The oven roasted lamb chops (bottom) and eggplant parm tower (right) served at the Vista Room, SF State’s only on-campus fine dining experience. Photo by Martin Bustamante
Double doors open to reveal a large dining room where each table is set with a glass of red roses. The decor is a bit outdated, with its white walls, black marble columns and long turquoise curtains. Yet the room still has a feel of sophistication. Soothing sounds of violins and cellos play in the background as two hosts kindly greet a group of eaters and walk them to their table. A sweet and savory aroma of freshly baked bread greets one’s nose at the door.
On the fourth floor of Burk Hall lies the Vista Room, SF State’s most elegant hidden gem. The fine dining restaurant, managed by hospitality students, offers a weekly three-course menu and unlimited drinks for just $17.
The Vista Room was started two decades ago by former Hospitality Department Chair, Janet Sim, as a hands-on lab for hospitality students in food service. Each meal is prepped and served by students under the supervision of its new chef, Shelly Rapaport. The menu features three meals (appetizer, entree, dessert) with menus changing every week.
Unlike a traditional fine dining establishment, the Vista Room exudes a nice casual ambiance despite its polished setting. There’s no defined dress code so you won’t feel out of place in jeans and a T-shirt. Most of their diners are casually dressed students or faculty in business attire.
Service: The service is excellent, and the staff is incredibly friendly and attentive. Many seem to anticipate your every need before asking, refilling your water every two minutes or constantly checking up on you. Yet none were ever intrusive or annoying. The tables were bussed quickly, but entrees took awhile to arrive. The taste, however, made up for the delay.
Appetizers: Diners are welcomed with a variety of bread rolls. My group and I started our lunch with golden-brown Parmesan bread. The texture was light and flaky, and had the perfect blend of Parmesan cheese.
Appetizers included your choice of soup or salad. I opted for the corn chowder soup with bacon bits and potatoes. It was garnished with corn fritters – deep fried cakes made of corn. As soon I took the first bite, I was in heaven. I immediately wondered how I went twenty-two years without ever eating corn fritters. They tasted like fluffy pancakes. The soup was rich, creamy and had a thick consistency. It had this summery, sweet corn taste that worked well with the bacon, which gave off a subtle smokey flavor.
Entrees: I’ll be honest, I started planning my return right after I took a bite of the oven roasted lamb chops. The meat was cooked perfectly as it was soft, tender and juicy. It was served over a bed of couscous in a red wine reduction sauce. The sauce brought out this sweet and tangy flavor. My companions, on the other hand, enjoyed the eggplant Parmesan and the seasonal catch (petral sole) over polenta with asparagus.
Dessert: The lemon meringue pie was more like a lemon meringue bite as they were baked in tiny pie shells. These were difficult to eat because the crust was too hard. The lemon custard filling was silky and rich, while the meringue topping was fluffy and sweet. It was unfortunate because the crust would have brought the whole dessert together.
The verdict: With its great service and gourmet meals, the Vista Room is the place to eat. The portions are just right and you get more than what you pay for. I mean, where else can you get a delicious three-course meal on a college student budget?
Vista Room, Burk Hall 1600 Holloway Ave, 4th Floor, San Francisco