The Alberta Room: such a grandiloquent name may leave you—Hey, you there, going through the remand bin at Goodwill!—wondering whether this is a place whose dress code and price range were designed for tuxedoed oil barons. Not to worry. The University of Calgary’s main dining hall, in a tent-like building called, imaginatively enough, The Dining Centre, doesn’t ask you to be anything you’re not. It’s just about good, honest grub. Only occasionally does the food sink to those culinary doldrums so much associated with university dining—a perhaps necessary echo of the Stalinist concrete ennui that surrounds the diner through the windows, i.e. the U of C campus.
Well-organized, with a constellation of food stations across the floor—grill, pasta trattoria, fruit and salad bar—diners have a lot to choose from.
To start off, a gourmet Swiss mushroom burger with fries. The latter aren’t exactly Belgian frites, but the burger is a delight––ful surprise—juicy, with all kinds of fresh tomato and run-at-the-corner-of-your-mouth dill pickle. A veal-stuffed tortellini amatriciana is less successful, with a consistency of dense cake and nothing more than pinhead de––posits of veal buried within. Though bland, it’s not altogether unsatisfying once we add a zing of freshly grated Parmesan. The accompanying spinach salad, with cherry tomatoes and cucumber, is delicious.
The bowl of fish chowder doesn’t exactly exceed expectations. A viscous skin, pallid colour and the vague sense that something has died beneath the surface adds to the effect. An apple lentil curry also missed the mark: at first one’s mouth embraced those earthy curried tones; a second spoonful was less curry, all earth. Side orders of parsley boiled potatoes and veggies still tasted of the cardboard they were packed in prior to freezing.
And so what if the server doesn’t know what a kaiser is? The made-to-order deli sandwich—ham and cheese on a toasted bun—was delicious, full of crunchy-fresh bell peppers. The fruit stick was less so. On the day we visited, this dessert and others fell into the “fish chowder” category: eat it just to say you have—and, for those of us who have lived in Quebec, to recall the engineering feats pioneered by industrial pastry chefs in that province, circa 1962.