Pictured here is the entree Strip Loin of Beef, served at the fine dining service at Bates Technical College. Photo by Peter Haley/The News Tribune
Grilled sea scallops with a watercress lemon butter sauce, a chevre-stuffed artichoke with sorrel butter, and wild salmon noisettes with a ginger peach glaze. It all sounds super fussy — and that, it is.
But that's just fine with Bates Technical College culinary instructor Roger Knapp, who, with a team of second-year Bates culinary students, introduced the college's first fine dining service June 16 in a small dining room that flanks the Bates cafeteria. It's billed simply "The Dining Room" on the menu, which is full of lofty ingredients and dishes with flair.
Knapp has his eyes on culinary credibility: accreditation of the school's culinary arts program by the American Culinary Federation. The foodie stamp of approval from the ACF would boost Bates' desirability as a culinary training institution. A fine dining service, Knapp says, is one piece of achieving accreditation.
Knapp and fellow administrators at Bates are in the infancy stage of applying for the accreditation – a process that takes three or more years. Locally, South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia and Olympic College in Bremerton are two of the 11 ACF accredited postsecondary schools in Washington state.
The new fine dining service drops students into desperately needed real-world kitchen training – the kind of frenzied kitchen prepping and high-stress, on-demand plating assembly that Knapp wants his students to nail before they graduate.
Said Knapp, "It really gives the students a real experience of working in a restaurant. That's something we haven't done before." He said most students, by their second year of the culinary arts program, do find work in restaurants, at least on a part-time basis. He expects the fine dining service to add one more level of front-line training.
And it's an ambitious dining experience. The presentations are terrifically elaborate, and the experience impresses. The fumbles are small and excusable – a slightly overdressed salad, the vegetables in a soup not quite cooked beyond crunchy, scallops a little underdone, a server forgetting to offer dessert. It's early in their culinary game, and the menu is difficult by design.
Still, the students have even higher ambitions. "The students want to do a special of the day already," Knapp said. They already create a new soup every day, as well as different desserts. Next up: more menu tweaks and specials.
The Bates dining service is an affordable excursion for diners. Appetizers are in the $3 range, entrees are $7 to $8, and desserts run around $2-$3 - this is bargain eating, and good eating at that. Knapp said prices will hold steady. The average cost of a three-course meal is somewhere around $12-$15.
The large portions of some dishes kick lunch at Bates into tremendous bargain territory. A buttery soft artichoke heart ($3.95) is served as a base for a mountainous swirl of creamy chevre set atop a bright green saucy pool of sorrel butter. I longed for crusty bread on which to spread the creamy chevre and soak up the herby butter sauce. The appetizer was rich and filling and a supreme amount of cheese for two people to manage - although is there really such a thing as too much cheese?
Even if you don't like beets, the sweet red beets in the spring lettuce salad ($3.50) might just twist your beet avoidance into beet lust. The beets were tender and supple, the earthy flavor tempered with a sugary sweet glaze. Mixed greens were dressed with a roasted shallot vinaigrette that provided a sweet distraction from the bitter bite of the greens. My only complaint was a bit too much of the dressing, which pooled around the lettuce.
A chicken soup ($3.25) – that day's soup selection - was described by a server as a gumbo, but lacked a roux base that typically defines a gumbo soup. It was more of a spicy, smoky, brothy chicken soup – and a good one at that, save for vegetables with a little too much crunch.
Grilled scallops ($8.35) paired sweetly sumptuous against a puckery lemon watercress butter sauce. The presentation went vertical with a base of thickly sliced tomatoes, a layer of sautéed shiitake mushrooms, and three barely opaque plump scallops perched on top.
A sweet tart served as a dessert-like base for a large portion of strip loin beef ($8.95). The hearty strips, with just a bit of chew, were drizzled with a kicky, savory tomato-horseradish demi sauce and flanked with Duchess potatoes – creamy, garlicky potatoes mixed with egg and a bit of cheese. The dish proved a hearty lunch.
Heading to lunch at Bates? The room is small – it seats about 30 - and when word gets out, expect that reservations will be required to get a seat. Seatings are 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday through July 23, after which students will take a summer break. But they will return in September with more fine dining, and a new menu.
Bates Culinary Arts Fine Dining Service
Where: Bates Technical College, 1101 S. Yakima Ave., Cascade Room (across from the cafeteria)
When: 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday through July 23. The service closes for summer break through August, but will reopen in September after school starts.
Information: Reservations encouraged. Call 253-680-7247 or 253-680-7011.