SCCC’s Casola Dining Room
Schenectady County Community College has a culinary program. Part of the students’ culinary training is running a dining room. Some of the students are in the back of the house cooking and such, while others take over the front of the house as wait staff and such. I first heard about this on Steve Barnes’ Table Hopping blog. It sounded like a great way to experience a 3-course meal, and on the cheap.
They serve lunch and dinner. Lunch is $16 and has two seating times – 12 pm and 12:30 pm. Dinner is $22 and also has two seating times – 7 pm and 7:30 pm. The prices include everything – no tip required. If you’d like to bring wine, it is $3 per bottle corkage. The meals are held in the Casola Dining Room, as you can see above. Here are the menus and scheduled dates for the menus.
The dining room is quite posh, so I can see why reservations need to be made 2 weeks in advance, and shortly after the 10 am time they start taking reservations. I scored a reservation for six people: Albany John, Bro, Margarita, Benny, Panda, and Me.
The hardest part of the night was finding SCCC. The Google was not working in our favor. For those of you not familiar with Schenectady, once you take exit 4C, take a left on State (at the light), and then you’ll see a turn-in sign for SCCC shortly afterward. SCCC itself was well lit, and had signs clearly showing where Elston Hall was (the building the Casola Dining Room is in).
The place settings were beautiful. Not a smudge on any of the silverware or glasses. The water glasses had some ice and lemon in them when we were seated. Even the menu books are beautiful.
We went to eat the Puerto Rican dinner night. It was basically the only menu I saw and thought, “I want to try every single dish on this menu”. Trust me, you’ll see what I’m talking about in a few moments. Since we were a group of six, we ordered everything off of the menu and got to try a little bit of everything. Hooray!
Also included with dinner are drinks. I got a refreshing sparkling water, Albany John got coffee, Benny got tea, Panda got diet coke, Bro got iced tea (unsweetened), and Margarita stuck with water.
Albany John and Panda began their meals with Sanchoco. It is a stew with yucca, yam, cassava, plantains, corn, beef short ribs, and ham. I couldn’t differentiate the individual starches, but they really made for a creamy stew. This was a very generous amount, and I think I need to learn how to make it. It would be wonderful as a main dish during the colder times of the year.
Bro and I got the Ensalada de Pulpo. Grilled octopus salad – chilled octopus, diced tomato, onion slices, romaine lettuce, light olive oil-vinegar dressing, some lemon. It also says garlic, but I didn’t taste much of it. Again, a generous portion. I wasn’t expecting so much. The octopus bits were chopped up and overcooked. They were chewy and under seasoned. I think a little more salt while cooking and lemon to finish would have really punched up the flavor of the octopus. I didn’t taste anything that would make me think the octopus was grilled, though. It could have just been boiled for all I know.
If you can’t tell, the lighting is very nice, but a little low. The pictures are grainy because I don’t like to use flash when I’m dining out.
Benny and Margarita ordered La Raiz del Taro Fragmenta con Bacalao una Salsa de Ali-oli. These were taro fritters; and cold salt cod mixed with avocado, olive oil, and lemon. The salt cod is what looks like mashed potatoes in the background. These were the first dishes to come out, and at first I was thinking “Oh, that’s it? So tiny.”
We all got some bites of the salt cod stuff. I preferred Margarita’s to Benny’s oddly enough. I didn’t think there would be much of a difference. Hers was a little more creamy and well blended, while his was watery and chunky in comparison. Margarita loved the ali-oli sauce that was slathered over her fritter. She said it was “Just so creamy and good!”.
I picked up some wine, and for the appetizers, we all had a glass of Marques de Riscal 2006 Tempranillo (red wine). I picked it up at Empire Wine for $5.95. It was delicious! A little on the sweet side, and I think it went well with the heavy appetizers.
Dinner time! I should also mention that I loved the service. Our server had a pleasant attitude. And she kept pouring me more vino and playfully teased me about it. What can I say? I’m a lush. The dinner bottle of wine was just some Beringer white zin. I was the only one that really enjoyed it; everyone else thought it was too sweet. But that’s okay – it just meant there were leftovers to take home (they let you take home leftover wine!).
