The Faculty Club
University of California, Santa Barbara
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday
Phone: (805) 893-3096

It’s a familiar scenario to which we can all relate — Monday afternoon, you have about a 50-minute break in your schedule and are looking for a satisfying meal to refuel before the next round of classes. Before shuffling into the swarming line at Subway or settling for a standard grab-and-go pre-made
sandwich, imagine this alternative: You walk into a bright restaurant, a smiling hostess greets you and you are lead to your table, which is adorned with a vase of daisies and cloth napkins. She then hands you a menu with daily risotto specials and (gasp) takes your order?! Believe it or not, you can live this fine dining fantasy right on campus Monday through Friday at The Faculty Club.

Contrary to the name, The Faculty Club is open to students. Nestled away next to the Campus Lagoon on the path to Manzanita Village, The Faculty Club feels far removed from the hustle and bustle of the Arbor and the UCen, so much so that most students don’t even know it is an option.

“The club is open to the entire campus community — staff, faculty, students, administrators as well as people from the community,” Linda Ruuska, general manager, said.

Students cannot become members of the club, so we must pay the nonmember price for menu items which is about a dollar more — but well worth it.

With gourmet dishes like the Brie and Pesto Panini, Almond-crusted Chicken Breast and fresh daily seafood specials, The Faculty Club’s menu offers American fusion cuisine that boasts some exciting new flavor combinations you’d be hard-pressed to find at other eateries on campus, or in Isla Vista for that matter.

“Food quality, ambience and service set us apart,” Sean Studds, executive chef, said.

The actual building was constructed in 1968 by architect Charles W. Moore, who has been described as the Frank Lloyd Wright of his time. The structure beams from the inside out, with high ceilings and plenty of windows welcoming in light from the sunny campus.

“Two-thirds of the tables here have a view,” Ruuska said.

Entering the restaurant for the first time with a bursting book bag slung over my shoulder, dirty Converse shoes and a slightly frazzled demeanor from a busy morning on campus, I was a little intimidated by the pristine ambiance and equally put-together patrons.

Although my appearance may have been more Del Playa Drive than Fifth Avenue, I was instantly put at ease by the warm and friendly staff and chefs. The good-natured attitudes here extend all the way from the servers on the floor to the chefs in the kitchen.

“I really enjoy the people that I work with here,” my server, Alison Elving, a second-year sociology major, said.

The Faculty Club is only open for lunch from 11:30 until 1:30 Monday through Friday, and they also host a variety of special events.

“We do breakfasts for Staff Celebration Week each year, winemaker dinners, wine tastings, members barbecues, holiday parties, weddings and receptions, department events, student group dinners and the Tip-a-Cop luncheon,” Ruuska said.

Ruuska was kind enough to give me a brief tour of the kitchen, where I met the creative culinary forces behind the cuisine.

Studds, who has been executive chef for over two years, brings to the table 15 years of previous chef experience and graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.

For someone with such a stressful job, Studds is refreshingly kind, humble and sincerely passionate about his work.

“Often I get inspiration from other restaurants, food magazines and the food network,” Studds said.

He stressed that the menu items are very much a collaborative effort with his fellow chefs, Jose Barajas and Maria Godoy, who have a fun approach to cooking.

During our conversation, somehow it slipped out that I enjoy spicy foods, and I was instantly challenged to try Barajas’ special contribution to the restaurant, a homemade Habanero Salsa.

The chefs describe it as a test for the incoming cooks. They have the newcomers try it as a right of passage, and if they can’t stand the heat… well, you know the rest.

As someone who feels most comfortable dining with a bottle of Cholula on my right-hand side, I eagerly sampled the sauce. It was certainly the spiciest thing I have ever consumed outside of a red pepper straight from the garden. The sauce was scorching hot yet oddly addictive and had a well-bodied flavor of different spices and seasonings, and although you would have thought a forest fire was burning away inside my head from the smokestacks billowing out of my ears, I ended up asking for a side of it along with my sandwich — apparently a habit Chancellor Yang has developed as well.

The club caters many dinners for the chancellor, and his favorite dishes to order are the seafood specials, according to Ruuska.

This works out nicely for Chef Studds, who noted, “My favorite dishes are our seafood specials because they require more creativity.”

The specials are also very popular menu items in general, as well as the luscious risottos prepared in a different variety every day.

But the best bang for your buck, and ideal entrée for the indecisive orderer is the Lunch Trio special, which includes half a BLT, BLTA, Club, Grilled Eggplant, Sauteed Vegetable or Ahi Tuna sandwich and is served with a mixed green or Caesar salad and a cup of the daily soup, all for $8.75. I recommend upgrading the Lunch Trio to include the Faculty Club Tortilla Soup; it is well worth the additional 75 cents for a cup of this house favorite, made with grilled chicken, thick slices of avocado, crisp tortilla strips, cheddar cheese and cilantro.

I ordered the Chicken and Pear Panini, a stellar combination of juicy chicken smothered in grilled pears, caramelized onions, candied walnuts and gorgonzola on grilled house-made onion bread, which exuded doughy freshness in every bite. The sandwich boasted strong, decadent flavors without being overly rich and heavy, and paired with fresh sweet potato fries on the side, I was in heaven.

The Faculty Club normally hosts about 50 to 75 people for lunch every day and has accommodated such famous faces as John Cleese and Dennis Miller, but the guests that Ruuska is really hoping will take advantage of The Faculty Club are the students.

“We are a fine dining, table service restaurant with excellent food and a great ambiance and fabulous view,” Ruuska said.

So, next time you are looking for an epicurean adventure, tranquil oasis or simply a restaurant where someone takes your order, do lunch at The Faculty Club, because just because you’re a kid in college doesn’t mean you have to eat like one.