By Nancy Chan
On the corner of 88 4th St. awaits the fine dining restaurant and training ground known as Educated Palate, where muted jazz music complements assured movements from City College’s dedicated culinary service staff.
“We have regulars that aren’t from the school,” management instructor Roderic Ridgway said. “And when there’s a big convention happening at Moscone Center, people come here.”
Ridgway and his students specialize in culinary hospitality. His fellow instructors, chef Rhea Dellimore and pastry chef Elizabeth Riehle, supervise the cooking.
Ridgeway’s team manages Educated Palate’s foreground while Dellimore’s and Riehle’s bustle underground. The whole picture of fine dining service evokes a swan kicking repeatedly to swim and stay gracefully afloat.
Many customers would be unaware of this reality as they are seated according to their reservations, in a table for four or two.
Low enrollment has split the restaurant between casual and fine dining. The only noted differences between them are a floral table arrangement and an entrée option for fine dining.
Even so, Educated Palate continues to make the most of its space, which hosts a maximum of 49 people. The standards have not changed either.
Ridgway’s students learn that being a fine dining expeditor or server requires one’s absolute best etiquette. Riehle’s students arrive at the Downtown Campus by 6 a.m. every weekday to prepare breads.
Dellimore’s program emphasizes people power. Educated Palate’s training programs and its associated industry runs on disciplined people power.
“Preparing for fine dining will not be replaced by robots. Tomatoes can be acidic one week and sweet the next,” Dellimore said. “No recipe will tell you how to adjust according to taste. It’s guaranteed labor-intensive.”
Accordingly, Educated Palate’s menu is succinct. For the 2016 fall semester, the restaurant specializes in soupe de jour, sandwiches, salads and desserts.
Sandwich options are pancetta on ciabatta, corned beef, turkey reuben and open face Mushroom Conserva toast. Each is served with french fries or an almond brussel sprout salad.
The arugula salad ($9.50) is recommended, served as a delightful heap of arugula leaves tossed with fresh figs, pomegranate seeds, slivered almonds, parmesan pieces and sherry vinaigrette.
Put together, these ingredients form an intriguing blend of bitter, sweet, tart and savory. In fact, cheese isn’t necessary with the flavors present, making it a potential vegan option and a salad that can’t be called boring.
Pan roasted salmon ($13.75) is another multifaceted dish, flavored with lemon juice and garnished with green onion. It’s prepared just right, to an oranged and slightly crisp outer finish.
The salmon is served above a halo of roasted corn salsa verde and three types of rice. Corn imparts sweetness and the earthier rices soak up surrounding salsa verde for lasting, harmonious tanginess.
Desserts are displayed atop a table set with light blue tablecloth. They exhibit a similar eye for marrying contrasting tastes, and are the handiwork of Riehle’s students.
Two scoops of ice cream or sorbet ($3.00) are served with a white chocolate spoon, while the Dessert Special ($6.50) this time around includes a raspberry sorbet, a dark chocolate garnish with blueberries and mascarpone lemon cheesecake.
The sorbet is splendid, bursting with flavor and obviously lacking fruit additives that would leave the mouth feeling dry. For those who aren’t a fan of sweets, the cheesecake is something special, featuring a surprisingly light, zesty cheese layer and soft crumbly base.
Equally eye-catching on the dessert table is a plate of 10 mignardises ($8.75) or sweet endings. Willy Wonka would be proud.
Some are arguably conventional, such as the lavender macaron, but the banana crisp is a creative little fruit jelly studded with cane sugar for crunch.
Plus, a trio of dark chocolate bonbons challenge their French origins: one houses a passion fruit center while the other contains the Filipino calamansi, nature’s own superior version of Warhead candy. The third is the most straightforward, primly dotted with a single coffee bean.
Diners receive a free mint meltaway chocolate after their meal. The tiny bar is dusted with confectioner’s sugar and pleasantly minty; no toothpaste reminiscing involved.
But make no mistake: these detailed, high-quality fruits of labor come from predatory mindsets. Both Dellimore and Riehle have stated the number one thing their students should learn is urgency.
“I want my students to learn a sense of urgency. That can’t be taught, but I can nag them until they remember,” Dellimore said. “Urgency is not rushing or being careless, but feeling there’s always something to do.”
The other things she teaches are how to follow directions and having a trained palate. When her students are chefs on their own, she said they’ll “ask the right questions, take notes so they’ll cement into their minds” and “know what needs to be done without asking around.”
On the same note, Riehle’s own 25 years in the food business have taught her food is about moving and anticipating.
“Fine dining is very different from cooking at home or at Food Network, where everything’s glossy,” Riehle said. “It’s a lot of a work but not a lot of money, so you gotta do it because you love it.”