Community college fine dining: Have you been to a Special Cuisines dinner yet?

Each spring semester, students in the Special Cuisines class put on a dinner series. Each Thursday night, the Hospitality Room back in the culinary area turns into a fine dining restaurant. A host greets you and takes you to your seat. Tickets sell so well, you’ll likely be paired with another dining couple or group so to make the most of the space. There will be a specialty drink to start followed by a small appetizer, soup, salad, an entree, and a dessert–all related to the night’s theme.

Hot jasmine tea in a French press
Hot jasmine tea in a French press

Yesterday’s dinner focused on the cuisine of Japan. It was only my second Special Cuisines dinner–I went to the Persia/Iran night last year–and the students did not disappoint.

When we were seated, a hot jasmine tea was steeping in a French press. Servers also poured guests pineapple sake.

The meal started with a small appetizer: tri-colored sashimi (from top: tuna, salmon, and hamachi), and two pieces of veggie sushi. The star was the sashimi–perfectly fresh and mild. (I’m always amazed that Fort Wayne, which is as landlocked as you can get, can get such incredible sashimi.)

The soup was a simple miso soup with water cress (which tastes nearly identical to a radish) and shiitaki mushroom, and the seaweed salad was topped with sesame vinaigrette and a grilled octopus tentacle. (If you’ve not eaten grilled octopus tentacle: it’s tasty, mild, and chewy.)

Click on the images to zoom.

I was especially excited for the entree: duck and risotto. Duck is my favorite protein, and the best I’ve had is at Cerulean in Winona Lake. Ivy Tech Northeast students’ duck? Completely on par with the professionals. It was moist, flavorful but not too fatty, and seasoned just right.

And it was gorgeous. The folks at Master Chef would be proud.

duck entree
Crispy duck quarter with green sushi rice risotto

Students completed the meal with dessert–also beautiful.

dessertJust so you know what you’re looking at: That’s three doughnut holes with a piece of mochi on top (mochi is like a chewy, slightly sticky pastry made of rice). It has a sweet red bean paste inside and is topped with a raspberry and a piece of sugared mint. Two pretzel-like rods are coming out of two doughnuts–one dipped in chocolate, the other in a green tea coating. The small squares were gelée (essentially fancy Jell-O). The plate was packed with flavors and textures–an excellent cap to a spot-on meal.

Next week, Special Cuisines students are serving up Caribbean Island food. You can get a sneak peek into the menu here, and check out upcoming themes at the Special Cuisines dinner series webpage, which also tells you how to make reservations. Dinners are $25 each–and it’s absolutely worth it.

Have you been to a Special Cuisines dinner? What did you think? Which theme this semester are you most excited for?

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