Cafe Laura Serves Up Alcohol-Infused Cuisine
It’s that time of year again — the time when the Hotel Restaurant and Institutional Management majors serve up some delicious food via their creative theme dinners at Cafe Laura. Last nights dinner, titled Spirited Food, aimed to create “beer, wine, and spirit infused cuisine.” Not one to pass up on a good meal, especially one with alcohol in the title, I went out to see what these talented Penn State students were serving up along with my friends (and fellow OS writers) Noel and Steve.
Each theme idea is conjured up by a team of HRIM students and then executed for a grade. Everything is taken into consideration, from the menu, to the decor. They even give Cafe Laura a new restaurant name to match the theme of the night.
When we stepped into the “Top Shelf Tavern” we were immediately presented with a lovely display of all the appetizers being offered that night, surrounded by beautiful wine bottle center pieces from the Mount Nittany Winery. The hostess was cheerful and polite, and led us to our table, making it hard to believe we were in an establishment run entirely by students. We each grabbed our menus as we marveled in the classy table scape, complete with a long stem rose and lotus flower napkin folds.
The menu was small but that didn’t make picking our entrees any easier — everything sounded so good!
First came the appetizers: Grilled Chicken Skewers with Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce, Parmesan Crusted Asparagus with Chardonnay Cream sauce, and Guinness and Cheese Soup. The asparagus was perfectly GBD (golden brown and delicious) and the acidity of the sauce paired well with the parmesan crust. Chicken has a tendency to become dry when it’s grilled, but Noel’s chicken skewers were succulent and well marinated. It was only the first course, and we were impressed.
Next came the Mixed Green Salad with a Champagne vinaigrette, which was easily forgotten after our waitress brought over THE BREAD. There were plain rolls and cheese rolls from the Penn State bakery, but everyone quickly decided that it was the cinnamon sugar butter that really sealed the deal. There happened to be only two cheese rolls in our first basket and when our waitress saw us feign fighting over them she came back with a second basket. Give this girl an A+.
Once we had ruined our appetite with bread, the entrees were delivered. We collectively ordered the Apple Jack Pork Tenderloin with Apple Chutney, Dark Rum & Molasses New York Strip Steak, and Mojito Scallops. My scallops were perfectly cooked, and I was impressed by the amount I was given as well as the depth of flavor brought out by the mint rum sauce. Noel didn’t say much through mouthfuls of “perfectly cooked” steak (medium rare) but I can attest that it was well marinated and delicately balanced. The sauce enhanced the natural flavor of the steak instead of covering it up. The final entree, the pork chops, were juicy and very tender. As Steve pointed out “This pork is so moist. Italicize that.”
Most of the effort is usually made on the entrees and the sides are left by the wayside, but not so at the Top Shelf Tavern. The sides were amazing, the Whiskey Mashed Sweet Potatoes a stand out among the rest. The potatoes were smooth and sweet but not too sweet — and besides, they’re called whiskey mashed potatoes. We all agreed that it was nice having sweet potatoes without marshmallows piled on top, and as my friend Noel remarked, “The only people who put marshmallows on sweet potatoes is Al Qaeda.” Needless to say he was one happy (inebriated on steak?) man.
Unable to admit defeat, we bit the bullet and ordered dessert: Bailey’s Chocolate Ice Cream Pie, and New York Style Cheesecake with Razzmatazz Drizzle. Now I’m not exactly sure what a Razzmatazz is, but the raspberry sauce that enrobed the cheesecake was tangy and tart, the perfect accompaniment to the richness of the cake. My chocolate ice cream pie was, in my opinion, the best item of the night. It was smooth and creamy, which just a slight kick of Irish cream.
Overall our trip to the Top Shelf Tavern was a rousing success. We ate good food, had great service, and even learned what a Garnish Manager does. As we left last night we seemed to be in high spirits ourselves from the food that was intoxicating in both senses of the word.
tl;dr, 10/10 would recommend to a friend.
Special thanks to Steve and Noel for stuffing their faces with me.