The dining tables are set with linen tablecloths and fancy folded napkins, and an attentive waiter in a dress shirt and tie takes your order as the aromas of sizzling steak and seafood waft from the kitchen.
The elegant ambience says "fine-dining restaurant," but this is actually a training lab for culinary students.
And for value-minded diners, it can be an enjoyable and relatively inexpensive meal — "five-star cuisine at two-star prices," according to Frank Krause, academic director at the Art Institute of Salt Lake City's International Culinary School in Draper.
The Art Institute's student-run restaurant, The Savory Palate, offers a three-course lunch with beverage for $12.95 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Since the school is currently focusing on international foods, lunch could be a taste of the Caribbean with black bean soup, jerk chicken with sweet potato cakes and bananas Foster for dessert — all prepared under the watchful eye of an instructor.
"We're providing the students an opportunity to practice their craft and reinforce the techniques they would see in a restaurant," said Krause. "And the customers get to see future culinarians being developed. Maybe one of these kids they've had a meal from might have a restaurant down the road someday."
At Greg's Restaurant, run by Utah Valley University's culinary school, you can get a five-course dinner for $20. On Feb. 12, the French-themed menu offered entree choices of grilled lamb chops with sweet onion risotto cake, beef tenderloin with cabernet-whipped potatoes, Dover sole with mushroom duxelles and sauteed duck breast with Gruyere Dauphinois potatoes.
During the annual Lobsterfest in January, diners can choose from steamed lobster, grilled truffled lobster, lobster paella or lobster thermidor, along with an appetizer, soup, salad and dessert, for $34. The restaurant/kitchen is tucked away in a lower-floor corner of the UVU events center.
The restaurant experience gives culinary students an opportunity to cook a wide variety of items, and diners a chance to try them. For instance, UVU's French menu included appetizer choices of escargot and sweetbreads, which aren't seen on many restaurant menus in Utah.
"We want the students to learn to cook a variety of ingredients and different cuisines, because as a chef, you never know when you will have to prepare a special menu or do banquet with those items," said chef Troy Wilson, who oversees UVU's restaurant.
It's also a chance to meet some budding chefs, such as "Big" Anthony DeNovellis, who said he hopes to have a TV cooking show someday. During Lobsterfest, he was part of the wait staff.
Both of these restaurant labs are for advanced students. They rotate through various cooking duties in the kitchen, as well as the "front of the house," seating customers, taking orders, refilling beverages or busing tables.
"This helps them understand that critical component of customer service," said Krause. "And they learn about timing, how to turn a table and how to keep things organized and clean."
Andrew Sargent at the AISLC said, "I work as a cook at a restaurant downtown, so I already know something about the kitchen. But my ultimate goal is to run a restaurant, so understanding everything that my wait staff has to do is important. I've learned a lot about organization."
Brianna Reynolds said she plans to open a cake company someday, and her stint as a maitre d' has helped learn to interact with people. "It's good training for a future business owner," she said. "One thing I've found out is how fast-paced it is."
But would-be customers should realize these eateries aren't the same as a regular restaurant, where you can stop in on the spur of the moment and choose from dozens of menu items. The hours of both restaurants are limited. Greg's Restaurant usually operates on Thursday and Friday evenings, when the culinary classes are in session.
The Savory Palate is only open for lunch on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Reservations are required for both restaurants, and tables are often filled a week in advance.
Both restaurants offer a fixed-price menu, with a few options in each course. For instance, The Savory Palate's menu changes each week, so diners should ask about the food choices when they make a reservation at 801-601-4769. The best time to call is 9-11:30 a.m.
The restaurant is located on the second floor at 121 West Election Road.
Greg's Restaurant's menus are posted on www.uvu.edu/ca/greg/menu.html. Reservations are made at 801-863-7054.
Each person at the table is encouraged to order a different menu option, to allow each student experience in preparing the different items, said Wilson. Sharing is encouraged, so that everyone at the table can try a taste of all the dishes.
Also, customers should realize that these are still training grounds.
"I'd say that 95 percent of the time, it's pretty good, in fact I can remember only one or two times that we've had issues," said Wilson of Greg's Kitchen. "You may not like what you get, but that's a risk you would get in any restaurant."
"Everything may not be absolutely perfect every time," said Shawn Bucher, chef instructor at the Savory Palate. "But, we have comment cards, and we rely on the feedback. The students are here to learn what they're doing right and wrong."
For instance, his students had an idea for making a tiramisu-flavored cake rolled up like sushi, and call it "tiramisushi." But they had difficulties getting the filling to bind and the cake to roll up. "I think they made the cake six different times to get it to work," Bucher said.10 comments on this story
These are not the only opportunities to dine from chefs-in-training. Student-run cafeterias are operating at the Davis Applied Technology Center in Kaysville and the Weber Applied Technology Center in Ogden. Both are open to the public for weekday breakfast and lunch.
Mountainland Applied Technology College's culinary students offer a "Fun and Fine Dining" night once a month that's open to the public. Prices vary from $15 to $30, depending on the entree. The schedule is posted at www.mlatc.edu.
Some high schools also have student-run dining experiences on a limited basis, but they're mainly for teachers and staff