By Chris StoneIn a breakthrough cuisine at UC San Diego and a plus for the community, a renovated campus restaurant offering hot kosher meals and Halal-friendly ingredients hosted its grand opening Wednesday.
And UCSD freshman Nora Yagolnitser’s Jewish grandmother approves.
Yagolnitser went to the “soft opening” of OceanView Terrace Restaurant earlier this week, took photos of the kosher entries and sent the images to her grandmother to show she was eating well.
Grandma said she liked it.
“I’m really excited,” said the psychology major. “It’s kind of surreal to have hot kosher food being made on a campus for us. Everything I have tried is great.”
The student eatery — open to the public — is the culmination of a joint effort by the Union of Jewish Students and the Muslim Student Association, who lobbied for the kosher and halal-friendly restaurant in 2013.
Zev Hurwitz told The San Diego Union-Tribune in 2015: “We said, ‘This isn’t a political issue. This isn’t a Palestine issue. This is a we-need-to-eat issue.’”
For Yagolnitser, the Thurgood Marshall College diner is a 15-minute walk from her dorm and she expects to frequent it often for lunch or dinner.
At the grand opening, students lined up for free samples of pizza, desserts and kosher plates with meatballs or chicken and vegetables. They also were happy to learn that one of its three areas — called Counter Culture — is open 24/7.
The kosher Spice station is open from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, open for lunch until 2 pm. Fridays, and closed Saturday and Sundays. The pizza area is open 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. seven days a week, and the coffee and pastry area is open 24 hours, seven days a week.
While the students gladly downed the free food, all who were interviewed said they were impressed and planned to return for future meals.
Rabbi Yudell Reiz of Chabad Center of University City, who helps supervise the kosher preparation, spoke about the restaurant’s appeal to nonstudents as well.
“It’s a very big deal both for the students and the community,” Reiz said. “It means a lot. The kosher options in San Diego are quite limited.”
The menu for Spice, the kosher-only area of the restaurant, will change daily with cuisine including Asian, Indonesian, Middle Eastern, North African, Mediterranean and Cajun entrees.
Lamb skewers and roasted potatoes with tomato aoli are what Reiz said he is looking forward to. It’s on Tuesday’s menu.
“The variety is amazing,” Reiz said, adding that members of his synagogue can’t believe the new restaurant is a reality.
Jerry Goldstein of downtown San Diego heard about the opening from his rabbi.
“We have been waiting for it to open,” he said. “Very interesting. We could be there a couple of days a week.”
His wife, Miriam, agreed.
“There’s a cohesiveness through food,” she said. “The perspective brings everyone together. I like that. We should have that concept forever.”
Because it’s on a university campus, “it’s the most unusual attempt at kosher dining that I’ve ever seen,” Jerry Goldstein said. “I think it has a great chance for success.”
Leo Acosta, assistant director of dining services at UCSD, explained the origin of the remodel.
“Three or four years ago, we had a big group of Jewish students and Muslim students that came forward to our vice chancellor and brought forth their concern,” Acosta said.
“They wanted a place they could call their own that offers Halal or kosher proteins,” which have been available in markets but not in campus restaurants, he said.
“So we took this opportunity to say: We can look at a remodel, but also let’s create something that’s amazing that happens to be kosher, that happens to be Halal. It’s just amazing food. And our students love it.”
The remodel of the structure at 9500 Gilman Drive, built in the 1980s, began in the fall of 2015.
“Now we’ve created this open space that’s beautiful — like a museum. But it allows us to put our staff as stars of the show,” Acosta said.
Chef Tiago Battastiani explained that the “halal-friendly” restaurant doesn’t serve pork product. So the pepperoni on the pizza is beef, and the sausage contains chicken.
Customers can craft their own pizzas, choose the sauce and select toppings. Salads are chopped to order with greens, topping and dressing picked by the customer.
The barista coffee station also serves pastries, including cheesecake, and gelato. Although the staff aims for healthy food, cookies and donuts are available.
The 24-hour restaurant “provides a safe space for the students to stay and hang around all night and study,” Battastiani said.
Compared to other campus dining areas, “The prices are pretty competitive, considering that we are very careful not to raise our prices even though that kosher and Halal proteins cost 15-20 percent more than your standard,” Acosta said.
“So from our point, our price points are very competitive and aren’t outrageous,” he said. “The reality is we provide an amazing experience, and we provide amazing food for our students.”
About three-quarters of the workforce are students, he said.
Any challenges to kosher cooking on campus?
Rabbi Reiz said new kitchen utensils had to be purchased, and more storage space was needed to separate the kosher protein from ingredients used in other areas of the restaurant.
Also, he ensures that all fresh fruit and vegetables are meticulously inspected to avoid insects.
Any other issues?
“Keeping up with the demand,” he said, smiling. The lines some days — since its “soft opening” Monday — have been out the door.
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: