On Feb. 14, 77 Wesleyan students made an unusual choice for Valentine’s Day dinner by eating at the Daniel Family Commons (DFC), located on the third floor of Usdan. For 13 points and a meal swipe ($22.25 in total value), students were served a prix fixe meal designed by Bon Appétit’s executive and sous chefs.
“The menu sounded delectable, and it seemed like a convenient, relaxed way to spend the holiday,” said Nora Canby ’17. “The ability to use a meal swipe as part of the payment was definitely a bonus.”
Bon Appétit began promoting the dinner during Wesleyan’s winter session, allowing students to make reservations up until 3 p.m. on Feb. 13. Promotions included signs on the cash registers at the Usdan Marketplace and in Summerfields. Bon Appétit also asked students to “like” Wesleyan Dining by Bon Appétit on Facebook for a chance to win a complimentary dinner, which was awarded to Kathryn Chen ’17 on Feb. 10.
Given that it was the seventh annual DFC Valentine’s Day, Bon Appétit management had the event’s organization down pat. Students, who were given a choice between a 5:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. sitting, were promptly seated at beautifully dressed tables. Throughout the meal, waiters were attentive and helpful.
“We were just flowing,” said Robert Ramos ’16, who worked as a server at the event. “It felt like we hit a rhythm and kept with it. All of the customers were really patient and joked with us a lot, which kept our spirits up.”
The diners, who were primarily underclassmen, maintained their conversations at a respectful volume, contributing to the calm atmosphere. The candles, flowers, and red napkins all enhanced the ambiance.
However, the most important element of a successful dinner is not the ambiance, but the food. According to a wide range of attendees, the quality of the food was sadly lacking.
The first course was an artisan cheese platter and charcuterie for two with house-baked crostini, white bean and herbed hummus, and fig chutney. While the chutney was met with extremely positive feedback, the cheeses were consistently condemned as bland and semi-soft. According to one anonymous student, the charcuterie appeared to be two-day old salami straight off the sale rack. The dip received mixed reviews spanning from “great” to “it made me want to shoot myself.”
For the second course, students picked from the following three options: pan-seared filet of beef with pink peppercorn demi-glaze, mashed potatoes, and a medley of grilled vegetables; pan-seared tuna with creamy polenta, broccoli rabe, and onion marmalade; and Tuscan vegetable ragout over herb polenta cakes. The beef filet and vegetable ragout received mediocre reviews, and the tuna was universally panned.
“I ordered the ‘seared’ tuna, which turned out to be extremely well-done, tough, and tasteless,” Canby said. “It was served with a side of cold, congealed polenta and some sort of green vegetable, which was very dark in color and gross.”
The third course was a field green salad with julienned carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, dried cranberries, gorgonzola cheese, and champagne vinaigrette. The quality of the vegetables was good, but the salad appeared to be missing dressing.
“[The salad] was just like a worse version of something you’d make at Usdan,” said Walker Reiss ’17.
Students finished with either a strawberry and fair-trade chocolate bread pudding with a Wild Turkey caramel sauce or a dark chocolate mousse with raspberries and vanilla whipped topping. Both desserts were praised for their texture, but most students did not think the last course redeemed the rest of the meal. As a true acknowledgement of the event’s gustatory lack, cashiers allowed students coming from the DFC into the Usdan Marketplace without swiping their cards.
Ultimately, to the dismay of many students who had banked on a heart- and stomach-warming Valentine’s Day meal, attending the DFC’s event did not meet their expectations.