It’s lunchtime on campus, and it’s time to weigh your dining options. Sure you could grab a burrito or a quick slice of pizza, maybe even salad if the mood strikes, but what about a gourmet three-course meal at a five star restaurant?
Tucked away on the fourth floor of Burk Hall is the Vista Room, a student-run fine dining establishment that serves up gourmet California cuisine for $15 or less and, yes, it is open to the public.
Bright, clean and surprisingly refined, stepping inside the Vista Room feels more like walking into a hotel restaurant than walking into a classroom.
Simple, elegant décor and soft ambient music coupled with walls of windows offering broad views of the campus below all lend to the feeling of being transported from Burk Hall to a polished downtown restaurant.
“It is a hidden gem,” said Janet Sim, department chair of hospitality and tourism management and overseer of the Vista Room. “A lot of people in our community don’t know about it, even though it’s here on campus.”
The Vista Room is more than just your run of the mill fancy restaurant; it’s the laboratory portion of an actual class.
The class, titled Management of Quantity Food Purchasing and Production, is part of the curriculum in both the hospitality and tourism management, and the dietetics and food management departments. Students receive two credits for the lecture portion of the class and one credit for the laboratory portion of the class by working in the restaurant.
Sim founded the Vista Room, a collaborative effort between the hospitality and dietetics departments, more than 10 years ago.
“We needed hands-on laboratory experience,” Sim said. “Food service is very different, you really need to practice it before you go out to the industry.”
Students are directly responsible for almost every aspect of operation in the Vista Room, right down to bussing tables and washing dishes. Chef Dan Honan, who has supervised food production in the Vista Room since 1998, is the only full-time paid staff member.
Yan Fei Ng, a hospitality management student and the dining room manager, explained that although the restaurant is trying to bridge the gap between education and a real-life dining experience, your money might be better spent here than at one of the city’s many comparable eateries.
“A lot of times, students show more passion,” Ng said. “At an actual restaurant where the staff already has a lot of experience they might just go through the motions. Here, you can actually see the students working hard to be better at what they do.”
The restaurant is made possible by approximately $500,000 in donated equipment from more than 20 companies and although it has generated plenty of buzz within its own department, it often remains unrecognized by the rest of the community.
Since many students seem to be unaware of the Vista Room’s presence on campus, administrators and faculty are the regular guests. However, Sim and her student restaurant staff hope for a bigger student turnout in the coming semesters.
“It’s good food, a good price and good service,” said senior Agnieszka Madej-Kobernus, a server at the restaurant. “There are so many restaurants here, but they’re all fast food. This is much more like going out to have lunch with your friends.”
The restaurant serves appetizers, entrees and desserts with your choice of beverage. Menus change weekly and the Vista Room does require reservations, which can be made in advance over the phone at (415) 405-3530. The restaurant is open Monday through Friday, from 11:45 am to 12:30 pm.