“What do you mean he don’t eat no meat?…Oh, that’s okay. I make lamb”
Aunt Voula, My Big Fat Greek Wedding
I love being able to eat food from other countries. I always find it fascinating that each country has a kind of food that you relate to them. For example, food from Spain is paella or something to do with fish probably, Mexico is burritos and tacos, German tends to include sausage, Irish is usually cooked with Guinness and though those may or may not be true, that’s what we think of. What kind of food is AMERICAN? Well, from my experience in other countries, all they think we eat is burgers and French fries and over the summer that may be the case but that isn’t ALL we eat. I’d love to be able to eat my way around the world and see what kinds of food people actually eat in these countries instead of what we think. All that traveling would end up costing way too much money but luckily in the Casola Dining Room at Schenectady County Community College we have the ability to taste these foods for a fraction of the cost of airfare. The reason I’m calling this a Saturday Spot instead of posting it on Tuesdays as I do with most food places is because though I’m going to describe my meal and how delicious it was, they only do it for one week and it’s over. I want to open your eyes to not only the fact that this exists but also the quality of food they create in hopes that you too, will give it a try.
Each week the students in the culinary program at SCCC take on food from different countries and invite the public to eat it (Find the country schedule HERE). Each student has the opportunity to be in the kitchen and on the wait staff to perfect their skills in each place. In order to make a reservation, you have to call 518-381-1391 exactly two weeks to the day of when you plan on attending starting at 10:00AM. For example, if you wish to eat during the German week on a Thursday, call 2 weeks before on Thursday to make the reservation. I recommend calling at 10:00AM because the reservations fill up fast. If you end up missing it, just add your name to the wait list and then if anyone ends up cancelling you can have their reservation. Food is available for either lunch on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday at 12:00PM and 12:30PM for $16.00 (includes tax and surcharge) or dinner on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:00PM and 7:30PM for $22.00 (includes tax and surcharge). If you wish to bring your own bottle of wine, it’s allowed but there is a $5 corkage fee per bottle.
The first week of their travels was to Greece (For a list of menus for each of the locations, check out the menu HERE). Each meal comes with a type of bread for the table based on the location, an appetizer, dinner, dessert and drink per person. To start, I ordered the spanakopita which is a “savory Greek pastry stuffed with spinach, onions, ricotta, Romano and feta cheeses, scented with dill and mint and served with red pepper coulis and dill sauce.” For the table we were also given pita bread accompanied by hummus and baba ghanoush. I went with my mother and she ordered the Greek salad that was “a bed of mixed greens with tomatoes, feta cheese, cucumbers, tabbouleh, kalamata olives and anchovy fillets, topped with Greek salad dressing.” We figured that since we’re both curious about food from all these countries we would try not to order the same thing so we could taste two of the three options for each course. The spanakopita was delicious. I’m used to having it from the various Greek festivals that happen during the summer time and this was 100 times better than anything I’ve had there. The biggest difference was from the phyllo dough. In my experience, the spanakopita was mostly phyllo dough with a thin layer of spinach but this dough was so thin that it was just there to extenuate the focus of the course, in my opinion, the spinach and other innards. The dish was so delicious I didn’t notice the sauces and though I tasted them and liked them, the spanakopita was fine on its own.
For my main entree, I ordered the Shish Kebab which was “marinated lamb and vegetable skewers accompanied by Moroccan couscous (Salat Tangiers) moussaka, pita bread and tzatziki.” I don’t eat lamb very often but I figured- when in Rome, or at least when eating Greek I should go all out. I didn’t mind it, it was a little chewier than I would’ve liked but it was cooked perfectly or at least cooked to make it taste good. I’m not an expert on how lamb should be cooked but I liked it so it was perfect to me! The moussaka was the star of my plate, I really enjoyed it. For those of you not familiar, moussaka is an eggplant based dish almost like a casserole and it was delicious. I could have just eaten the moussaka and couscous with pita and been satisfied. I also really liked the tzatsiki. Most tzatsiki is made with sour cream because it’s cheaper when making it for large groups of people but it not custom to Greek culture. SCCC stayed true to the Greeks and made it with Greek yogurt which not only changes the flavor but also the texture and consistency- I preferred it this way and recommend giving it a try.
For dessert, it first seemed obvious to me to order the baklava. Baklava is not only one of my favorite Greek desserts but one of my favorite desserts as a whole. I debated this in my head and ended up figuring I’d try something new, not my best decision. I ended up ordering the poached figs and honey ice cream which was “poached figs in sweet red wine and served with a crisp sesame tuile and honey-vanilla ice cream”. I don’t say that this wasn’t my best decision because it wasn’t beautiful or because there was something wrong with it, I only say that because that was the day I realized I didn’t like figs. The honey ice cream was delicious as was the sweet wine sauce for the figs but I will not be adding figs to my list of favorite foods any time soon.
Luckily after the meal was over, we went to Pane E Dolci (Open Tuesday-Friday 11:00AM-2:30PM) which is right outside of the dining room where after each meal they sell the various baked goods from your meal. They had samples of the baklava and yes, I should have went with what I knew I already liked but at least I did get a taste. After Irish week, the bread we received for the table was Irish Soda Bread and after lunch I was able to purchase a whole loaf for $4.00. If you aren’t able to get a reservation for the meal, you’re still able to purchase some of the products to take home any way.
On top of these meals each week, the Casola Dining Room also offers various special events (listed HERE) such as a few Italian buffets for $20 all-inclusive, a gluten-free buffet and Latin buffets. If you’ve never been to one of these meals, take a look at the schedule and see if one of your favorite countries is coming up. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I have and let me know which week you’re going.