Sunday, November 22, 2009

McConnell Bistro

I found out about McConnell Bistro, the dining at Pitzer College, after reading David Allen's review. To be honest I was surprised that "dorm" food could be gourmet. But further research revealed that the chef at McConnell Bistro was a sous chef at a few 4-5 star restaurants in New York City and all the food in the dining hall is made from scratch, the chef works for the Bon Appetit, a food's services company. So Pitzer College has contracted out their dining services. They made a great choice.

McConnell Bistro is on the campus of Pitzer College, which is part of the Claremont Colleges. McConnell is No. 9, on 9th Street on this Pitzer College Map. Since McConnell Bistro is a college dining hall they are catering to the students needs and hours. So I doubt they are going to be open much during summer and around school holidays. Take a look at McConnell Bistro hours to make sure they fit into your plans. But the public is welcomed to enjoy the great food. Just don't expect a lot of non students when you go. Though I do wish they would stay open for dinner a bit longer on weekends.

The menu at changes daily but usually Sundays are steak night!!! Again the public is welcomed to enjoy dinner, cost is $8!!! Yes, for only $8, you got an all you can eat meal, made from scratch by a well trained chef and his staff. This is the best deal you will see!!!

The Bistro is set up with a greens station; fresh salad, cold cuts, and cheeses.

A sweets station, cookies, pies, cakes, and brownies.

Options area, which was had Mexican items, the night I went. I heard this changes daily. Monday night is Mongolian BBQ, and Tuesday night is Taco Tuesday, where they make their own tortillas, and Friday nights are vegetarian night.

Market Grill has made to order burgers, chicken sandwiches, onion rings, hot dogs, chicken tenders, grilled cheese sandwiches, bratwurst, and quesadillas.

Main Plate which is your entrees and sides.

Steamed broccoli and onion rings. The broccoli was in the Main Plate area. The broccoli was cooked a bit too crispy for me but was well seasoned and fresh. The onion rings were very good!! There was a hint of root beer in the batter. Crispy and with thick cut pieces of onions. My only issue with the onion rings were they were only warm. The onion rings right out of the fryer, would be the best onion rings anywhere!!!

I got a burger and a chicken sandwich from the Market Grill. You fill out the slip of paper with what kind of sandwich or burger you want. Then check the toppings you want. You can then either wait for your sandwich or come back for your sandwich. The chicken sandwich was made of fresh chicken breast. I asked for cheese, lettuce, tomato and special sauce which is a thousand island style sauce. The sandwich was very tasty. A bit small but I understand why they make it small, since this is an all you can eat dining hall, most people aren't only going to eat a sandwich.

The burger with bacon, cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato was cooked to about medium rare, fresh and tasted great; juice, good flavor. There are condiments on the tables if you want to add ketchup, mustard etc.

Now onto the Main Plate. The main entree was steak, mushrooms, and mac and cheese. But there was also freshly made gourmet pizza. The steak, I think a sirloin cut, select grade, was flavorful, tender, and cooked just right, medium rare. The steak was seasoned with garlic and ginger. This is very well made steak.

The mushrooms was a perfect side to the steak. Fresh, full of flavor, in a light sauce, more than likely the au jus of the steak.

The mac and cheese was so creamy and rich. This isn't from some damn box. The cheese sauce was perfectly mixed into the perfectly cooked macaroni. Topped with bread crumbs, this is a winning combo.

A treat for me was the gourmet ice machine!!! The had two flavors, lime and mango. The lime was just OK. Nothing special. But the mango flavor was great. A ton of mango flavor, nice and refreshing even when it is 55 degrees outside. I also love the fact that they server Coke, not third rate cola.

I loved the oatmeal raisin cookie. Lots of raisins, cinnamon, not too sweet.

Service is good. The lady taking my money was nice and friendly. She answered all my questions. The staff at Options, Main Plate, and Market Grill were quick and helpful. The food is always hot and fresh and once the food runs out, it is quickly refilled. Since there are a lot of students the food has a high turnover rate, always a plus at a buffet.

But as I was taking pictures one staff member came up to me and asked if I needed any help. I know it is weird to have somebody taking pictures but I don't see why he is asking. I wasn't bothering anybody. He wasn't a jerk about it. But still, why bother?

Of course it maybe a bit uncomfortable eating dinner with a bunch of snotty rich kids but I have no reason to talk to them. And they are so into their own world, they won't even notice somebody who isn't part of their small world.

My memories of dorm food is mashed potatoes made from a box, mystery meat burgers and entrees. It is nice to see that some schools now care about the food they are serving their students. Students, ok their parents, who are paying a good amount of money for that food. Who knows maybe all the whining about terrible dorm food, back then got school's to improve the dorm food offerings.

I would have no issues going back to McConnell Bistro again. Well one issue is parking. There are a lot of parking for students and faculty but not much for visitors. I parked on College Blvd and 9th Street and walked to McConnell. 9th Street doesn't continue east from College Blvd. Again, I understand parking is set up for students but they could have a little more parking for visitors.

But the food is great and you can't beat the price. Don't worry about sitting with a bunch of snotty rich kids. Ok, ok I'm being a bit hard on those kids. Seriously though, give McConnell Bistro a try. You will change your mind about "dorm" food, after your first bite.

Update Dec 6, 2009

I went back to McConnell Bistro on a Friday night dinner, $8, for their vegetarian night. I am not a vegetarian but I told a few friends about McConnell and they wanted to give McConnell a try. I was expecting nothing but veggies but they had a chicken item, pizza, egg rolls, and beef enchiladas and of course their Market Grill for chicken sandwiches and burgers.

The last time I went I didn't try their soup. But it has finally felt like winter and it was a bit colder than normal so I looked at what soups they offered. When I saw clam chowder I was all over it. DAMN, this was so good. The clam chowder was a lot thinner than I'm used to but it had so much flavor!!! Tons and tons of clams and very little potatoes. Such a rich hearty flavor and hit the spot on a cold night.

I also didn't try their salad bar so I made sure to give it a try. I got romaine lettuce topped with cucumbers, mushrooms and carrots with ranch dressing. All very fresh and tasty.

Next up was the cheese pizza and oh gratin potatoes. The pizza was covered with cheese and had a good flavor but I didn't care for the crust. If you combined the crust from Los Olivos at Cal Poly Pomona and the pizza sauce and toppings from McConnell you would have a damn good pizza.

The oh gratin potatoes were nice nicely mixed with a mild tasting cheese. The red potatoes were cut into big ovals and just covered with that cheese. Nice and relatively light.

Next up was the BBQ tofu and garlic asparagus. The tofu was pan fried then covered in BBQ sauce. The sauce would be great on ribs!!! The outside of the tofu had a tough texture and the inside was mushy. I didn't care for this.

The asparagus was great. They were crunchy, which some people may not like, but I do and had a good garlic flavor. A very healthy dish!!

Next I got the all beef hot dog with bacon. Now the hot dog wasn't good. It was overcooked, no snap, and pretty bland. But to give McConnell the benefit of the doubt, I did place my order with them and then went back to my seat and ate something else. So the hot dog may have been sitting there for a long time. I wanted to try as many things as possible so I didn't go back for another hot dog.

The egg rolls and chicken sandwich were up next. I got bacon, cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomatoes on the chicken sandwich. Perfectly grilled chicken breast, melted cheese, fresh toppings. A great chicken sandwich!! The egg rolls had cabbage, carrots and maybe some broccoli and were dry fried. Nice, crispy and huge!!!

The meat entree was a garlic chicken. I got the chicken breast and I found it to be dry. Nice flavor but I needed some gravy to moisten it up. I wouldn't go back for seconds on this chicken.

Since it was Friday the dining room was pretty empty; I didn't see as many snotty rich kids as I did on my first visit.

Service was pretty good. I know Friday dinners are tough to prepare for since kids leave campus or go out to eat. They don't want to cook too much food and let it go to waste. But the food was quickly refilled when the serving stations were empty. But that wasn't the case for forks and knives. I had to ask the lady who was refilling the salad bar that they were out of forks at both stations!!

I also was a bit put off by the cashier. The first time I went the cashier was very nice. The cashier on Friday was a bit standoffish. The weird thing was I gave her a $10 bill and she gave me back a dollar bill and four quarters in change. I saw her register and saw she had a lot of bills. Why she gave me four quarters is beyond me. At first when I saw her reaching for the quarters, I thought maybe the price went back to $8.50. But no the price was the same. So why did she give me quarters? Now this isn't a big deal or deal breaker but come on, you have a ton of dollar bills, no need to give me quarters.

Honestly if vegetarian night was my first dining experience at McConnell, I wouldn't have given a glowing review, like I did for steak night. I would say overall it was good but nothing great. The clam chowder and asparagus were the only two items that I thought was great. But nothing else totally wowed me like everything on steak night.

I wouldn't go back for dinner on Friday but have no problem returning for dinner on Sunday.