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Dorm food worth writing about

Dorm food

Review by Mary Stagaman

A college dorm is hardly the first place I'd look for first-rate cooking with a contemporary flair, but that's exactly what the University of Cincinnati is serving up in Siddall Hall's new dining facility. Modeled after successful "marche" concepts, such as FoodLife in Chicago's Water Tower Place, and ahead of national trends in college dining, MarketPointe offers fresh food prepared before your eyes. No steam tables filled with "mystery meat" here. Instead it's the snap, crackle and pop of fresh vegetables stir-fried in a wok, the yeasty aroma of a thick-crust pizza straight from the oven and the homey comfort of a china ramekin overflowing with macaroni and cheese.

siddall dining

Siddall dining hall's $3.3 million renovation offers a concept new to college residence halls and one that executive chef Rosemary Pavinski thinks will make UC a national leader. Photos/Dottie Stover

Nevertheless, MarketPointe is more than food. Taking a cue from hip restaurants across the country, the semi-industrial decor -- heavy on the stainless steel and galvanized aluminum -- creates a dynamic gathering place where students, faculty, staff and campus visitors converge. And all have figured out MarketPointe's greatest selling point: tremendous value. Sure, you'll have to bus your own table, but where else can you get a lunch this good, complete with a drink and dessert, for $5.50?

MarketPointe is an all-you-can-eat restaurant with a difference. Unlike chains that fill customers up with carbo-laden, low-nutrition foods, MarketPointe emphasizes healthy eating. Every cooking station displays a binder with the calorie and fat counts for each dish. If a student really wants to avoid the "freshman 15," this is the place to start.

Overseeing it all is executive chef Rosemary Pavinski, who's got the chops to roll out this new concept in campus dining. A graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, Pavinski honed her skills in first-class restaurants in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Florida before coming to UC to work in the catering department. Now, when she's not planning menus, she's visible supervising the cooks and other staff at the dining hall's eight taste stations.

The stir-fry station is my choice for a savory lunch at the MarketPointe. It starts with an empty bowl and my mood for the day. Some times I'm satisfied with the array of Chinese vegetables: bok choy, water chestnuts, scallions, snow peas. When I'm craving additional variety, I can improvise from the adjacent salad bar, adding sweet red peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, whatever looks good. A cook throws the vegetables in a wok with garlic and fresh ginger -- I control the amount -- and adds meat or tofu, and rice or noodles, depending on my preference. The dish is finished by a second cook who adds my choice of sauce from a revolving list of about a half dozen. The now steaming bowl is returned to me to top with chopped peanuts, hot pepper flakes or fried noodles.

The intriguing "Traditions" station stretches the definition of home-cooking to include cuisines from around the world. One day this comfort-food station is loaded with beef tamales, on another it's full of tandoori chicken, and occasionally there's first-rate mac-and-cheese. Still another station, "Chef's Choice," offers fresh takes on classic one-dish meals, including chicken cacciatore replayed over penne with a spicy kick or hearty gumbo served in a bread bowl.

photo/Dottie Stover

Photo/Dottie Stover

At the soup station, you can ladle your own from four distinct choices. I like the chunky white bean, full of fresh vegetables and fragrant with herbs; the velvety smooth cream of mushroom; and the unusual, but no less flavorful, puree of sweet potato brightened by the addition of leeks. The soups are perfect accompaniments to sandwiches made fresh to order at the deli, where pick the fillings, bread and toppings.

Responding to student preferences, the menu at MarketPointe also includes pizzas, calzones, burgers, grilled ham and cheese and excellent curly fries. Some times students are inspired by the variety, like the fellow I spotted with a couple of cheese coneys and a bowl of cereal, the latter a remnant from the breakfast bar that includes pastries, cook-your-own waffles and omelets made to order.

Occasionally, the kitchen's inspiration fails and a dish disappoints. One day the split pea soup had an odd texture and way too much salt; on another, pasta tossed with chicken in a lemon sauce didn't come together in a cohesive whole. The desserts, in general, approach the bland sameness of cafeteria food. But these are small quibbles and easily fixed by returning to the salad bar for a second helping, or saving room for a soft-serve ice cream cone.

Mary Stagaman is assistant vice president for community relations and marketing at UC. As a freelance writer, she was the restaurant critic for Cincinnati magazine from '95-01. She has also written for Bon Appetit, the Zagat Survey and Restaurant Business.


MarketPointe a national leader in college dining

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