I first heard about the culinary program at Schenectady County Community College a few years ago, which was interesting, but what really got my attention was that they also run a restaurant in the Casola Dining Room that is open to the public. All of the food and service is done by the students, under supervision of the faculty. Everything is made on site – breads, pastries, entrees, appetizers – and you can peek behind the scenes from one of the hallways leading to the dining room to see the action in the kitchen.
Spaces fill up fast, and in previous years the only way to snag a reservation was by phoning, at 10am sharp, exactly two weeks before your preferred time. While that system is still in place, they’ve also added the option of reserving online via Open Table. Thanks to local bloggers Daniel B. and Wendalicious who gave the inside scoop on menus and Open Table, we were able to score reservations to not just one, but two delicious lunches during their spring International semester.
The kids and I went for the first time for the menu featuring the cuisine of Spain and Portugal, and we were wowed. My husband was able to come along with us for the second visit, a Tuscan theme. The food was delicious and very well presented both times, and the kids especially got a kick out of the formal service. I realized that they mostly eat out at casual joints that hand your fork back to you for all the courses, so I was happy to give the rundown on which utensil was for what course. Hopefully the lessons will stick, and they’ll avoid any potential Beverly-Hillbillies-type gaffes during future family travel and fine dining adventures.
Of all the entrees, my favorite so far was the seafood stew, cacciucco. My companions on Tuscany day got the stuffed pork loin and the chicken diavolo. Both were perfectly done – juicy, full of flavor, and every component was just right.
The desserts were also really good – my lemon ricotta tart was perfect, the pastry and the filling were exactly right and so delicious! My husband is a chocoholic, but he’s discriminating – he loved his dessert choice of flourless chocolate espresso tart, and my son inhaled his tiramisu seconds after I managed to snap a picture.
The deal is for $16 per person for lunch, $22 for dinner, you get a choice of appetizer, entree and dessert from a menu that offers three choices in each category. The menu is the same for both services. Coffee or tea is included, and some sodas are available for an extra fee. There is no wine served, but you are welcome to bring your own and enjoy it for a $3 corkage fee. Tax and service are included in the price, no tipping is allowed. Which can make you feel a bit weird, but just roll with it.
For bonus fun, there’s a student run bakery and boucherie with limited hours on site as well. We were able to score a super strawberry pie and one of the last packages of cajun boudin on our last visit. The Casola dining room and the bakery accept credit cards, but the boucherie is cash only.
For all the details, check it out online: Casola Dining Room at Schenectady Community College.