The Oregon Culinary Institute

Last Thursday I burst out of school with a soaring sense of euphoria—basking in my highlighted senior status, gloating that finals were finished, and anticipating a celebratory lunch at the Oregon Culinary Institute.

My mom, sister, and I sat down with good family friends to eat a ten dollar lunch complete with an appetizer, entrée, and dessert to boot. For ten bucks—now that’s a price I can’t dismiss. Dining at the OCI is also extremely popular, with reservations needed to be booked at least a week in advance. The students themselves prepare the meals while those with majors in restaurant management act as the waiters.

I ordered tea as my beverage, and a large white teapot and teacup were accompanied by a selection of Portland’s Steven Smith teas. Now Smith tea doesn’t usually come so cheap; it generally costs like six dollars for a box. This time, I only had to pay a dollar for the bountiful, beautiful selection, and I commend the OCI’s generosity.

For my appetizer, I ordered the special of the day, a dainty salad compiled of an arrangement of orange slices, chopped hazelnuts, arugula, and crunchy fennel all drizzled with an orange vinaigrette. Typically I don’t really like salads, but this creation was immensely refreshing. I loved the tangy crispiness and fresh, clean taste, while the hazelnuts’ musky flavor complemented the sweetness of orange and fennel well. This salad may be the turning point of my attitude towards salad.

Anyway, while surveying the entrée selections, I was immediately struck by the choice of braised rabbit pasta.  Rabbit? I’d only read about people eating rabbit back in the Middle Ages and such, so my curiosity overpowered me. Would it taste like chicken, sort of like frog? Would the meat be tender or slightly stringy like pork chop? I just had to try it.

The braised rabbit pasta arrived in a plate submerged in a rich brown sauce that tasted of hints of garlic and juicy rabbit. And my hunch was right—rabbit did taste like chicken. The meat was tender, yet it also had a texture that reminded me of beef. It was accompanied by thick multi-grain pasta with bits of green onion as well. Strangely enough, I could imagine myself living in a forest, coming into my little cabin out of the bitter cold outside, stamping on the mat as I hurried towards the crackling fire to enjoy a hearty plate of braised rabbit pasta. The dish was like a woodsman’s fare.

And of course, I couldn’t forget dessert. I endured a slight disappointment when they told me that the lemon tart was not available today, so I contented myself with the chocolate dream torte. A slice of chocolate heaven sat before me with a drizzle of a sweet tangerine puree on the side. I could taste the seductive cocoa and exotic chocolate flavor, and it reeled in my sweet tooth with no problem at all. Even a couple of sweet old ladies passing by me exclaimed, “Oh, they’re eating the chocolate torte!” and they added, “Oh, it’s absolutely delicious.” So if the old ladies loved it, I definitely love it more.

The Oregon Culinary Institute is a beautiful bargain. A sumptuous, three-course meal for just ten dollars. Now that’s something that deserves accolades.

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