Photo by Rae Ann Varona

Photo by Rae Ann Varona.

Most students know the University Center for the bookstore, post office and quick-service restaurants, but it has so much more to offer than ready-made sandwiches and quick Chinese takeout. The Club at UC Santa Barbara changes standards of dining on campus. The Club was created in 1969, just 25 years after the birth of UCSB, and called the Faculty Club home until renovations forced it to relocate to its current location during the summer of 2014. Nestled between Subway and Alternative Digital Printing on the second floor of the UCen, this secret treasure recently reopened for Winter 2015 after renovations during Fall 2014.

The Club transports visitors from an everyday college campus to a fine dining experience. The restaurant overlooks a legendary view of the lagoon and ocean. The white tablecloths billow as the ocean breeze travels from the balcony. Cloth napkins, silverware and fresh flowers adorn each table, and professionally dressed faculty, staff and notable visitors from all over the world fill the restaurant. One of the few traces of a student presence is the collection of waiters and waitresses.

The Club recently changed its name from The Faculty Club. This alteration was made because students thought the restaurant was only open for faculty. Despite its welcoming of younger diners, The Club is still indeed a “club” for its more distinguished patrons. Eligible members like faculty, staff, graduate students, alumni, university support groups, local businesses and nonprofit organizations receive numerous privileges, including invitations to special events for members and their guests, discounts on lunches and reciprocal benefits at other college and university-based clubs.

The typical lunch menu offers salads, sandwiches, soups and the chef’s weekly specials. Vegetarians, carnivores and the environmentally conscious alike are satisfied with the menu, which serves vegetarian, seafood and meat options with green eating and delicious taste in mind. The Club sources its seafood fare locally and serves grass-fed beef and free-range chicken.

Signature tortilla soup. Photo by Rae Ann Varona.

Signature tortilla soup with avocado, cheddar cheese and cilantro garnish (available vegan or with chicken). Photo by Rae Ann Varona.

The Club always serves their Signature tortilla soup as well as a soup of the day. The shredded cheddar cheese, cubed avocado and feathery texture of the soup contrasted with the crunchy tortilla strips. Parsley topped off the soup and added an unexpected zing. In comparison, the broccoli cheddar bisque was grainier and saltier than its tangy counterpart. This soup also had parsley, but it did not have the same pleasant kick as the tortilla soup.

The salad course, Asian salmon salad, included a portion of fish the size of two fists along with two slices of grilled bread. The salmon was seared to perfection, covered in teriyaki sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The bottom layer consisted of a mixed green salad with a sesame-wasabi dressing, and the middle layer consisted of an Asian salad slaw. Together, these Asian-influenced flavors contributed to a satisfying, delicious dish.

The chef’s seared Ahi special contained a cilantro-infused quinoa with vegetables of the rainbow including red bell peppers, zucchini, carrots, green onions and cabbage. The seared Ahi was coated in sesame seeds with a cucumber ginger relish on top. The dish offered the perfect balance of crunch from the sesame-crusted Ahi and delicacy from the quinoa and vegetables. This dish came closer to well-done than rare, so those who prefer their fish cooked a bit less should request otherwise.

Photo by Rae Ann Varona

This week’s seafood chef’s special at The Club, sesame crusted, seared Ahi with a cucumber ginger relish over cilantro infused quinoa. Photo by Rae Ann Varona.

Desserts range from day to day, but two options include New York-style cheesecake with strawberry coulis and chocolate and salted caramel soufflé cake. While the two desserts create a sublime contrast, one warm and one cool, both came topped with thick strawberry coulis. The texture and consistency of the cheesecake was as thick, stiff and crumbly as firm tofu, and was a bit of a downer because it had no crust and it was quite dry compared to other cheesecakes. In comparison, the velvety, moist, molten cake was mouthwatering. The dark chocolate cake, salted caramel and strawberry seeds from the coulis added a need crunch to the smooth textures. Since both are quite rich, these delicacies are perfect for sharing.

Despite the steep price for the average college student (entrées range from $11 to $16), The Club is worth a visit, even if just for a special occasion. Be sure to visit between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday to Friday to ensure you can taste this fine food. But before arriving at your reservation, consider not showing up in a simple shirt, shorts and sandals unless you want to stick out among the well-dressed faculty. Every now and then we all deserve to treat ourselves, so come join the faculty at The Club.