Subdued classical music resonates in the background of the airy, oblique dining room. The walls, stark white, match the freshly pressed linens that line the tables, creating an almost blinding effect when illuminated by the midday light. Polished flatware, glinting wine glasses, and napkins, folded in the shape of a pyramid, adorn the dining tables, as do crystal salt and pepper shaker sets and small glass vases, filled with stringent scarlet carnations.
Propriety aside, the aesthetic value of the restaurant is redeemed by the stunning views, for which the establishment, Vista Room, is named. Perched on the fourth floor of Burk Hall, the eatery is SF State’s little-known fine dining oasis, which started in 1995. Situated on the Northeast corner of the building, floor-to-ceiling windows contour the L-shaped room, offering treetop views of the campus, set against the city’s hillsides.
Minty green drapes encase the bright, broad windows. The school’s Ethnic Studies and Psychology building faces Burk Hall on the North and the Cesar Chavez Student Center is visible to the East. In between, Thornton Hall rises from the quad’s lush foliage, just high enough to be able to see the College of Science and Engineering building’s rooftop observatory. In the distance, Sutro Tower soars above the city, resting atop the speckled hillside.
Faculty members, students, and neighborhood folks in the know, carry on with their respective lunches and conversations, using their best indoor voices. Waiters float across the dining room, clad in long-sleeve white button ups, black ties and pants, hands clasped behind their backs, when not carrying food or drinks.
Unlike other eateries on campus, Vista Room functions not only as a fine dining restaurant to the general public, but also as a laboratory for both Dietetic majors and Hospitality and Tourism Management majors at SF State.
“The experience of being servers, productions and assistant managers allow the students to be more considerate and understanding when they become managers,” he said.
The restaurant has the beneficial qualities of a symbiotic relationship: it is both a tool for students to learn the craft and a treat for diners to enjoy. “It’s an escape from your life,” Jessica Tomory, who has worked in Vista Room as a server to fulfill a segment III requirement, explains. “You don’t have to leave campus to feel like you’ve left campus,” she says.
Offering gourmet, California cuisine, prepared, served, and managed by students, eating at the Vista Room is not just a lunch- it is an experience, and a fairly inexpensive one at that.
For only fifteen dollars, diners are treated to selections from the three-course menu, which changes weekly, executed by students under the supervision of Executive Chef Daniel Honan, who has been with the Vista Room since 1998.
“For a college student to be able to have duck on their lunch menu and be able to afford it is an exceptional experience that most cannot typically afford,” Tomory, an SF State psychology major, says.
On her first visit to the Vista Room as a diner, she indulged in a radicchio, watercress and frisée salad with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. For her entrée, she ordered a meat trio consisting of grilled miniature veal tenderloin, roasted duck breast and a lamb chop (vegetarians are not to worry- at least one menu item is always meat-free). The plate was artfully decorated with a brandy and green peppercorn sauce, purple potato mushroom gratinee, and a baked mushroom-stuffed tomato. Desert was rounded out with a decadent milk chocolate mousse topped with a crunchy hazelnut crust and raspberries, again another dish that looked to good to eat- almost.
Each course is punctuated with at least one visit from the friendly wait staff, offering freshly baked rolls and beverages, while clearing the table of clutter before the next plate arrives. The fare is fresh, inventive, and oh-so-good.
A meal at the Vista Room is a complete dining experience. Between the alluring views, gourmet cuisine, and professional service, it is hard to pick a standout feature. Lunching at the restaurant transforms a typical afternoon meal into a moment in time, with the pressures of school temporarily out of mind. For students looking to escape the noisy, crowded campus, or foodies who want to test their palate, or both, Vista Room is definitely worth a look.
Vista Room, Burk Hall 401, SF State, Monday through Friday 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., by prepaid reservations only
To purchase tickets:
Hospitality and Tourism Management Department, Business 306, (415) 338-6087.
Consumer Family Studies/Dietetics Department, Burk Hall 329, (415) 405-3530