Friday, November 23, 2007

Quick hits: six dining halls

Although I'm currently sitting in a real kitchen (and therefore, not in my Cambridge dorm), I've finally compiled my thoughts on a few upperclass dining halls. As I've briefly explained before, Harvard has twelve houses (thirteen if you count Dudley House) which serve as residential communities. Residents take pride in each of their houses' vibe - even as they are randomly sorted into it.

In any case, my friends and I - as well as probably a good portion of the freshman class - have made it a goal to try all twelve upperclass houses before we are assigned to our official houses in February. Of course, our opinions of the dining halls have influenced our current opinions of the houses. We won't lie - the dining hall decor plays a big role. After all, who wants their claustrophobia to overpower their omelet? So expect some candid reviews until February, because come then, my house will naturally have the best food. Brief reviews for five of the d-halls follow.

1. Annenberg
Oh, Annenberg. The dream of overeager prefrosh: "Oh-my-goodness-I'm-in-the-Harry-Potter-dining-hall!" The fact that Annenberg is a freshman-exclusive dining hall during lunch and dinner - not to mention the gorgeous views from the third-floor classrooms above the cafeteria - only adds to its allure.
But sooner or later, freshmen (including me) soon discover that there is a tradeoff between proximity of classes and quality of food. (A perfect example for Ec10.) Given that it's meant for 1600+ freshmen, food is served in large batches and is neither as warm nor appetizing any other cafeteria. (On any given day, the same menu is served across all dining halls.) To its credit, the salad bar is much larger than other houses - but after three weeks of drizzling Thai Peanut dressing over spinach, the sodium overload might kill you. As for dessert, we get fewer occurrences of cake, and when it is there, it's usually dry - one horror story: we found mold on my chocolate cake in September, which I almost mistook for "green dust." Despite that, the rocky road bars (s'more bars without the overly-buttery graham cracker crust) are worth standing in the usual thirty-person line. The line only gets bigger, especially when people are waiting for one of the six Veritaffles irons at Sunday brunch.

2. Adams

Admittedly, I have a small bias towards the Adams dining hall. My host treated me to Sunday brunch at Adams, where I first encountered the elusive Veritaffle. I am not (entirely) kidding when I say that the Veritaffle was the other major factor in my college choice, although little did I know that I would be waiting forty-five minutes for one at Annenberg weekly. I also discovered the wonders of rosemary-crusted chicken at Adams, although since I have been here, I have not found it since.

I would argue that Adams has the best desserts, the nicest salad bar and one of the more freshly cooked hot bars. And not only are they also the closest upperclassman house to the Yard, they have gold-and-wood-paneled walls. This might make it the best of both worlds - were it not for the fact that freshmen are not allowed in Adams from 6-7 pm, on Sunday brunch, and during lunch too.

I'll take this time to elaborate on interhouse restrictions. Each house is allowed to set its own rules on whether non-residents are allowed to eat in the dining halls, and for the most part, every house has some restriction. Adams is by far the strictest, and my entryway never goes there to eat together based on the knowledge that we will never be able to enter together. That said, Adams is awfully good. They just happen to be awfully mean.

3. Quincy
Quincy, like Lowell, is one of my "backup" house decisions for dinner, as they don't really have any interhouse restrictions. The food is decent, though lacking at the salad bar, and it isn't as warm as Adams food. In addition, the layout of the dining hall is a little strange, because you have to go back and around the side for drinks and dessert, while the froyo machine is located in the opposite corner of the cafeteria. As for seating, the dining hall is more modern than other houses. But when I mean modern, I mean tapestries and murals that look like they should be upholstered and a dimly lit dining hall on top of concrete legs. The plus of Quincy? They have a flavored water machine like the one in my high school cafeteria, except Quincy isn't constantly running out of strawberry-kiwi syrup. They have green tea with honey ginseng in the water machine as well. Rumor has it that Quincy is the pilot project for the flavored water machine, so hopefully it'll be installed in the other houses next year.

4. Kirkland
A small secret: Kirkland is where my floormates and I go for brunch. Why? Like Lowell - again - there is no line for Veritaffles on Sundays. Located closer to the river in the cul-de-sac, you might expect freshmen to be heading the other direction towards A-Berg, but the detour is worth it. Kirkland, by far, is the most homelike dining hall that I've been in so far. The interior is white and full of light, and the cafeteria is partitioned into several rooms: a room for the grill and hot entrees, and then another room for the salad bar and everything else. Little encouraging decorations ("dream," "love") add to the "awww" factor. Kirkland's hot food quality stands between Adams and Quincy, although their desserts leave something to be asked for. In previous visits, the only desserts were a strangely flavored and fluorescent whipped cream concoction as well as a cherry pie with a hard crust.

5. Pfoho
Short for Pforzheimer, Pfoho forms the Quad houses with Currier and Cabot. In general, Quad houses are supposed to have better rooms and better food, given their desperate distance from everywhere else (3/4 mile away from the Yard), and yes - Pfoho has better food. The food is warm and flavorful without being too oily - in fact, it might have been the best so far. In one visit, the pasta and pesto was a standout. And although the Pfoho dining room is more modern, it is, after Kirkland, the coziest; the second level that surrounds the main dining room from above is also a neat feature. To boot: they are the only dining hall so far to have large marshmallows for their hot chocolate.

6. Currier

On the other hand, Currier did not reinforce the negative correlation between distance from the Square and tasty food. To their credit, they do have Tazo chai, and their drink bar is in a convenient location. But everything else isn't quite as good - the food is dimly lit and oily, though warm. Furthermore, the night I visited, the majority of the food was mislabeled, and I couldn't recognize some of the food until I tasted it (it was a dry chicken breast, too). And while the food was visually unappetizing, the only food I was willing to eat at the salad bar - mandarin oranges - had run out, as did the dessert. I ended up scrounging for cookies that were only made better by the chai.


Anonymous said...

I definitely agree with the analysis of Kirkland. One major complaint I have about upperclassmen dining halls is that sometimes the veggies are left out too long and start turning brown. This never happens at Annenberg. :)


katekalb said...

I found this incredibly amusing. Umm, makes me want to go to Harvard. ;) Also, it produced severe hunger pangs. (Well, except the parts about greasy nastiness.)

katekalb said...

Clarification: This post specifically didn't make me super hungry, but the blog in general does.