The Faculty House opened its doors to undergraduate students last Thursday with minimal fanfare. Bwog dining experts, News Editor Victoria Borlando, Deputy Editor Lillian Rountree, and Senior Staff Writer Camille Sensiba, obviously had no choice but to change all previous plans to attend the grand opening.
On Wednesday, Columbia Dining announced in an email that a new dining hall option would be available to students: The Faculty House. The University stated that the opening of a new dining hall would lower the chances of crowding in the other dining halls on the simple premise that more dining halls = fewer people in dining halls. It’s a weird logic, for sure, especially because the new Faculty House Dining Hall is only open from 11:30 am to 2 pm on weekdays, but you know what? We’ll take it.
In order to rile up the crowd and convince students to finally stop waiting in long-ass lines for mediocre pasta bowls, CU Dining raved about the new dining hall options: fresh, wild-caught Atlantic salmon and “dressed up” mac n cheese every day, a healthy and balanced vegan option, and fruits and dessert. So chic! So gourmet! What could this possibly look like?
So, because we’re curious, we went to the dining hall on opening day. We got a sample of everything (it all worked out because we had both vegan AND omnivore representation), and here are our thoughts of both the out-of-body experience that is the Faculty House and the food. Showtime, baby!
How It Works:
Follow the signs from Wien to the entryway and go up four flights of stairs (or take the elevator). You’ll swipe into one large room, and there are warming plates on two long tables with serving spoons. You can form a line on either side (starting from the end farthest from the entrance) and serve yourself. Cookies are on a side table, and the salads get their own serving area.
Lillian: My relatives had their wedding reception in this building. That is both literally true (40+ years of marriage!), and I would believe it based on the atmosphere alone.
Camille: There was a moment when we were ascending the four flights of stairs when I wondered what this was all for, but when we finally reached the food, I was stunned by the ambiance. The room had so many windows looking out over Morningside Park, and there was even a little wrap-around balcony with some seating that I could only hope they would let us use in the future. The food was laid out like a banquet on two long tables in the middle of the room, which was large with plenty of space to roam and stand idly, waiting for your friends to finish getting their meals. Yes, the physical location was beautiful, but above all, my heart rate in Faculty House was raised from excitement, rather than stress (as is the case in the other dining halls). Just some students in the Faculty House, taking back their school, I guess!
Vic: It’s giving me 1920s lounge/Art Deco/Gilded Age/beginning of the age of modernity. The Faculty House dining area has the vibes of a hotel lounge that hired a singer who sings sexy, sad ballads to Olive Garden piano music. I want to break out the luxury fur coats I 100% do not own and put a feather in my headband to live out my flapper girl dreams. I feel like someone is going to walk up to me, hand me a glass of champagne and a cigarette, and quote the beginning monologue of The Great Gatsby, and I love it. The empty wine bottles that line the entrance to the actual serving area establish the exact mood we need for this specific ambiance: decadence, elegance, the 1920 Prohibition Act that did virtually nothing to stop the illegal consumption of alcohol (yeah, we’re a “dry” campus), and so much more. If there’s one thing I love, it’s the art of aesthetics, and the Faculty House goes crazy with it. 10/10.
The Fresh, Wild Caught Atlantic Salmon
Lillian: The promise was “wasabi salmon,” and while I did not taste the wasabi, I did taste the lovingly garnished scallions and parsley. By far the nicest dining hall salmon I’ve ever had. A little overcooked—so it goes—but not like Hewitt can overcook a salmon. And it looked surprisingly appetizing.
The “Dressed Up” Mac n Cheese
Lillian: The wasabi salmon was not spicy, but this… was? And I was kind of into it? I’m not a huge mac n cheese person, but as the only one able to consume it, I was not given a choice in the matter. Honestly, it was really good. A little too cheesy, but the spice gave it a nice depth, and the pasta was not overcooked. I think the gentle throng of students who gathered around the empty warming dish, waiting for the staff to bring out a fresh pan of this orange behemoth, were onto something.
The Vegan Entrée: Tricolor quinoa with baby carrots, the “vegetable medley” (boiled zucchini), and a baked potato.
