Outside the entrance to the MATC gourmet dining room. Inside, it's more atmospheric, but with just as many forks.
Taking advantage of MATC's online reservation system for the program that makes it easier to get a table, and a menu cycle to see exactly what is going to be served on the day you want attend. Yes, it's still lunch only on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Truax, which may not be convenient to where you happen to be at noon, but just for adventure's sake it's worth rearranging your schedule once to give it a whirl.
There are three different menus per semester and each menu is presented for three weeks. The lunch itself consists of four courses, with a choice of at least two options for each. Diners are ushered in promptly at noon, to a room that is set to look kind of like an upscale restaurant (although it looks more like a regular restaurant, one with no view). The waiters are, however, training as if to work at the very best restaurants, and the service is generally good, and by the book, with the proper number of forks, and plates coming in and disappearing from the left. Our server seemed a trifle nervous, but others quite deft.
For the first course, the scallops and orange-braised endive featured a rather rare scallop; the sweet treatment on the endive, though ("braised in orange juice, honey and fresh chervil) was excellent. The other appetizer was gnocchi with pan-fried butternut squash and an espresso cup of butternut squash soup. This was a mixed bag -- the gnocchi was a little mushy and the soup bland; the browned butter with bits of fried butternut squash that served as sauce for the gnocchi was the best part.
There was then a long delay before the second course appeared. By "long," I mean at least a half an hour. There was evidently some disaster in the kitchen involving "some drama," according to our server, which is a lot less interesting when you're waiting for your food than it is when you're watching it unfold as part of a reality television show. I take it this doesn't happen often. My mesclun salad with warm goat cheese and hazelnuts and dijon red wine vinaigrette, when it finally appeared, had cold goat cheese and no vinaigrette. The lone hazelnut was a nice touch. Moving on....
The third course was the most assured. The roast pork loin with caramelized Seckel pear, parsnip puree and chipotle gravy was tender and perfectly cooked, the caramelized pear a nice flavor counterpoint. The parsnip puree was an ode to comfort food, smooth and full of the sweet, slightly earthy taste of the underrated root veggie. The chipotle pan gravy didn't seem to have much in the way of chipotle -- there wasn't any spice to it. While I liked the mellow parsnip puree, this dish needed some spicing to make it less placid.
The other entree, olive-oil poached cod with a red pepper ragout and French bread, was the most successful dish. The presentation -- a geometric stack of cod on bread -- was arresting, but it was the red pepper ragout that made it. Of all the food I sampled, it had the most zest, a little swagger. This is the dish I would first choose to try to replicate at home; I've also been experimenting with parsnip puree.
The serving sizes for the first three courses are not overwhelming; most diners will feel ready to undertake dessert (although the desserts are probably the largest course in terms of size; I couldn't finish mine). It's the one course that's not listed on the menu in advance, and I lost track of the choices. I had a pear tart with an almond-inflected crust, but the big hit at the table was a chocolate-covered mound of chocolate that fell somewhere between chocolate mousse and a flourless chocolate cake and would tame anybody's chocolate jones; a tart raspberry coulis and a dollop of whipped cream accompanied it.
So, lunch at MATC ended up being a two-hour investment -- the fun broke up around 2 p.m. This is about an hour and forty-five minutes longer than I usually spend eating lunch. If you make reservations for the dining room next semester, make sure you have plenty of time to spend and co-diners who are up for anything. You may not be completely satisfied, but I predict you won't be disappointed, either.
MATC Gourmet Dining has finished for the first semester; second semester dining begins the first week in February, 2010. The cost is $17; tipping is optional.