast beef and fontina, salmon burger), “Center Plates” (fish ’n’ chips with latticed house-made potato chips instead of clunky fries), desserts and daily specials (the menu is a bargain at $2.50 to $11).

A master’s thesis-size carafe of freshly brewed iced tea arrived with the soups – chicken tortilla and broccoli-cheddar, both hot and tasty. Next up was an excellent shaved apple salad in the form of fresh “spring mix” greens, sliced apple, green grapes, toasted pecans and goat cheese, splashed with toasted honey-mint vinaigrette, a new one on me. We also munched on a basket of very good sweet potato fries with distinctly flavored Kalamata olive aioli.

Though the flavorful fowl was a bit dry in Epicure’s version of chicken parmigiana, it and the dark, crispy breading teamed well with the sweet tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese that topped it. But wait a second, … what were roasted fingerling and Yukon gold potatoes doing on the same plate instead of a mound of spaghetti? Later, chef Michael Wright explained he wanted to “add some sweetness and texture, and lighten up the overall plate.”

Two specials were next (available through March 18). Plump, firm shrimp prepared scampi-style were intertwined with fettucine instead of traditional linguine. The dish looked great, but the ingredients failed to consolidate. The sauce was oily, garlic-anemic and needed lemon tang.

A grilled roll from the Sacramento Baking Co. was stacked with thinly sliced herb-roasted pork loin, melted provolone cheese, sweet roasted red bell pepper and rapini (aka broccoli rabe). The greens were so bitter they threatened to destroy an otherwise terrific sandwich, so we removed them.

A seasonal fruit crisp with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce sounded tempting, but we saved it for next time.

Lastly, an essay question: Why is Coca-Cola banned from campus in favor of Pepsi and its way-too-sweet siblings Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew and Sierra Mist? Does that contradict the notion of Sac State as an equal-opportunity university? You have 30 minutes ...

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe

Epicure

Where: In the University Union on the Sacramento State campus, 6000 J St., Sacramento

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; additional hours 5-7:30 p.m.. Mondays and Wednesdays during a $6 million renovation of the Dining Commons, expected to be completed in August. Epicure is semester-sensitive and open when students and faculty are on campus. It will close March 21-27, reopen until May 25, close for the summer and reopen in the fall.

Food:  1/2

Ambiance:  1/2

How much: $-$$

Information: 916-375-1499, www.dining.csus.edu

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