Best changes: Blackened Mahi Mahi Salad Expo, Italian Ices at snack, Cinnamon-Maple Chocolate Chunk Cookies, Flavored Mashed Potatoes, Real Avocados
Worst Changes: Sushi-less Tuesdays, Israeli Couscous and Stuffed Tomato Everydays, and “Meatless Mondays,” for those of us omnivores.
As freshmen, we first encountered Frary dining hall with a sense of childish wonderment akin to Hogwarts first-years coming face-to-face for the first time with the Great Hall. Sure, maybe our sponsors encouraged our wide-eyed excitement to keep us optimistic about Pomona College dining, but Frary seemed like the real deal. After all, between menacing murals and seemingly innocuous cup-dropping extravaganzas, what wasn’t to like about Frank’s friendly older sister?
Unfortunately, quite a lot. In the past, her style typically outshone her substance, depending on the rampant imaginations of her patrons for success. Yet, if for a moment you suspended the belief that you were eating beneath the rustic archways and warming chandeliers of some timeless Spanish mission, the extra five-minute walk to Collins suddenly seemed worth it.
By now we know plenty about the shift in management at Pomona’s dining halls—the zeal with which the college has explained Frary and Frank’s “changes” feels like the rehash of a 7th-grade sex-ed class. Yet the hype eventually raises the question: do these new changes amount to anything? Or is Frary’s new mindset merely another product of that classic Pomona College paragon: “If it sounds great on paper, what could go wrong?!”
Not much actually, considering Frary’s management makeover feels well-intentioned enough to inspire this writer’s fidelity in the new system. I began eating at Frary this semester expecting the dining hall to maintain its all-bark-no-bite ethos, and while promises of a return to burrito night, a re-appearance of that damned elusive frozen yogurt machine, and better bread options sounded hollow at first after two weeks of steady improvement, I’m starting to think that one out of three ain’t bad. Even if the new chefs’ obsession with “sopes” as an alternative to the classic joy of customizing your own burrito worked for a few meals, the resurgence of Frary’s beloved burrito night—with the addition of Cuban black beans to the typical medley of Mexican toppings—stood out as a highlight in the dining hall’s 2011 cuisine. Plus, the new staff seems earnestly dedicated to fulfilling students’ desires; we craved the nutty crunch of that addictive muesli introduced last semester, we yearned for more reasonable vegetarian options, and we pushed our environmentally-conscious pretenses to demand humanely-raised meat. Sure enough, Frary responded with some surprises of her own.
Of all the new additions to the menu, no morsel inspires as much salivation on my part as what can only be termed the “maple cinnamon chocolate chunk” cookies, which have completely reinvigorated Frary’s dessert repertoire. Although occasionally too hard in consistency to compete with Mallott Commons’ monolithic soft-baked delights, these new cookies still provide enough tasty novelty to validate their exciting infancy.
However, above all, a great dining hall defines itself on consistency rather than brief glimpses of success, and currently Frary feels too reliant on such fleeting moments. Two Tuesdays ago, I waltzed in to peruse the dining hall’s revamped Japanese grill night and beheld a sight almost too glorious for mortal words alone. Before me lay two food lines: one dedicated to the traditional selection of teriyaki chicken, shrimp tempura, sticky rice, and steamed broccoli, and the other to serve-your-own sushi. Yes, not only could I shovel limitless rolls of salmon, California, and vegetable sushi onto my plate, but spicy tuna’s return as a roll option after months of exile nearly brought tears to my eyes. The following week I returned to Frary, more than eager to bathe in the same bountiful oasis of uninhibited raw fish. Comprised of more palatable cuts of meat, the teriyaki chicken boasted a fuller, richer flavor, but to my horror, the sushi was nowhere to be found.
While the changes to Pomona College’s flagship dining hall suggest a promising future for on-campus cuisine, Frary must be wary of stretching itself too thin in these fragile first weeks of its new regime. Certain dishes in the dining hall’s new menu speak to her staff’s budding ambition and renewed commitment to excellence, such as last week’s pesto mashed potatoes, Saturday night’s eggplant lentil salad, and Friday night’s double header of superb potato pancakes and a flatbread pesto vegetable pizza option that easily rivaled that of Collins. Frary’s reinvigorated concern for the culinary arts breathed new life into my faith in Pomona College dining, only heightening my anticipation for meals to come. Now about that fro-yo machine…