A Touch of Class
By Bill Gerdes
I don’t get my hair cut at cosmetology schools, my cavities filled at dentist schools or my brain surgery done at the Barbizon School of Scary Invasive Surgery. The consequences of an oopsy moment are too grim, too obvious and too unsettling. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I set off for The Art Institute of California – Inland Empire’s International Culinary School off of Hospitality Lane in San Bernardino. I needn’t have worried though. Their on-campus Seasons restaurant—the culmination of the student’s training—is a joy; adventurous if uneven five-course dining that’s also affordable and unpretentious.
Kurt Walker, the chef instructor at Seasons, gave me the skinny on how the restaurant runs shortly after I sit down in the cafeteria-like but pleasant dining room. Walker, who radiates a quiet confidence and culinary know-how, explained to me that the restaurant is designed to highlight every aspect of what the students have learned and give them a hint of the realities of the culinary world before they graduate. Therefore students rotate every two days from station to station: from dishwashing to desserts and everything in between. As we talk, I watch the students cooking on the giant television to my left—which is cool, although I’m not sure I’d want to make this a mandatory feature everywhere. Some aspects of life are better left a mystery.
Walker has informed me that everything on the five-course fixed menu is made from scratch, and I find myself excited to see what the students will serve up. I start off with a first course of black and blue gnocchi with truffles. While the gnocchi has a bit of a consistency problem, a tad chalky almost, it’s a satisfying dish, blue cheese meeting truffle in a restrained pairing of flavors that makes me think I could eat several plates of the gnocchi and leave satisfied. No rest for the wicked though. Next up is a tasty salad of mixed greens along with hazelnuts, pancetta and wafer-thin slices of kumquats; simple, fresh and yummy. The amuse-bouche comes next and is the only item that indicates this is a culinary school and not a “real” restaurant. It’s basically a cracker with goat cheese spread on top, but this is among the only menu items that change every few days, so no doubt on a different night there might be a bit more “amuse” for your bouche.
Any disappointment was soon alleviated by my swordfish entrée; it’s a brilliantly plated dish, a cut of swordfish reclining in a melon roulade with a quartet of butterfly shrimp accomplices ringing the plate. So colorful that it shocks, it runs the risk of parody—island night at the local steakhouse—but the dish works because the swordfish is cooked perfectly as are the shrimp. The homemade bread here is also quite nice, as is the service. Gabriella Rodriguez expertly manages the front of the restaurant and Christopher, my waiter, seems like a nice guy. You won’t find a more moderately priced fine dining in the IE, but you’ll have to work around the hours. The school is open for lunch Monday thru Wednesday and dinner from Wednesday to Friday. Dinner’s an early-bird special, so bring granny along.
Seasons Restaurant at The Art Institute – Inland Empire’s International Culinary School, 674 E. Briar Dr., San Bernardino, (909) 915-2170; www.artinstitutes.edu/inlandempire. Open for lunch Mon-Wed, 11:30AM-1:30PM; for dinner Wed-Fri, 4:30PM-6PM. AE, D, MC, V.