This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

Coming soon to south campus: upscale dining

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Farewell, food trucks. Hello, Court of Sciences Student Center.

Two years after the Bombshelter closed for demolition, the new student center that will replace it is so close to completion you can taste it – literally. This week only, ASUCLA’s food and textbook services are co-hosting tastings of the food options that the Court of Sciences Student Center will offer when it opens in early 2012.

On Tuesday, the first day of the tastings, about 200 staff and faculty gobbled up small platefuls of grilled salmon, braised short ribs, turkey club sandwiches and pesto-glazed tofu, each accompanied by a different salad. The tastings will be offered to staff and faculty invited via postcard again on Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the A-level of Ackerman Union, in the Textbooks and Buyback area across from Graduation Etc.

“This is awesome food,” Associate Registrar Cathy Lindstrom said between bites. “Great variety — it tastes delicious. And there are lots of healthy options. It’s really good.”

The new center will open early next year, said Cindy Bolton, ASUCLA’s food service director. “In January,” she added, with her fingers crossed for luck, when eager staff and faculty pressed her.  

The food trucks that have provided food service near the construction site for two years are scheduled to leave campus at the end of December, unless delays push the opening of the center back, Bolton said. [Dec. 16 update: there will be trucks for at least a couple of weeks in January.]

Four new restaurants

This week’s food samples all come from the Bombshelter Bistro, one of four restaurants in the new student center in the Court of Sciences. The Bistro is the more upscale restaurant in the complex, serving dishes like lemon-herb crusted tofu, braised short ribs in a red-wine mushroom sauce, and ginger-peanut slaw on china plates.

The student center will also include two non-ASUCLA eateries (a Yoshinoya and a Subway), the “Southern Lights” coffee-and-frozen-yogurt window, a convenience-store style snack shop and a new ASUCLA restaurant called Fusion, said Kelly Goodman, ASUCLA’s campus outreach manager.

“The food trucks are going away, but that’s why we brought in Fusion, which will have a rotating menu similar to a variety of the food-truck cuisines,” Goodman said.

Fusion was partly inspired by the food trucks, Bolton said. The restaurant’s menu will cycle through five cuisines: Vietnamese, Korean, Argentinean, Mediterranean and Indian. Each day customers will be able to order tacos, burritos, lettuce wraps and sandwiches, but the fillings will vary. For sandwiches, the Vietnamese menu will offer banh mi, while the Mediterranean menu will feature gyros, Bolton said.

The Bombshelter Bistro is ASUCLA’s nod to south-campus demographics, which is weighted toward more staff and faculty than any other part of campus. “Elsewhere, there are more students,” Bolton said. “With the Bistro, we knew we needed something different to attract staff and faculty.”
 
Southern Lights will have the same prices as the campus' other coffee houses, while Fusion will likely run $4 to $6 for its offerings, Bolton said. The Bistro will likely range around $6 to $8 for entrée plates and $5 to $8 for salads and sandwiches, she added.

Satisfied tasters

Tuesday’s taste-testers praised the flavors and the variety, even with their mouths full.

“This is really good,” said Khiem Marie Nguy, a technician at the Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center. “The food is of better quality than what I’ve had elsewhere on campus, and there are lots of great salads. I think my favorite is the turkey club.”

“We’ve already said we’re going to the Bistro the first day it opens,” said her colleague Ken Wong, a pharmacist at Ashe. “The salmon is so good.”

Vegetarian Megan Scott, a student affairs officer in Dentistry’s oral biology section, was impressed by the meat-free selection. “I like that they have vegetarian options, like the tofu and the peanut coleslaw,” Scott said. “And a mozzarella-tomato salad with pesto? That’s always going to be good.”

For several Bruins, the change of pace was welcome.

“It’s good to have something different,” said Patricia Medellin, an administrative assistant in Dentistry’s oral medicine and oral facial-pain section. Mildri Lopez, an administrative assistant in the Department of Electrical Engineering, agreed. “We need different stuff on campus,” she said, speaking for a group of friends. “We were getting tired of eating the same things. And this salmon is definitely good.”

Tuesday’s crowd didn’t have much love to spare for the food trucks, which seemed to suffer the Yogi-Berra-esque fate of being so popular that no one goes there anymore. They’re too crowded and too expensive, several people said.

“The trucks are appealing, but the lines are not,” said Marco Gonzalez, who does accounting in the Events Office.

Noticeable changes

Anyone who remembers the Bombshelter will immediately notice a few differences when they see the new facility, Bolton said. It’s bigger, brighter and airier for starters. The Bombshelter, which was never used as such, acquired its nickname because of its bunker-thick concrete walls and below-ground location. It lacked the indoor seating and large windows that the new center will boast, Bolton said.

Most of all, the food will be better, said Bolton, adding “I hate to say that as the food services director.” The new center will come equipped with real kitchens that were absent from the Bombshelter. “It’s a completely better experience all-around,” she said.

Built to surpass environmentally strict LEED Silver specifications, the new facility may even earn a LEED Gold rating, Bolton continued. Meeting those re-use requirements means Bruins will recognize many features re-installed from the old Bombshelter, like the brick pavers and the rows of bike racks. Lighting fixtures and other furnishings will also look familiar, but the environmentally friendly garden rooftop is new. Architects designed the indoor eating areas with glass partitions that can transform the space from open dining rooms and study areas to semi-private meeting rooms, Bolton said.

There are several steps left to complete, from installing the furnishings and equipment to planting more landscaping, Bolton said. “It still looks like a construction zone, but it’s really coming along.”
 
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