NAPA, CA – A hospital cafeteria in Napa simply called The Cafeteria has debuted a new three-hour $300 tasting menu format to supplant the more traditional, quick, self-serve approach of grabbing food and placing it on a tray.
The Cafeteria’s head chef, Remy Lacroix, said the change was vital and necessary.
“Hospital food has been so stagnant in this country,” states Lacroix. “There has been no progression, no invention, no inspiration for decades. It’s time things change.”
For years, patients have been critical of hospital food, noting the same general themes of monotonous selections, bland taste, and puzzling goopiness. Patient and provider satisfaction scores cite the hospital cafeteria as a major source of their discontent, second only to disease progression.
Lacroix started to make changes. The Cafeteria was moved to the top floor to take advantage of the grand view of the parking lot. Large windows emphasize natural lighting and draw attention away from the signs demonstrating the Heimlich. White linen tables replaced cafeteria seating and seating capacity was reduced from three-hundred to twenty-eight. Printed paper menus are replaced with digitized ones, including a gorgeous iPad wine list. While certainly more upscale than its predecessor, one thing is certain: it is much more comfortable and inviting.
As for the menu? Chef Lacroix’s summer tasting menu features eight dishes that exemplify hospital cuisine at its finest. The dishes progress in consistency and complexity. The first dish, entitled NPO, is a fantastically simple dish that is best described as a plate full of nothing, which celebrates a patient’s fast and inability to eat before a diagnostic or therapeutic procedure. Clear Liquids is a refreshing chilled dish featuring creme fraiche and chives in a Gatorade consomme that dazzles. Renal Diet is a dish of fantastic irony using kidney beans in a lemonade broth. All of the dishes, including palate cleansers, reflect on the history and culture of hospital dining with a sense of humor.
The tasting menu’s standout moment is a dish called Soft Diet. Traditionally, a soft diet consists of eggs, usually scrambled. Chef Lacroix’s interpretation features foie gras and black truffle risotto served inside of an ostrich eggshell and on top of a plain hospital tray. The names of the remaining dishes include Two Gram Sodium, Dysphagia Pureed, Bolus, and Continuous Feeds.
Reception of The Cafeteria’s new dining format has been largely positive, with the majority of patients and providers approving of the new location and its soothing decor, beautiful presentation of dishes, dramatic improvement in food quality, and the incredible attentiveness of the youthful and energetic staff.
“It’s about time,” said patient Tony Morelli, admitted for chest pain rule out. “You get sick of burgers, hot dogs, and chicken fingers, you know?”
Dr. John Ryans of Nephrology agrees. “The hospital and hospitality are finally working hand-in-hand.”
A minority of patient and provider diners remain skeptical. Some focus on the exorbitantly high cost; the menu costs a minimum of $300 per person. Others note the time-consuming nature of the dinner, about three hours on average, and the limited seating. Reservations at The Cafeteria are booked for the next 6 months.
“I was trying to squeeze in a quick lunch,” said Dr. Cesar Rodriguez of Dermatology. “Next thing I know, it’s 4 PM, I haven’t written a single note, and I’m down a thousand bucks.” He added: “Though extraordinary, I really should have passed on the Kobe beef with white truffle and caviar.”