Vic: As the resident VeganTM and local rambler, I naturally have several things to say. First, it’s not much of “entrée,” as Columbia Dining promised me. It’s more like, “Oh, is this what vegans eat? Ok, have some!” The quinoa was okay—there are only so many ways to prepare quinoa in a way that doesn’t mix it with anything else (ex. Stews, salads, etc.). It was similar to most of the other dining halls’ iterations of quinoa: little pebbles you eat for the sole purpose of getting your daily dose of fiber, not at all for the good taste. The only thought I had while eating it was, “Well… it’s certainly quinoa!” I think that’s a good sign… The vegetable medley was just boiled zucchini, which is served in John Jay pretty much daily, so I wouldn’t particularly walk across campus to eat it. At least the half-moons of ~zuke~ were boiled in salt, so clearly Faculty House is getting fancy with all the “luxury” ingredients the other dining halls apparently do not have. Lastly, when I saw that the final vegan option being served was a baked potato, I audibly laughed. There’s just… a potato. A full spud. No bells, no whistles: just a straight-from-the-ground Irish potato. Food! (Note: my main takeaway was going to be that unlike most dining halls, I didn’t walk away with a stomach ache, but time has passed, and I think at this point my stomach can’t process an unprepared baked potato.)
The Salad Bar:
This deserves its own section because we have many things to say. First, the salad option today was the “Mediterranean” Salad, which consisted of tomato, spring mix, shredded carrots, cucumbers, and supposedly olives. The salad bar had many dressing options and a side serving of feta cheese. Fancy!
The servers were so excited to tell everyone that the salads were specially prepared with fresh ingredients, and we felt the buzz too! We felt it so much that we decided to wait for 10 to 15 whole minutes to get a sample of the individually packed salads. Was the wait time kind of ridiculous? Yes, but that’s beside the point. The point was that the salad had FRESH INGREDIENTS, so there was a lot of love in every bowl! At least we could actually sit down and wait to soothing lounge music instead of standing in a Ferris-esque queue.
Lillian: Arugula salad is the best kind of salad. That being said, this was perfectly nice.
Vic: Fun fact, the salad was actually my favorite part of the meal. I couldn’t enjoy the feta cheese (for obvious reasons), but it was nice to see that the Faculty House dining actually did deliver on their main promise of fresh ingredients! I liked the diced tomato detail; it felt like a nice change of pace from the typical grape tomato serving in the other dining halls. In my opinion, it’s worth the wait, especially if the vegan option isn’t exactly the most filling. There were no olives, however… rage.
The Dessert: A chocolate chip cookie.
Lillian: The bar for an exceptional chocolate chip cookie is high, but the bar for merely a solid chocolate chip cookie is low, and this definitively passed the latter.
Camille: As a self-proclaimed cookie connoisseur, not only would I say that this is, in fact, a cookie, but I would also say it might be the best cookie option we have right now. In this cookie climate, we cannot keep holding out for the warm, caramelized John Jay chocolate chip cookies of yesteryear. They are gone, and who knows if they will ever return. This cookie was probably the most filling part of my meal (as a vegetarian who dislikes macaroni and cheese), and there was a good amount of chocolate in it. It also didn’t taste too preservative-y, which is a qualm that I’ve had with the pre-packaged cookies in the dining halls since the pandemic. It was a tasty cookie and definitely the best we’ve got right now, so I took two.
Vic: Even though this definitely had milk and eggs (which is also why I probably have a stomach ache), I still ate it because I like chocolate chip cookies. The cookie was crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, and that’s exactly how a freshly baked cookie should be! It’s better than store-bought, which is a plus. Anyway, stream “Gooey” by Glass Animals.
Lillian: I liked how fancy and quiet it was—and how not like a dining hall it felt. The whole thing was a little ridiculous, but in a really fun way. That billion-dollar endowment we keep talking about should go to a lot of things, and probably not to this, but turning the Faculty House into a Pop-Up Dining Hall at least feels like a half-solution to the dining hall problem appropriate to a school with a billion-dollar endowment.
Camille: I wouldn’t go for the food, which is maybe a little counterproductive for a dining hall, but I also wouldn’t call this a dining hall. It was a beautiful little banquet that felt more like an event than a sustainable source of food, especially if you have dietary restrictions, because you’ll probably leave hungry. But it was a nice little excursion!
Vic: I just don’t see what problem this solves. Like, I’m sure Ferris was still annoyingly crowded.
Images via Bwog Staff