I was the only person who ordered the fish dish – El pargo de cacerola-quemo con Salsa de Criollo. I practiced for days trying to say it, but I just ended up ordering “The snapper dish”. I guess just listening to Pitbull doesn’t qualify me as a native Spanish speaker, eh? At any rate, this was a hefty fillet of red snapper topped with avocado slices and tangerine bits. There was a creamy pumpkin fritter on the side, as well as smoky rice and beans.
The fish was absolutely delicious. I didn’t even need any extra salt! It was very moist and well seared. Smoky goodness. Yum. I made sure to give everyone a bite. I even enjoyed the avocado and tangerines. I usually don’t like citrus with my fish, but this was only a little bit at the center of the fish, so it changed it up and made it interesting so as not to be monotonous.
Bro and Margarita ordered the Pollo Asado Rellano con Mofongo. These were little game hens that had been stuffed with mofongo (mashed plantains) and split in half. They also came with the smoky rice and beans. We’re thinking there was some sausage in the rice and peas to add the smokiness.
They both had some difficulty eating the little bird. Despite that, Margarita generously gave me a bite. It was juicy and moist. They both agreed that the skin was also delightfully crisp. Margarita also gave me some of her mofongo because she knows how to share. *coughcoughBROcoughcough* Kidding. The mofongo was deliciously creamy, garlicky, and salty. Oh, I am so trying to make this dish again.
Albany John, Benny, and Panda all ordered Pernil de Cerdo en Salsa de Tamarindo. This was a rich grilled pork loin slathered with tamarind sauce, and served with a roasted tomato and rice and peas. Rich barely describes the pork loin – it was juicy, deliciously fatty, and wonderfully porky. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a better pork dish when out in a restaurant. Most places cook it too much. There were about three slices.
Albany John loves tamarind, and he absolutely loved the sweet and tangy tamarind sauce. Panda and Benny thought it was a little sweet, and I have to agree with them. I thought it was a bit syrupy and sickly-sweet. But then again I don’t normally like sweet-and-sour sauce combinations, and I really, really dislike tamarind. Albany John practically licked his plate clean. I just preferred the pork in its pure porky form.
For dessert Bro, Albany John, and I ordered the Mango Sorbet, which also came with two coconut meringues. The sorbet was a little melted, but so delicious – it was like pure mango puree. The coconut meringues were light as air – the outsides were perfectly crunchy, crisp, and perfectly white. The insides were fluffy and a touch moist, but not too chewy, with just enough coconut flavor. Just delightful. The green stuff is mint, which went nicely with the cookies. Albany John thought the mango sorbet and coconut cookies went well together. I didn’t find them as complimentary, but they were both highly enjoyable on their own.
Panda and Margarita ordered the Chocolate Tres Leches. I snagged a bit of Margaritas. It was a very moist and milky sponge cake. They both enjoyed it. I enjoyed the moisture – it didn’t make the cake crumbly or mushy. It was topped with more chocolate.
Benny ordered the absolutely beautiful Banana Torte. Two layers of creamy cakey goodness. I’m not a banana fan, but I had myself second-guessing my dessert over this one. It was so moist and creamy. I’d barely call it a cake. It was both rich and ephemeral. I liked the caramel decoration. Benny was more “What am I supposed to do with this?” and when we told him to eat it, he looked at us all funny. Bro helped him out with that one.
The bread was irresistible! It had a delightful chew and we could not get enough of it. They make it there at the school, too! Bro and Benny found half a loaf left in a basket as we were leaving and ate it walking out. I suppose it was a fitting way to end since Bro and Albany John both grabbed a loaf out of the basket and started tearing away at the beginning. As in, loaf completely out of the basket. Yipes. Okay, thanks for overlooking our terrible table manners, SCCC. Margarita and I will have to work on these boys some more.
Overall, I cannot recommend this experience enough. It was such a delightful evening for all of us and the service was spectacular. They accept credit cards. We all just brought cash. With the bill, our table also got a service review paper to fill out to evaluate the night. Needless to say, we relayed how great of a time we had. In all honesty we kept forgetting we were in a school – it was just like being out for dinner.